In this guide, I’m going to walk you through each category and mechanic that I take into account when evaluating the talent level of a college athlete looking to take the jump to the NFL.
The final prospect grade formula goes like this:
Overall Grade = (athleticism+film+talent+competition) x 10
Athleticism, Film Evaluation, the Level of Raw Talent, and the Competition Level at their program are all essential aspects to consider when looking at each player. Each category can tell you something different and may even change your mind on where to rank XYZ Prospect.
Next, I want to take a look at each individual category and explain my thinking in regards to each one.
0-1= Not NFL level 1-2= Average 2-2.5= Great Athlete 2.5-3= Elite
Athleticism is one of the easier ones to look at with the naked eye and evaluate. I like to use a mix of college film and the athlete’s pro day/combine scores to help determine these scores. Usually you can use NFL scouting events to see the basic size, speed, strength, and agility– but watching film can allow you to see their footwork, position related mechanics (release point for QBs, or tackling technique for a LB), or how they use their hands (catching, hand placement on a block, pass rush, etc.).
It’s important to keep in mind the position that the prospect plays when making this grade. A potential Pro-Bowl offensive lineman is not going to be the same type of athlete as a wide receiver, but they both can be elite athletes in their own respect. A wide receiver may run a 4.30 40 yard dash, but a good O-line prospect might hit 30 reps on the bench and test highly in the agility/footwork drills. You need to know what makes an athlete in their respective position great to do this correctly.
Film Grade: (Max Grade:3 )
0-1= Consistently bad 1-2= Bad, but some good 2-2.5= Consistently good 2.5-3= Near perfect
Big Play Ability
Pros vs Cons
Impact at their position
To me, the film analysis is the most telling part of a player’s translation to the next level. You can’t just watch highlights, you need to see how a player performs from down to down in varying situations. As an evaluator, you want to see their best and worst plays in order to see what they do well consistently and what needs work.
With watching film, you can look for their ability to make plays as an individual, see what mistakes they make most often, and how they impact their teams success from their position (how many sacks does a OT prevent/give up, does a RB make tough runs on 3rd/4th and short situations, etc.). This will help you understand the pros vs cons to this prospect and whether or not the good outweighs the bad– aka can they be fixed or perform in the NFL at a high level?
Talent (Max Grade: 3)
0-1= Bad 1-2= Average 2-2.5= Good 2.5-3= NFL Ready
Talent is a very broad term to think about as an evaluator, but really what I think of as ‘talent’ is good of a football player are they? Do they understand/have perfected the fundamentals of their position? Are they a leader of the team? Do they react well under pressure? How well do they understand the game?
As an outsider, I have no way of interviewing each athlete and determining their football IQ or their ability as a leader, but if you watch the right games/situations you can make an educated decision on a lot. Especially Bowl Games, Conference Championships, or the playoffs.
Competition (Max Grade: 1)
0-0.25= Weak conf/Poor perf, 0.25-0.5= Avg Comp/Perf, 0.5-0.75= Good comp, Bowl App. 0.75-1.0= Best comp, Playoff/Bowl App
Now, this part of the scale is ranked last on my list and has the lowest impact value, but I think it’s still important to think about when grading a prospect. If a player plays DII ball, plays in a weaker conference, or wins a championship/bowl game– it is very much worth noting. Sometimes the level of competition and their level of success is indicative of how a prospect will perform at the next level.
Minutes ago, Adam Schefter reported that the Miami Dolphins are trading the 3rd overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for the 12th overall pick, a 2021 3rd round pick, and 1st rounders in both 2022/23.
Right off the bat, I’m worried that the Niners gave up WAY too much.
This move, to me, is a huge gamble on one of the 3 QBs likely to be available at 3rd overall (Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, or Justin Fields).
All three of these guys have talent, but I see them as big time risks that require a bit of development. I don’t think anyone other than Trevor Lawrence is “NFL ready” enough to take a team over the top as contenders immediately.
On top of this, the 49ers are said to have intentions on KEEPING Jimmy Garoppolo… So they want to keep a QB on roster that they have under contract for nearly 140 million dollars AND trade 4 valuable, early round picks for another QB?
On the other hand, Miami has now flipped the picks they received from Houston into 4 first round selections plus an extra third rounder. They will likely let 2nd year QB/2020 1st round selection Tua Tagovailoa develop and compete with freshly signed vet Jacoby Brissett, while also giving themselves valuable early round selections to continue their accelerated rebuild.
The 49ers take a leap of faith on a rookie QB, while Miami continues to stock up on assets to build a team that just missed out on the playoffs after a 10 win season in 2020.
Dolphins have taken that 12th overall pick, the 3rd rounder and a future 2022 first and traded that to Philadelphia for the 6th overall pick and Philly’s 3rd this year.
As of March 17th, all NFL offseason trades and signings became official– but we all know that stuff was happening all over the NFL beforehand.
