I decided to take a hiatus at the wrong time. I was gone for one (1!!) week and Underdog went and blew up the industry. During that time, we filled the Big Board, we got MLB best ball, and now a Superflex contest. Now everyone is QB crazy (due to the new format), and Calvin Ridley just got hit with a year suspension for being our generations’ Pete Rose.
So, as I have been doing and over the next few weeks, I will outline each team in the NFL and provide what could change with the off-season right around the corner (Free Agency & the Draft).
Fittingly, we are onto the NFC South.
The Atlanta Falcons were an interesting team heading into the 2021 season. They fired former coach Dan Quinn and brought in former Titans’ offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith. There were talks that the team would move on from Franchise cornerstone, Matt Ryan, and enter a true rebuild. Instead, the Falcons tried to speed up the rebuild by drafting the best player available, Kyle Pitts, rather than a rookie QB and traded star-WR Julio Jones to the Titans. Despite their wishes to speed up the rebuild, the public wasn’t buying it and 5 players were regularly drafted in BBM II – Calvin Ridley (13.3, WR4), Kyle Pitts (47.1, TE4), Mike Davis (62.4, RB23), Russell Gage (109.8, WR55), and Matt Ryan (142.7, QB18. Occasionally, Olamide Zaccheaus (~55%), Qadree Ollison (~8.7%), Hayden Hurst (~27.6%), and Cordarrelle Patterson (~5.3%) were drafted.
The general perception turned out to be right and having Falcons players turned out to be a net negative. In terms of advance rates, Calvin Ridley was the WR103, Kyle Pitts was the TE30, Mike Davis was the RB62, Russell Gage was the WR49, and Matt Ryan was the QB24.
Owning Falcons ended almost as expected. Their front office was over-zealous and tried throwing some duct tape on the team and it didn’t end up working. Despite being drafted as a WR1, Calvin Ridley was a massive failure. It wasn’t entirely his fault. On October 31st, the WR announced he was stepping away from football due to mental well-being. Before stepping away, he had been banged up (missing 2 games). Although he only played 5 games, he did average over 11 fppg.
Did you know that Kyle Pitts only scored 1 touchdown last year? If you don’t include the Pro Bowl, he still technically hasn’t scored on US soil. Despite having massive expectations as the best TE prospect possibly ever, he massively failed for owners. He flashed some of the upsides that fantasy players were expecting but wasn’t consistently given the alpha role. Mike Davis was also not given the alpha role. Despite being 2020’s saving grace and 90% CMC, those traits didn’t follow him to Atlanta. He proved to be the face of the dead-zone and nuked rosters. He was so bad that the Falcons started activating Qadree Ollison to get carries in the second half after being on the practice squad to start the year.
Matt Ryan had a few good weeks throughout the year but has shown that his best days are behind him. He doesn’t have much help these days, but he has never really been anything more than slightly above average but now he is in the latter half of his 30s.
There were two Falcons that were beneficial to have, Russell Gage and Cordarrelle Patterson. Russell Gage took on the #1 WR role once Ridley stepped away and was a cheap source at decent production. After Ridley left the team, he averaged 11 ppg and as a 9th round pick, that is helpful. He didn’t have boom weeks but was a decent WR3/Flex. Cordarrelle Patterson was finally unleashed. As a darling of the fantasy community since he was drafted, Arthur Smith finally unlocked his potential. Just get the ball in his hands and good things would happen. They used him as an RB (as the Patriots had done in the past) and let him play in space. It resulted in him being an absolute force that defenses couldn’t solve. At least to start the year. The Falcons relied on him a bit too much and he wore down as the season went on causing the “super-teams” to come to an epic collapse (5.8 ppg in the playoffs).
Looking forward to this year, the Falcons are another year into their rebuild. One of the biggest decisions that loom is what to do with Matt Ryan. Will one of the QB needy teams take a chance on the aging veteran? If he is moved, what should they do at QB? Should they focus on getting the best players available and kick the can down the road another year (with this QB class being weak)? They were expected to trade Calvin Ridley, but due to his suspension, that is no longer the case. As it currently stands, they have the 8 draft picks including 8th overall, and just over $3.3M in cap space. Currently, Cordarrelle Patterson, Hayden Hurst, Lee Smith, AJ McCarron, Tajae Sharpe, Younghoe Koo (K), Josh Rosen, Matt Gono (RT), and Dante Fowler Jr. are free agents. I would not expect them to target any of them to resign, although there is interest in bringing back CPat. There should be other suiters that will pay him more and he is almost 32 and this team is in a rebuild. They should be looking to get younger.
