Remember when fantasy football was considered a niche industry? Well those days are well behind us and if you want proof, look no further than Season 14 of The Bachelorette, featuring ProFootballFocus analyst Mike Renner. Finally, one of us! Even though he only lasted a few episodes, we all owe Mike a great debt for debunking the common (edit: wholly inaccurate) perception that all fantasy football writers are dweeby stat-crunchers who live in their parents’ basement.
It’s not just Mike, either. Football has had its fingerprints all over reality TV this summer. Renner was joined on The Bachelorette by journeyman tight end Clay Harbor and ex-Raiders practice-squadder Colton Underwood. You probably had to Wikipedia the last two guys I mentioned, but Jay Cutler has long been a household name. Sure, he’s made a million or two hucking pigskins around, however, Cutler’s real claim to fame is his sloth-like energy and signature apathy towards … well just about everything. You might think Cutler has been playing us all these years in the interest of branding, promoting himself as some sort of aloof genius, but the clips from his new reality venture with wife Kristin Cavallari prove otherwise. To be very clear, I haven’t actually watched the show, though I’ve spent the past day-and-a half binging 20-second Cutler clips on Twitter because I use my time wisely. Anyway, here’s a gem from Sunday’s premiere of Very Cavallari on E!
— NOTSportsCenter (@NOTSportsCenter) July 9, 2018
In case you were too distracted by Cutler’s smug face to actually listen to the words coming out of his mouth, let me transcribe the conversation for you:
Cavallari: Have you thought about—when you do get bored—what you’re going to do?
Cavallari: Well maybe you should.
Cutler: I’m not really looking to do a lot of work right now. I’m looking to do the exact opposite of that.
You and me both, Jay. I’m a little afraid to admit this, mostly for fear of my boss reading it and immediately dumping more work on my plate, but sometimes being a fantasy football writer actually doesn’t feel like work. Take yesterday, for example. While both of my roommates were slaving away at their 9-5s, I was at home refreshing my Scott Fish Bowl draft every 10 minutes, waiting to see if Leonard Fournette would fall to me in the second round (of course he went one pick before me).
“Is that for work?” one of my roommates will inevitably ask me. “Sort of,” is the usual response. I can’t tell you how many looks of disbelief I’ve received over the years when people ask me what I do for work. “So basically your job is just to watch football and play in fantasy leagues?” Hey, it’s harder than it looks!
It seems like many of you have taken a page out of Smokin’ Jay’s book, because when I asked for your mailbag questions this week, all I heard were crickets (though you guys did come through when I called for submissions a second time). Fourth of July, the World Cup, wedding season, I get it. Fantasy football isn’t the first thing on anyone’s mind right now. I’ll give you a pass this week, but for the next mailbag, I want full participation. Sound good? Now for your questions.
What’s a realistic floor for Kareem Hunt?
If you didn’t pay attention to football at all last year and somehow stumbled upon Kareem Hunt’s year-end stats, you’d probably think, “Wow, this guy is legit!” And it’s hard to argue that very logical conclusion—Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards last season, which is no small feat. But those of you who invested heavily in Hunt know that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The rookie looked like a legitimate MVP candidate early in the year, blowing up for 775 yards (609 rushing, 166 receiving) and six touchdowns over his first five games. That’s Le’Veon-esque production but unfortunately for Hunt owners, that trend wouldn’t last. Suddenly the rookie became allergic to touchdowns—he went nine games without one between Weeks 4-13.
A nine-game scoring drought is a bitter pill for any fantasy owner to swallow, but that’s not even the worst of it. Hunt’s workload went down the tubes midseason as the rookie endured a stretch where he went seven games without topping 100 yards rushing. He averaged 13.7 carries per game during that span compared to 19.4 over his first five contests. Then, out of the clear blue sky, Hunt regained his super powers, exploding for 485 yards from scrimmage (397 rushing, 88 receiving) with four touchdowns over his final four regular season games. That includes Week 17, when Hunt logged just five snaps in a meaningless win over Denver—the Chiefs were already locked into the No. 4 seed and rested most of their starters.