There’s been a ton of surprising moves that have made this offseason exciting and kept guys like Adam Schefter plenty busy on Twitter, but excitement doesn’t always add up to success. We’ve seen teams spend big in FA flop the following season.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this offseason period so far:
New England Patriots:
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock avoiding pro-football related news, then you probably know about the gigantic splash that the Patriots have made over the course of just a few days.
Getting some key-returning starters back and healthy for his defense wasn’t good enough. Belichick went out and signed stand out pass rusher Matthew Judon, an underrated interior defensive lineman in Davon Godchaux, and veteran DB Jalen mills. Not to mention they were able to claim LB Kyle Van Noy after he was released from Miami.
Yes, the team shelled out a good chunk of money, but all of these guys will most likely start on this defense and have a sizeable impact. Plus, I think that they were able to get impactful players at the correct value, without over-paying at all.
Offensively, the Patriots really struggled to score last season. Cam Newton came over as a free agency and showed some promise as a dual threat early in the season, but things slowed down as he lost some key pieces due to injury and COVID throughout the season (WR Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, Marcus Cannon, etc.). So, the team went out and made sure to sure up the offensive side of the ball too.
Right off the bat, New England traded for Raiders OT Trent Brown and went out and signed the former Titans TE Jonnu Smith. Then, signed WRs Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and another stud TE in Hunter Henry– all on top of keeping former MVP QB Cam Newton with the team. They also signed C Ted Karras.
Within just a few days, New England was able to solidify all 3 levels of their defense and provide Cam Newton some legitimate weapons to work with on offense.
A lot will say the Patriots spent too much money, but I really feel like these were big time moves to put them back on the playoff potential radar in the AFC.
The Patriots have definitely been winners so far.
Personally, I think the Titans have a very narrow window in which they can win a Super Bowl. Offense is their strong point, but how much longer can Derrick Henry run for 2,000 yards and touch the ball 400 times a season? How much longer can 32 year old Ryan Tannehill sling the ball 50 yards downfield? Well the key for longevity in the NFL in terms of championship contention is to be perfect in the off-season (trades, FA signings, and the draft).
So far, the Titans have lost key weapons in Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and 2020 first round selection Isaiah Wilson, which is not a good start.
In attempt to rebuild their defense, the Titans were able to bring back LB Jayon Brown and sign veteran players in DB Janoris Jenkins and DT Denico Autry.
However, they also signed ex-Steeler edge rusher Bud Dupree to a huge 5-year, 85 million dollar deal, which I think is very over priced for a guy with his production rate. In six years with Pittsburgh, he has only had double digit sacks once and had more than 40 tackles (as a LB) twice. Last season his overall player grade ranks in the “middle of the pack” at 60.2 (ProFootballFocus). It’s also important to mention that Dupree has largely been successful due to his unique athletic ability, and coming off a torn ACL last season may be harmful to his production.
In terms of his inconsistency, his recent injury, and the downgrade in relation to the talent around him on defense– paying him high-end pass rush money could prove to be harmful for the Titans if it doesn’t work out.
The Titans still need to bolster their secondary after they cut Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler… Janoris Jenkins will not be enough to hold up that unit.
Based on the significant players they’ve lost on both sides of the ball, and the huge risk they took on Dupree, I have to grade this as a loss so far.
Washington Football Team:
At the start of this offseason, it was very plausible to say that Washington is ready to contend for a Super Bowl. They have one of the absolute best front sevens in the NFL, an elite weapon offensively in Terry McLaurin, and an extremely intelligent HC in Ron Rivera.
Don’t forget: This team gave the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers trouble in the first round of the playoffs… with Taylor Heinicke at QB.
So far, Washington found a way to improve their already dominant defense by adding William Jackson to the secondary to fill out an already solid unit featuring S Landon Collins and CB Kendall Fuller. Jackson was ranked in the top 20 by Pro Football Focus in terms of DB grades last season.
Offensively, WFT was able to sign playmaking WR Curtis Samuel and veteran RB Lamar Miller to pair with the likes of Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson– which ultimately expands the array of weapons they can use offensively.
Now, maybe the biggest signing they’ve made addresses the QB position. Despite bouncing around the NFL, Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven himself to be a VERY serviceable QB and can win games while being efficient. With a roster that is good enough to win now, and based on what we saw this team do with the combination of Alex Smith (coming off a severe, career threatening injury), Taylor Heinicke, Dwayne Haskins, and Kyle Allen– I think Fitzpatrick can have some success here as the starter.
So, with the upgrade in the secondary and the addition of several offensive weapons, plus the 19th pick in the 2021 draft– Washington was able to get better and solidify themselves as NFC East favorites. So far, they’re winners.
For the past few years, Chicago has had chances to be great. They have elite players all over their defense, and big time play makers in David Montgomery, Allen Robinson, and Tarik Cohen on offense. However, QB Mitchell Trubisky never really worked out and the team was never able to recover from their “double doink” playoff loss to Philly in 2019.
With an elite QB to help out a very average offense (with some play makers and a poor offensive line), this team could definitely re-open it’s window to win a championship. They’ve even been in talks for major QB trade prospects Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson, but were unable to secure a trade for either.
Instead, they settled for… Andy Dalton.