In terms of drafting, I had been getting all the Calvin Ridley. He was my 4th highest owned player in the big board, but obviously, that has changed with the allegations. I am still a believer in Kyle Pitts, but his ADP is getting a bit too rich. I prefer grabbing Waller or Kittle. I will still mix him in due to his talent. Gage should go back to being the de facto #1 which has suited him well in the past. My only interest will be on rookies getting drafted here as there is not a high barrier to playing time.
Going into last year, people were still optimistic towards the Panthers. They “upgraded” their QB situation after the failed attempt with Teddy Two Gloves by trading a future 2nd, 4th, and a 2021 6th for former Jet and 3rd overall pick, Sam Darnold. Adding an upside QB (who “failed” due to Adam Gase) to Matt Rhule and Joe Brady’s offense was supposed to be the missing puzzle piece. Add that on top of Christian McCaffrey being healthy again and owners were interested. This led to 6 players being regularly drafted in BBM II – Christian McCaffrey (1, RB1), D.J. Moore (41.7, WR20), Robby Anderson (59.1, WR29), Terrace Marshall Jr. (119.3, WR58), Chuba Hubbard (1884, RB56) and Sam Darnold (189, QB25). Occasionally, Dan Arnold (~37%) was drafted.
There was hope to start the season. The Panthers looked like a new team at 3-0, soon after it was 5-5 and they went on to lose their last 7 games of the year. As it turned out, the offense remained piss poor. The Panthers OL was one of the worst units in the league and Sam Darnold showed no improvement. Add in the injuries and it was a miserable time all around. Overall, Christian McCaffrey was the RB65, DJ Moore was the WR60, Robby Anderson was the WR69, Terrance Marshall Jr. was the WR91, Chuba Hubbard was the RB26, and Sam Darnold was the QB20.
Some things are too good to be true. Sam Darnold looked like an entirely new player to start the year. Those who drafted him thought they struck gold. Turns out that was not the case, and his rushing production was a gimmick. He still couldn’t read a defense well and turn back into the turnover machine he was on the Jets. He managed to get injured, and the Panthers brought in former #1 overall pick, Cam Newton, to try and sell tickets. He was decent for fantasy due to his rushing upside but tough to watch in person.
Following the QB carousel, it led to disappointing years for all 3 of DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr. DJ Moore was used as the #1 target, but never really had the spike weeks we were hoping for. He was used down the field but couldn’t find the end-zone, only scoring 4 times all year. After going for 1k yards in 2020, Robby was projected to take another step forward as the downfield threat for the Panthers. He was a shell of himself and was mostly a ghost in games. He averaged nearly 4 yards less per target, nearly 2 yards less per reception, and finished the year with ~50% of his 2020 reception and yards totals despite playing an extra game. TMJ, on the other hand, couldn’t get on the field. He was their 2nd round pick and couldn’t beat out the likes of Brandon Zylstra. He ended the year with 30 targets, 17 receptions, 138 yards, and 0 TDs.
The biggest disappointment of the year went to the unanimous #1 overall pick, Christian McCaffrey. He injured his hamstring and went on to miss 5 games. He then returned for 4 games, rolled his ankle, and was put on season-ending IR. When he plays, he is an absolute stud. No one can top his consistency as an RB1, but it is getting to a point where the injuries are piling up. The main beneficiary was 4th round rookie, Chuba Hubbard, who became the starting RB. Although he didn’t produce like Mike Davis did the year before, he was still a welcomed additional due to his draft capital in fantasy drafts. He averaged 9.9 fppg in his 10 starts.
Looking forward to this year, the Panthers have an unrealistic shot at contention. They are most likely a middle-of-the-pack team unless they can find a long-term solution at QB and can fix their OL. Their defense had its fair share of injuries, but before that was one of the best units in the league. As it stands, Stephon Gilmore, Haason Reddick, Donte Jackson, Matt Parados (center), and Cam Newton are free agents, and they currently have $21.6M in cap space. There have been discussions that they are open to trading CMC which would be smart if they can get some draft picks. I would assume they will do anything they can to retain their defensive guys, but they will have to get creative. Whatever they do, they need to figure out a plan at QB and OL because as it currently stands, they are going nowhere.