So which Hunt should fantasy owners expect in 2018—the world-beater we saw both early and late last season or the underachiever who disappeared for two months in the middle of the year? Volume is the straw that stirs the drink in fantasy and that will certainly be the key to Hunt’s success. Not including his abbreviated Week 17, Hunt averaged 25.9 touches per game in games the Chiefs won last year compared to just 15.2 in their six losses.
So I guess the question then becomes, do we think the Chiefs will be any good this year? KC traded long-time field general Alex Smith this offseason but that was only to pave the way for promising 22-year-old Pat Mahomes, who the Chiefs traded up to take 10th overall in last year’s draft. Mahomes is unproven (62 snaps last year) but certainly offers breakout potential as a big-armed gunslinger on an offense that added red-zone wizard Sammy Watkins this offseason. Vegas set the over/under for Chiefs wins at 8.5, which sounds about right. I suppose it’s worth noting that Spencer Ware is back after missing all of last year with a torn PCL, though I don’t consider him a major threat to Hunt’s workload, especially coming off a major injury.
Hunt’s midseason disappearance will surely scare off at least some percentage of the fantasy community, but I’m still comfortable drafting him late in the first round. For reference, Hunt just went eighth overall (RB7 behind RB6 Alvin Kamara and ahead of RB8 Dalvin Cook) in my Scott Fish Bowl draft. I had him as the RB7 in my personal rankings as well, so it’s definitely not a reach to take him that early.
Do you think David Johnson will return to top form following last year’s injury?
Full disclosure, this question actually came from a previous mailbag but I never got around to answering it. The good thing about Johnson’s injury, if there is one, is that it wasn’t a leg or foot ailment. Hamstrings, ACLs, quads, menisci, Lisfrancs and Achilles tears are all brutal injuries to come back from, especially if you’re a player who relies on speed and quickness like Johnson does. Luckily DJ’s legs are just dandy—a dislocated wrist was what caused him to miss most of last season.
That should give fantasy owners reason for optimism and obviously anyone who has owned Johnson before knows what he brings to the table. The Northern Iowa alum was insatiable in 2016, gobbling up fantasy points like Joey Chestnut destroying hot dogs on Coney Island. He finished the year with 20 touchdowns (16 rushing, four receiving) on a preposterous 2,118 yards from scrimmage (40th all-time for a single season).
That being said, Johnson enters the 2018 fantasy campaign with more than a few red flags. We know running backs have a shorter shelf life relative to other positions and the clock is certainly ticking for Johnson, who turns 27 in December. That’s middle age in running back years. DJ comes with durability concerns as well after being limited to just 46 snaps last year and also suffering a sprained MCL in his last game of 2016. On top of that, Johnson was a no-show for minicamp and could play hooky from training camp as he seeks a new contract. Le’Veon Bell and Aaron Donald skipped offseason work last year and both turned out fine—Bell led all running backs with 85 catches while Donald earned Defensive Player of the Year honors—so I don’t consider Johnson’s absence a major deterrent.
I still think highly of Johnson—I have him as my overall RB3—but there’s a reason I have him behind both Bell and Todd Gurley. The Cardinals’ Vegas win total is 5.5, tying them with Cleveland for the league’s lowest. With injury-prone Sam Bradford running the show (at least until Josh Rosen is ready to take the reins) and little receiving help behind veteran slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s offense could be among the NFL’s worst. It’s true that Johnson isn’t as affected by game script as most running backs because of his pass-catching acumen, but he’ll be hard-pressed to match the 20 touchdowns he racked up in 2016. Johnson is still a good bet for 300-plus touches if he stays healthy, but Arizona’s anemic offense no doubt lowers his ceiling.
Dalvin Cook is going early second round in most mock drafts. Is that too high?