The team was able to retain a few key starters, but I think they actually downgraded from Mitch Trubisky in terms of what their offense needs in a QB to be successful. At the very least, Trubisky was mobile and could extend plays. Dalton is a pure pocket passer with limited ability to create and distribute by using his legs, which puts their offense at a severe disadvantage– especially when you see how bad their offensive line play has been.
A very conservative, lack luster off-season has to be seen as a loss for the Bears, as their SB hopes with the core of this roster dwindling fast.
Of all the teams so far, these are the 4 that stood out the most in terms of Winners and Losers.
Here are some of the other teams that have had good/bad off-season’s up to this point:
Indianapolis— Resigned standout RB Marlon Mack to pair with Johnathan Taylor, traded for QB Carson Wentz to replace Phil Rivers.
Kansas City— Rebuilt their interior offensive line with OGs Joe Thuney and Kyle Long.
Miami— Added younger defensive depth in Benardrick McKinney/Justin Coleman. Brought in starting-caliber QB Jacoby Brissett, proven RB Malcolm Brown, and fixed major depth issues with the O-Line.
Buffalo— Added depth all over their roster- including WR Emmanuel Sanders and QB Mitch Trubisky.
LA Rams— Added Matt Stafford to potentially complete their offense and add some dynamic ability to the play calling for McVay. Also resigned pass rusher/LB Leonard Floyd.
Philadelphia— With so many holes on this roster and the team being in so much cap trouble, they need to make some more moves to give themselves some flexibility moving forward with their rebuild. You can’t rely on Howie Roseman’s drafting ability to supplement talent on this roster… which would scare me as an Eagles fan. Although they haven’t done anything horrible, you can’t really call this off-season a success right?
Green Bay-– Last season the Packers lost to the eventual SB champion Buccaneers, but this off-season they lost some valuable pieces in RB Jamaal Williams, C Corey Linsley, and starting LB Christian Kirksey. In response, they haven’t done anything aside from retain Aaron Jones. If they want to extend their SB contention status, GB needs to fill these holes and add some more offensive talent around Adams, Jones, and Aaron Rogers if they want to make another deep run.
Seattle— While they have made a few decent trades/re-signings, Seattle is in trouble with discussion of Russell Wilson wanting to be traded. If they can’t figure out a way to protect their QB and provide him with an adequate enough roster to win, they will most likely have to trade him next off-season… Making your franchise QB upset is not a good way to start the new NFL year.
As we approach the 2021 NFL draft, I think it’s pretty obvious that the consensus #1 selection is Clemson QB, Trevor Lawrence.
This makes a ton of sense since Jacksonville is in need of a functional starting quarterback, which is probably the most valued position in all of football. With a star QB, you get the chance to turn a bad team into a decent one overnight.
However, being a top quarterback prospect in any given draft class doesn’t mean they’re the best player in said draft… not by any means.
(See the 2018 Draft where Baker Mayfield was picked first overall, before these high impact players: Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, and Minkah Fitzpatrick…)
Drafting a QB is always a risk, and if I’m a GM with the first pick in the draft, I’m looking for the very best player to pick. Minimal risk with maximum reward. This is supposed to be the easiest pick of the whole process, and yet so many teams screw it up because they feel pressure to draft a QB, even when a player in a “less flashy” position is way more talented.
Some teams draft to build a complete, winning roster, while others draft to make the fans happy.
So lets get to the point. I think the best player in the 2021 draft, in terms of talent, instant impact, versatility, and low-risk is Kyle Pitts (Tight End, Florida).
Don’t get me wrong, Trevor Lawrence is an excellent player and one of the better looking QB talents to come out of college in a long time, but Kyle Pitts is the safer selection. Here’s why.
Pitts is one of the better athletes to come out of college in the last decade. At 6 feet 6 inches, 250 pounds, with a 4.53 40 yard dash, he could be an absolute problem in the NFL right away with a rare combination of strength, speed, and massive size.
As impressive as those numbers are when evaluating a prospect’s athletic ability, the film on Pitts is even better. If you watch any game of his, especially from this past season, you’ll see that he’s more than just a big raw talent with some unique athletic ability. Kyle Pitts is a polished, gifted playmaker with elite athletic talent.
Pitts has exceptional tight end speed, great footwork, and elite level awareness when running routes and finding the open zones on the field. At several points in various games, he reminded me of a flashier Jason Witten.
I also want to point out two minor details that the average viewer doesn’t think about when watching a tight end:
1. Getting out of a 3-point stance with velocity and power and
2. Cleanly getting off of the line of scrimmage.
Pitts is exceptional at both.
Truthfully, it was rare to see him come out of stance slow, and he seldom was even touched while running a route downfield from the TE spot on the line. This wasn’t pure coincidence either, he just is that good with his footwork and using arm extensions to create space and explode from his stance. This is a big factor in terms of timing for the quarterback and can make a good tight end into an elite weapon on the field. This, seemingly, little detail to a TE’s game is actually extremely important, and most guys coming into the league have to spend a couple seasons working on technique to get to his point. Some never get quite there and don’t pan out as an NFL starter.