In terms of drafting, CMC is still my #1 overall player. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me 3 times, never get fooled again. This is year 3 and I am betting he won’t have a season-ending injury again. He is still dynamic; he is still the best player in fantasy and if healthy he will continue to prove that. I will be taking a bet on both DJ Moore and Robby for a bounce-back. I have been grabbing TMJ late in drafts occasionally just due to his talent. I’ll grab a few Chuba shares but I am betting on CMC being healthy. You won’t see me near Sam Darnold or the TEs (they just aren’t involved).
New Orleans Saints
Despite this being the first year without Drew Brees, the Saints still had a competitive team. They brought back Jameis Winston on a 1-year incentive-based deal to be their successor. Due to the change, it made their offense a bit more exciting as Jameis likes to drive the ball downfield and Drew was captain checkdown late in his career. This led to 7 Saints being regularly drafted in BBM II – Alvin Kamara (3.7, RB3), Michael Thomas (91.6, WR46), Tre’Quan Smith (148, WR68), Marquez Callaway (125, WR59), Adam Trautman (155.9, TE17) and Jameis Winston (207.9, QB28). Occasionally, Tony Jones (~18%), Juwan Johnson (~5%), and Taysom Hill (~38%) were drafted.
The Saints were one of the unluckiest teams in the NFL. They got hit HARD with the injury bug. They had 4 different QBs start a game and still managed to be in the playoff picture entering Week 18. The only player who was regularly drafted that didn’t miss time was Marquez Callaway. Overall, Alvin Kamara was the RB38, Michael Thomas was the WR101, Tre’Quan Smith was the WR58, Marquez Callaway was the WR59, Adam Trautman was the TE28 and Jameis Winston was the QB28.
Sean Payton proved to be a wizard. The Saints got out to a 4-2 start and Jameis looked like a good quarterback. Unfortunately, in their week 8 game against the Bucs, Jameis tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. Jameis was ok in fantasy averaging 17 points per game, but that is being elevated by his two spike weeks of 25+ points. As a late pick, he carried a high ceiling but a low floor which was expected. Due to his injury, the Saints had Taysom Hill, Ian Book, and Trevor Siemen start games. Siemen and Hill showed some fantasy upside with Hill primarily with his legs. Book proved to be horrendous.
The saga continued with Michael Thomas as he was expected to play after missing most of 2020, but after waiting for surgery until late in the offseason, he suffered a setback in December, which caused him to miss all of 2021. No matter where you drafted him, not getting a single game out of him was disappointing. Based on MT not expecting to be ready, owners were interested in Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith stepping into starting roles. The latter was delayed when he suffered an injury in the preseason and started the year on the IR. Callaway’s expectations then went through the roof and he was pegged as a “league-winner”. That turned out to be overzealous as he topped 5 receptions once and over 100 yards once on the year. By the time Tre’Quan was healthy, Jameis was already hurt, and the offense was in rough shape.
Kamara didn’t have a bad year. He just missed the pivotal weeks of the regular season (weeks 10-13), which severely hurt teams that carried him (since he was the 3rd overall pick). He only had 3 games under 12 points. He was the focal point of the offense.
There isn’t much to say about Adam Trautman. The TE wasn’t involved in the passing offense. He played around 80% of the offensive snaps but couldn’t find a connection with any quarterback.
Looking forward to 2022, the Saints are in the least enviable position. After getting the team into cap hell, Sean Payton stepped down and retired from the NFL. They hired their former DC and Raiders HC, Dennis Allen, to rebuild the roster. As it currently standards, they are $45.2M over the cap with Terron Armstead, Marcus Williams, Jameis Winston, PJ Williams, Kwon Alexander, Ty Montgomery, Kenny Stills, Trevor Siemian, Tre’Quan Smith, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Brett Maher, and Deonte Harris are free agents. Add all of this to the fact that Alvin Kamara got arrested at the Pro Bowl and there aren’t any quick answers to the Saints’ situation. My best guess would be they draft a QB and look to move some of their aging vets. However, the division is a mess, and they could easily contend if they continue to kick the can down the road.