It might be, though you have to ask yourself, who else would you consider taking at that juncture? Personally, I’ve found that the second round is a good time to load up on wide receivers—studs like Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, A.J. Green and Michael Thomas are all going within that range. Heck, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham both lasted into the teens in my Scott Fish Bowl Draft, though I’m not sure you can count on that kind of good fortune in most leagues (SFB scoring and roster construction are a bit unorthodox). But at the tail end of the RB1 spectrum, I think Cook is probably as safe a bet as anyone (I have him as my RB11, for those wondering).
A torn ACL is a bear of an injury but Cook suffered it relatively early last year (Week 4), giving him plenty of time to recover. Latavius Murray performed admirably in his absence last season (eight touchdowns) and could threaten for double-digit touches on a weekly basis, though I think the Vikings’ plan is still to give Cook as many looks as possible. For a point of reference, Cook out-touched Murray 85-18 the four times they shared the field last season with Cook out-gaining Murray by an overwhelming 444-46 margin in yards from scrimmage. Latavius doesn’t offer much in the passing game (zero career receiving touchdowns), which also works to Cook’s benefit.
Cook was excellent in a limited sample size last year (444 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns) and returns to an offense featuring arguably the league’s best receiving duo (Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs) as well as free-agent prize Kirk Cousins, who threw for 27 touchdowns even with a depleted Redskins pass-catching corps last year. Minnesota has a legitimate chance to lead the league in scoring (they finished 10th last season) and Cook should be a major player in the Vikings’ points parade. Even if the Vikes are cautious with him coming off last year’s injury, double-digit touchdowns could be a real possibility for the talented 22-year-old.
Your thoughts on stashing Marquise Goodwin as a keeper in Round 10?
I like Goodwin a lot and think he’s a great story. As a track buff (I still hold my school’s 800 record), I followed Goodwin’s career as an Olympic long jumper and was always a big believer in his speed (4.27 forty) even if it never translated to the fantasy realm. The Bills squandered his physical gifts and it probably didn’t help that Goodwin spent much of his offseason on the track circuit instead of focusing on football early in his career. But last year the former Texas Longhorn finally broke out, leading the 49ers with 962 receiving yards on a career-best 56 catches. He was fairly consistent too, topping 60 yards receiving in six of his final eight games. As you’d expect from a burner boasting Olympic-level speed, Goodwin made his living catching deep passes, finishing third in the league in yards per catch behind only Marvin Jones and Keelan Cole.
Goodwin showed marvelous chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo, absorbing 29 of his 43 targets (67.4 percent) from Jimmy G compared to 27-of-62 (43.5) with C.J. Beathard and Brian Hoyer under center. Goodwin was rewarded with a lucrative $20.3 million extension this offseason, so clearly the Niners have faith in their star 27-year-old.
But back to the matter at hand. You didn’t ask me, Do you like Goodwin as a player/human interest story? You want to know if he’s worthy of keeper status. I’d lean no and here’s why. As promising as last season was for Goodwin, it was still a relatively small sample size. Last year was the first time we’d ever seen a team use Goodwin as a featured receiver. Previously, he had merely been a boom-or-bust deep threat/gadget guy in the vein of Cordarrelle Patterson.
It’s also worth mentioning that his best stretch of the season (Weeks 9-16) came without Pierre Garcon, who was sidelined by a neck injury. Goodwin averaged just 5.8 targets per game when sharing the field with Garcon compared to 7.4 when Garcon was hurt. San Francisco’s passing offense should supply enough volume for both players to succeed. The 49ers did little to upgrade their receiving corps this offseason aside from adding second-round rookie Dante Pettis and Jerick McKinnon, who was one of the better pass-catching backs in football with the Vikings last year. But Garcon, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver, is still a heavy favorite to lead the Niners in targets.
Let’s also consider that Goodwin is going around the ninth round anyway, so it’s not like you’d be getting a major steal keeping him as a 10th-rounder. I don’t think Goodwin will have a bad year by any stretch and I actually think he’s a good value in the later rounds—I took him 86th overall in our mock draft for the magazine (in stores July 24th!). But I’m not sold on him as a keeper, at least not yet.
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