Also, if you watch any film from this past season, Pitts absolutely dominates teams and can take over an offense not only as a traditional TE, but he can also line up in the slot or as an outside WR. He showcases his versatility in just about every game, but his performance against #1 ranked Alabama this past season was unreal to watch.
Not only is he a force in the passing game, but he also displays his power and speed as a run blocker. He uses a strong first step, his big body, and power with his hands to handle DE’s easily (although his hand placement needs refining), and he has the speed and footwork to get to the second level and block LB’s effectively, which is extremely difficult to do since most tight ends don’t possess the same athletic ability Pitts has. Plus, a lot of modern NFL tight ends are either pure catchers or are used in run blocking situations. Only NFL greats like Rob Gronkowski or George Kittle (there are obviously more) are able to do both at a high level and, again, Pitts is already at an elite level with both skills.
In the NFL, we’ve seen versatile, elite TEs make a massive impact on their respective teams. Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle are all prominent examples of guys at this position playing at a very high level and helping carry their offense towards the Super Bowl (Kelce, Gronk, and Ertz won theirs).
With that being said, the tight end position has a much higher value than people give credit for. In fact, TE is one of the hardest positions in the NFL to play since you have to block like a lineman and run/catch like a receiver (or be extremely good at one of those skills) in order to be good enough to make a roster. Pitts has all the tools that these elite guys mentioned have, and with time and development could turn into a really special player.
What I’m saying here is that a tight end who has speed, size, and the unique skill set to play any position on the offensive side of the ball is extremely valuable in the modern NFL. The best teams have a reliable, big time level tight end who can do everything, and those teams have made deep playoff runs or won Super Bowls. If you had a chance to take a polished, well-rounded, athletic monster on offense, you’d take him right? Kyle Pitts checks all the boxes and has the skill set to be an offensive threat in the NFL from day one.
Obviously, there is always risk when selecting any player in the draft. You never know how their game is going to translate from college to the pros, but there are sometimes guys that you can watch on tape and recognize greatness.
Earlier, I used the examples of guys like Saquon Barkley and Quenton Nelson, and that was for good reason. Back then even, I argued that Saquon was the best player in that draft class because of his athletic gift and once in a generation type talent as a playmaker. Quenton Nelson was THE best O-Line prospect I’ve ever watched and he’s quickly blossomed into an All-Pro player and one of the best linemen in the NFL, yet Baker Mayfield was taken first overall and has struggled to live up to the hype.
With that being said, having the first overall pick probably means that your team lacks talent all over the board and is in dire need of a weapon of some sort. You can’t afford to mess up the most valuable draft spot in the NFL, so why not take a sure-fire, impact player who going to make your team better right away? We’ve established that the TE spot is extremely valuable and highly utilized in today’s game, and Pitts feels like the next great.
Something else to think about when you factor in risk with a prospect is the level of competition they faced during their collegiate careers. Pitts played in the SEC, which is by far the best conference in NCAA Football and regularly faced some of the best teams in the country. Plus, he played for a program that isn’t regarded as one of the “top tier” schools at the moment, and still continued to dominate against ranked teams and SEC opponents.
Although Trevor Lawrence has played some of those great teams and has two National Titles, playing in the lackluster ACC should be a bit of a weakness on his resume. If you couple that with the fact that Clemson is probably the second best football program in the nation and he has had a team with some of the very best college athletes and talents surrounding him, then you really have to wonder if he is a definite star when moving into the NFL.
Now, I’m not arguing that Trevor has no chance in the NFL, but I think transitioning from star QB in college then to the NFL is extremely difficult, and a dominate athlete like Pitts should adjust much easier.
So, I’ve laid down my case. To me, Kyle Pitts could realistically be the best all-around player in this draft with the lowest risk factor. He could be taken #1 overall in several situations, but I know in my heart it won’t happen. Lawrence will go first and we’ll just have to wait to see how he pans out in Jacksonville.
However, don’t be surprised when a TE goes in the top 5 this year. This dude is insanely talented as a college player, and when a player like this enters the draft, there will be a plethora of teams that will want him.
Calling it now: Kyle Pitts will be a Top 3 TE in the next 5 years and will have HOF potential.
On March 17th, the first big splash of the NFL offseason will be official. Long time Detroit Lions QB, Matthew Stafford, will officially be traded to the LA Rams for two future 1st Round picks, a future 3rd, and QB Jared Goff.
While this move is pivotal for both franchises (Detroit gets a young QB to potentially build around & a surplus of essential draft picks and LA gets a QB they think reinforces their status as contenders in the NFC again), what most don’t realize is how important this move was for the QB market all around the league, and with so many different QBs on the market this offseason, it made me wonder what they be worth based on what the Rams gave up for Stafford.
There’s a lot to factor in with Teddy. You need to remember that he had one of the more brutal, unfortunate knee injuries in recent memory and it took him a long time before he could even step back on to the football field.