In terms of drafting, I have grabbed plenty of Alvin Kamara as I don’t think he gets suspended for this year. I am betting on a major comeback from MT. His upside far surpasses others in his range. Jameis still seems likely to go back to NO and if he does, would be a steal at his current price. If he doesn’t come back, Taysom is free in drafts and the only QB under contract.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fresh off their Super Bowl-winning season, the Bucs did everything they could to “run it back”. Despite salary cap concerns, they managed to bring back all 31 starters from 2020. They were super bowl favorites for the 2021 season. Due to this, 7 players were drafted regularly in BBM II – Mike Evans (35.5, WR16), Chris Godwin (40.2, WR18), Antonio Brown (69.9, WR34), Ronald Jones (104.1, RB34), Tom Brady (101.1, QB9), Leonard Fournette (127.5, RB40), Giovani Bernard (165.2, RB50), and Rob Gronkowski (159.1, TE18). Occasionally, Scott Miller (~9%), O.J. Howard (~34%), Cameron Brate (~0.2%), and Ke’Shawn Vaughn (~0.6%) were drafted.
As it turned out, owning the defending Super Bowl champions was the skeleton key to getting to the playoffs. The offense was one of the best in the league and it showed due to advance rates. They had a top 3 player at every position. Overall, Tom Brady was the QB1, Leonard Fournette was the RB2, Ronald Jones was the RB63, Giovanni Bernard was the RB34, Mike Evans was the WR3, Chris Godwin was the WR6, Antonio Brown was the WR27, and Rob Gronkowski was the TE1.
Despite all of the high advance rates, it didn’t lead people to big money due to their 0-point performance in Round 1 (week 15) knocking out a majority of teams. Regardless, it never really made sense why we were expecting regression from the offense. Brady, RoJo (although he stunk), Fournette, and Gronk shouldn’t have had >100 ADPs. We knew the offense was going to score. It was shown by having all 3 of their WRs as WR3s or better. It should have naturally raised our opinions on the others. Especially since there were no downgrades for the team.
Circling back to the RoJo-Fournette split, the market had a clear lean toward Ronald Jones due to his role in 2020. Yet in the playoffs, it was all the Lenny Fournette show where he put the team on his back and helped owners win playoff tournaments. We knew we wanted a piece of the Bucs’ running game due to how much the offense would score, why did we just throw Fournette to the curb? One valuable lesson is to try and even out ownership across ambiguous backfields moving forward.
The craziest thing to me is how Gronk ended as TE1 despite missing 5 games. The Brady-Gronk connection continued as he was still a force down the seam. He isn’t the player that he used to be, but he opened up the rest of the offense.
Looking forward to 2022, the Bucs are currently in shambles. The relationship between Bruce Arians and Tom Brady soured and became irreparable which led to Tom Brady retiring. They currently sit at $16.5M over the cap with their only solution at QB being Kyle Trask. With a roster still ready to compete, the major question is how do they improve their QB? Current free agents include Chris Godwin (franchise tagged), Ryan Jensen, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, William Gholston, Leonard Fournette, O.J. Howard, Blaine Gabbert, Ronald Jones, Richard Sherman, Carlton Davis, Gio Bernard, Breshad Perriman, Jordan Whitehead and Alex Cappa. Due to their situation, it is going to be difficult to sign any of them, unless they restructure contracts and kick the can down the road. My guess is they will try to do that.
In terms of drafting, I have been grabbing all the Godwin I can get. This was before he was tagged in hopes he would go elsewhere. He is appropriately valued due to their QB situation. RoJo has been a good late-round target as he is probably gone. Evans is consistent as hell and if they find a QB he will be a value. Lenny is tough to target due to where he goes. He is most likely to sign elsewhere but I don’t think he will be a 3-down back making it tough to exceed his ADP. O.J. Howard could finally break out on a new team, and he is free. Gronk will probably retire, but if he doesn’t, he is a value.
*UPDATE* – Leonard Fournette re-signed with the Bucs, which instantly catapults him into the top end of the running back landscape for fantasy football. We will have to monitor what they do in the draft and the rest of free agency, but there are very few players who we can project for the role and quantity of high value touches that Fournette will project for as the Bucs run it back with Brady one more time.