Pre-injury, I thought he had potential to be a middle of the pack, top 15 starter in the league that could guide the right team into possible contention. That’s a tough call now though after he played 15 games and threw 11 interceptions to 15 touchdowns.
The upside here is he had a solid 3,700 yards passing and this was his first full season as a starter in FIVE years. There’s certainly a chance that he could shake the rust off and change that TD:INT ratio in a positive fashion. Keep in mind, he’s also only 28 and could be serviceable for another 5 years or so at least.
There are pros and cons here to making a move to get Teddy, but I could see a rebuilding team with a solid foundation take a chance to see what they could do. Most likely a team with a late 1st round selection that won’t get any of the best prospects, but needs a starter would be willing to deal a 3rd round pick to fill the gap for at least a year or two. Carolina could also package Teddy and their 8th overall pick to make a move on a veteran guy they like or to accumulate more future picks.
Face Value: 3rd round pick
Potential Fits: New England, Minnesota, Washington
One of the hottest stories since the end of the regular season (and before that even) was the dispute between former Philly HC Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. It seems as though the two had an “unrepairable” relationship and Wentz wanted out.
Even with the firing of Pederson and the hiring of Nick Sirianni, it seems like Wentz still wants to be traded. It was even discussed that he would be gone within a week or two following the Super Bowl, but we’re still waiting on that to happen. I hate to ask, but what do you even give up for a guy who showed MVP, top 5 QB potential, but has struggled ever since a knee injury that has hindered his performance greatly the past 3 years?
Let’s think about it. Wentz, as I mentioned, has had MVP potential, so the reward there can be extremely high value, but there can also be minimal value after we saw Wentz struggle throughout the entirety of 2020-2021 and eventually be benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. There’s even rumor that Wentz is “uncoachable” and “stubborn”, making him very incompatible with any coach whose there to try and help him improve mechanics, decision making, etc. These, of course, are rumors and impossible to confirm as an outsider.
We also need to factor in how terrible the roster is for the Eagles since their Super Bowl victory. The offensive line has quickly digressed since their elite 2017 campaign, and so has the receiving corps. So many times, Wentz would be stuck with a handful of practice squad players and (seemingly) an unmotivated Zach Ertz to throw to, which isn’t an ideal situation for ANY quarterback. On top of the downfall from the Super Bowl winning players, GM Howie Roseman has proven to the league that he may just be the worst talent evaluator and drafting executive in the NFL. A team deep in salary trouble, no weapons outside of Miles Sanders and two tight ends, and one of the most inconsistent defenses in the NFL with a GM who fails year in and year out to fill the roster out with youthful talent…. who would want to be here?
I think Wentz has value. He’s 28, has shown flashes of being elite, and (with the right coaching and line situation) I think he can take a team to the Super Bowl. Yes, he has tons of room to prove, but if you’re a win now team and think you’re a QB away, Wentz is proven and wouldn’t cost as much as, say, Deshaun Watson (see below).
I still think Wentz would be worth a shot to spend a 1st round pick, and maybe one or two later or future picks, especially if he restructures his expensive contract and has a much less cap hit. You get a solid QB with all the right intangibles of a modern NFL quarterback with a possibility to be elite in the right situation. Is he much more of a risk than any of the prospects in the draft?
Face Value: 1st round pick + future 3rd/4th
Potential Fits: Chicago, Indianapolis, San Francisco
Darnold was one of my absolute favorite prospects of the 2018 draft class, but has yet to live up to his potential. He has all the right tools and has significantly improved on his decision making skills since entering the league, but I believe has been held back by an incompetent coaching staff and a lack of talent around him. Since Darnold was drafted, the Jets have ranked 25th (2018), 28th (2019), 29th (2020) in offensive line grades per Pro Football Focus. You add that on top of the lack of offensive weapons and the trading of key defensive players (Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams), and you have one terrible roster.
I think Darnold is still extremely valuable as a trade target. He’s still only 23 years old ( a kid in the NFL) and can be extremely accurate and intelligent with the ball when protected. His stats are not good (only one season with more than 3k yards, career TD: INT is 45:39), but he has so much time to improve and rise to his potential stardom. If you’ve watched any Jets games, you know this kid has something to him that has yet to really be unleashed with the current state of the Jets.
Essentially, trading for Darnold isn’t much different than taking a rookie in the draft– only Sam has three seasons of NFL starter experience. I would also probably draft him over any of the prospects not named Trevor Lawrence. Give this kid a line and some decent coaching and see what he can do. The Jets will likely expect some compensation considering what they gave up to get him in the first place, but a package of 2-3 picks could help a team avoid paying a 1st rounder… WHICH IS A STEAL.
Potential Fits: Indianapolis, Washington, New England
Now, this is one of the more interesting storylines of the offseason so far. There’s word that Wilson is extremely frustrated with Seattle’s inability to provide a stable offensive line and may ask for a trade. I don’t really think it happens this year, but if the trend continues into the 2021 season, I think there’s a big chance he leaves. If that’s the case, I thought it would be fun to throw his name in the mix for this year’s QB market value estimations.
If you watch anything from the NFL (even just the top highlights), you probably know how good Wilson is. Since entering the league, Wilson has proved to be one of the very best QBs in the NFL with excellent mobility, football intelligence, and accuracy while leading Seattle to two Super Bowl appearances. He is a proven winner and elite quarterback– there is NO debate. If this guy is hinting that he wants out, I’d give up a TON to go get him. Just think, Wilson has been in the MVP conversation almost every year despite having one of the worst line protection in the league, imagine what he can do with even just decent guys upfront…
Face Value: 3 first round picks + 2nd round pick + a player of value
Potential Fits: New England, Miami, Pittsburgh
There was a time where Atlanta had a timeframe to win a championship, but that ship has sailed. Significant injuries all over the roster and the inability to maintain leads and win games has shut that window rather fast. I see a roster overhaul coming very soon, and Matt Ryan will likely be one of the first to go.
By no means do I think Matt Ryan stinks or is washed up, but I also never really thought he was elite. He did win an MVP and has had some standout years, but I would still mark only throw him in the 12-15 range in terms if QB ranking. He’s good, but no Mahomes or Rodgers or Brady or…. you get the point.
The issue with Ryan is the fact that he’s 35 years old and has a pretty big cap hit. I’m not sure how many teams would have interest in giving up assets to get him, but IF someone would show interest, I don’t think they would have to give up too much. Ideally, he would go somewhere with a solid line and weapons. He could be a cheap trade to make for a contender without a QB. Who knows what he still has in the tank.
Face Value: 4th/5th rounder + a player
Potential Fits: San Francisco, Washington, Minnesota
San Francisco is built to win RIGHT NOW, and Jimmy G is holding them back with his inability to perform in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. They need to make a change at QB and would likely package Jimmy and some picks to look for a replacement.
Between his time with the Patriots and 49ers, he has shown he can win, but thrives in very different system than Shanahan runs. What makes a deal very tough is his very unfavorable contract paired with his fairly average stats as a start in San Fran. He would likely need to restructure his deal, and San Fran would likely need to accept a loss with this experiment if they want to compete while they still have their SB ready roster mostly together.
Face Value: 5th round pick
Potential Fits: New England
The trade everyone has been waiting anxiously for. Deshaun Watson is BY FAR the best trade option available for all teams. It would be awfully hard to pass on an elite, 25 year old QB with a favorable contract (for his age and talent). I think Watson is good enough to make almost ANY team a contender right now. Aside from Mahomes, he’s the next best young stud QB in the NFL.
Watson has excellent pocket instincts and mobility, putting him in a Russell Wilson/Pat Mahomes type category when it comes down to escaping pressure and extending plays. I would even say he’s more athletic than the other two and is probably a better, natural runner with the football.
He also is super football intelligent and rarely makes mistakes (only 36 interceptions in 54 career games), and is a proven winner at all levels. With a little help on the offensive line and even just mediocre weapons on offense, and he will turn that team into an automatic playoff squad at the very least.
However, based on his no trade clause and Houston’s firm belief that they can “make it work”, it’s gonna take a lot to actually sway the Houston front office to make a deal. If Stafford was worth 2 first rounders and a 3rd plus Goff, you would need to give a TON to land a younger, better version of him.
Face Value: 3/4 first round picks + 2/3 second round picks + 2/3 late rounders
Potential Fits: San Francisco, Miami, Indianapolis
After 16 weeks of play, the NFL post-season is really starting to take shape. Several teams in both conferences have already clinched playoffs berths, but others remain hopeful for a chance heading into week 17.
With all this on the table, we have an opportunity to predict who will snatch the last few spots and compete for a title. Have my contender picks stood strong all season? Are my pretenders still pretending? What will the 2020 NFL Playoffs look like? Let’s dive in.
Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship
Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.
Pretender/Contender for Teams That Have Clinched:
Of all the teams that clinched, I had previously had 5/7 listed as contenders (fairly consistently) all season long. These have been the cream of the crop all year long, but, as we know, ANYTHING can happen in the postseason. All you have to do is get into the dance, and you have a shot.
Buffalo: The Bills have shaped up to be one of my favorite picks to win the NFC. Josh Allen, to me, has been playing at an extremely high level and should be in the MVP conversation. Plus, Stefon Diggs should probably be top 3 in OPOTY votes. The Buffalo offense is extremely explosive (ranking 4th in total offense according to ESPN), and the defense has been extremely solid (top 10 or just outside of it in all major defensive stats). There are not many weaknesses on this team, but Josh Allen has been previously labeled as a QB who crumbles under pressure. We saw it last season in his wild card game against Houston. I have a feeling though that he will break that stigma and carry the Bills towards a deep playoff run. Contender.
Pittsburgh: After a dominant 11-0 stretch, the Steelers feel like they’ve fizzled out physically and mentally. The defense has suffered from some big losses due to injury. The offense has struggled to even move the ball, let alone score points. I think this team has a solid foundation, but getting cold and worn down towards the final stretch of the regular season is not a good sign– despite their heroic 2nd half performance against the Colts. They’ve looked lazy, tired, and frustrated. Barring any miraculous turn around headed into the playoffs, I really don’t see this team making a far run. I’m going to have to label them as a pretender.
Kansas City: I don’t think it comes as a surprise that Kansas City has already locked up their division and a first round bye week. They’ve been one of the most consistent offensive teams in the NFL over the past few seasons with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes leading the way. Strangely enough, Mahomes has struggled recently. In the month of December he’s had 8TDs/4 Ints, 3 fumbles, and has recorded back to back games with 50-55% completion percentages, none of which is your typical Mahomes. Aside from this outlier month, the Chiefs have been extremely good and I expect Pat to turn things around in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Chiefs are more than likely the best team in the AFC and are surely contenders, but let’s not forget how hard it is for a team to make back to back Super Bowls…
Green Bay: The Packers have been extremely hot ever since their loss to Indianapolis 5 weeks ago, and have continued the winning streak with a blowout win over the Titans. The Green Bay offense is probably the best all around in the NFC and has shown the ability to utilize an elite rushing and passing attack where necessary. The defense is, however, just solid. They have an elite corner in Jaire Alexander with good depth in the secondary, and a talented group on the front 7 anchored by Kenny Clark. In order for the Packers to make it all the way to the championship, they need Aaron Rogers to be dominate and the defense to hold up against any of the tough offenses they’ll face in the NFC. Nonetheless, GB is an obvious contender.
New Orleans: I’m not sold on New Orleans as a winner out of the NFC. Yes, the defense has been top end in the NFL this season, but the offense has been inconsistent. Drew Brees has been banged up again this year, on top of taking on a decline in his throwing power/accuracy from last year’s thumb surgery. The line hasn’t held up either, mostly due to injury, but with a unit being so hurt all season long– is their chemistry where it should be this far into the season (let alone their conditioning and durability in a year with contactless training camp). On top of that, Michael Thomas has been extremely underwhelming (40 catches, 438 yards, ZERO touchdowns in 7 games), which is a huge hit to the Saints’ efficiency and explosiveness as an offense. Defense wins championships… so long as the offense can produce, and I’m not convinced this is the year or the window for the Saints to do it. Pretender.
Tampa Bay: Tom Brady and the Bucs were supposed to be UNBEATABLE this season remember? Mike Evans, OJ Howard, Gronk, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy with TB12??? If you believed the hype back then, you were probably in for a wake up call when they lost the season series against the Saints (including a 38-3 blowout loss), got manhandled by the Chicago defense, and struggled against some very mediocre teams (NYG, LAR, LAC, ATL). Yes the Bucs are good, but all the excitement and attention they got in the offseason was uncalled for, and their play this season as an average team should have been proof enough. I respect that Brady was able to leave the Patriots and still be successful (granted he has one of the best offensive coaches in the NFL in Bruce Arians), but their inconsistency as a team this year has me worried for them going into the playoffs– especially with their defense being so inexperienced. I think they’ll win a wildcard game (depending on the matchup), but I don’t expect much more than that. Pretender.
Seattle: I love Russell Wilson and what he brings to the table as a QB in the NFL. Without a doubt he has elite instincts and abilities (especially when he’s outside the pocket) that very few possess. However, the lack of talent on the defensive end of the ball worries me headed into the playoffs, which is unusual for a Seattle team. At the start of December, Seattle ranked LAST in yards allowed, which is just unacceptable as a playoff bound team. If they come across an Aaron Rogers or even a Tom Brady in the playoffs, their run will be very short lived with such poor play on defense. For these reasons, I have to put them as pretenders. Russ’ magic might sneak them a win, but I don’t expect them to hold out for a Super Bowl run.
Pretender/Contender: In the Hunt
Now, I’m not here to say who will or won’t get into the post season (we all know how crazy these in/out situations get), but I do want to highlight whether any of these teams still have a chance at making a legitimate run.
Miami: As Miami gained some traction as a legitimate squad in the NFL, I previously labeled them as a pretender, and I still have to stick by that. Despite an impressive record for a team that was supposed to continue their rebuild, an excellent defense, and a rising star in HC Brian Flores, I don’t think Tua is good enough to lead the Dolphins on a deep playoff run. Yes, he’s a rookie and needs some more help from his weapons, but from what I’ve seen the highly coveted rookie seems like the next Alex Smith to me. He is smart with the ball, fairly athletic, and has a good enough arm to make some impressive throws– but he’s no Mahomes, Rogers, or Wilson. There is certainly room for improvement, but as it stands, he functions as a middle of the pack game manager type QB. He’ll get his big chance to prove me wrong this week with the biggest game of his young career (Fitzpatrick out with COVID) and a chance to lead Miami to their first playoff appearance since 2016. To me though, the Dolphins are pretenders.
Baltimore: The Ravens really had a huge fallout through this back half of the season. After a 6-2 start, Baltimore had a tough 3 game skid that put them at 6-5 and seemingly on track to miss the playoffs. This setback could still cost them a playoff trip, but we’re here to talk about their power to make a run IF they do get in. At times, this offense appears absolutely lethal (7 games with 30 points or more), and at other times they look fairly stagnant. The low games are what make the Ravens a tough call as a contender. When they scored under 30, they were only a 3-3 team. Granted, that’s fairly average– but 1. This tells me Baltimore struggles to win when the offense can’t carry the load all game, 2. Average isn’t enough in the NFL playoffs. You need to be totally balanced with all 3 phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams) and if the offense can’t pull their own weight in the post season– Baltimore is doomed. We’ve seen, multiple times now, that when a team comes up with a game plan to contain Lamar Jackson in the postseason the team tends to crumble. Is Jackson ready to turn that streak around? It doesn’t feel like it… Pretender
Cleveland: This is the best Cleveland Browns team I have (personally) ever seen. The 1-2 punch between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is lethal, the defense is playing at a superb level, and the offensive line is top 5 in the league in my book. This is a very, very solid team… BUT their weakness lies in the most crucial point of any team… the quarterback. When Baker Mayfield was drafted 1st overall in 2018, I rolled my eyes and said to myself ‘what a Browns thing to do’, and I still stand by that thought. Time and time again, Baker has proved to be shaky at best when it comes to accuracy (7th highest ‘bad throw %’ at 19% per Pro Football Reference), and inaccurate QBs will get pummeled in the post season. Let alone, we haven’t seen Mayfield play in a big game that was comparable to an NFL play off game since he was in college, making him very untested and unproven… I don’t trust that. Even with a top 5 line, elite running backs, and pro bowlers in Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper to throw to, Baker has still be very average (if not worse at times). Pretender.
Tennessee: The Titans have been a super solid team all year and have carried that momentum they had at the end of the year last season into this one. Derrick Henry is by far the best power running back in the game, and most definitely top 3 in terms of all around talent in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill has been on fire, allowing their young wideouts AJ Brown and Corey Davis to really have productive seasons. On the other side of the ball the defense is, without a doubt, built with star talent with guys like DaQuan Jones, Rashaan Evans and Kevin Byard headlining the group. Last year, the Titans really showed the league that they deserve to be up there with the elite teams in the NFL with a trip to the AFC championship game. This year, they’ve brought the same energy and intensity, despite a crazy COVID season. Early in the year I didn’t see them as continuing the hot play, but they’ve showed signs of legitimate contention with huge wins against the Colts, Bills, Ravens, and Bears (all teams with a shot to make the playoffs). If they want to make a deep run, they do need to make sure their special teams play stays steady (can’t have a repeat of what happened against the Colts on a Thursday Night game a few weeks ago), but if they can fix that dimension of their play then they can be serious contenders.
Indianapolis: Those who know me know that the Colts are my team, and that I think this is one of the best teams Indy has had in quite awhile. When healthy, I think they have a top 3 O-Line, a top 5 defense, and one of the best sets of running backs in the league (Marlon Mack has been out with an achillies injury all year remember). Plus, the wideouts are extremely underrated. Rookie Michael Pittman has shown signs of a budding star along with the undrafted Zach Pascal… not to mention star TY Hilton has been getting hot lately. However, the issue with this team has been Philip Rivers and his inability to make plays with his feet or make deep passes consistently. At several points this season the offense has gained a huge lead and become one dimensional to the point where the opposition was able to catch up and not allow Rivers to make plays by controlling their run game and blitzing Rivers to pressure him to make inaccurate throws (because he can’t escape the pocket at all). If the Colts get in, they need to have a totally healthy offensive line and Rivers needs to be perfect every possession for them to have a chance…but I don’t have faith in either variable so far. Sadly, I don’t think Indy has the QB talent to push them for a Super Bowl run. The league has changed and a pure pocket QB like Rivers won’t get them far if they do get in. Pretender.
WAS/DAL/NYG: Well, one of these teams are going to get into the playoffs. Dallas is essentially incompetent defensively and totally unbalanced on offense without Dak Prescott. Pretender.
The Giants are young and headed in the right direction. They need some help at wideout and the offensive line, but otherwise they are a very good young squad, but there is certainly lots of room to improve. However, without star RB Saquon Barkley, they have no shot. On the right track, but pretender.
Washington is the one team in this division who can win a surprise game or two in the playoffs. They, quietly, have one of the highest rated defenses in the NFL with (maybe) the best defensive line in the league. That’s a hot take, but there’s no denying that they have elite talent there. On the other hand, the offense has grown Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson into young stars. With Haskins out of the picture at QB, they aren’t totally awful there anymore. Alex Smith (if healthy enough to play) could very well carry the team to a wild card win. If it happens don’t be surprised. However, they are not ready for a Super Bowl win. Don’t get it twisted though… they are extremely close to being there. For this year though, Pretender.
Chicago: The Bears dug themselves into a hole by swapping starting QBs multiple times this season. I said it early on in the year when Trubisky was originally benched at halftime after a 3-0 start to the year– you can’t keep changing QBs and expect the offense to click or the team to keep morale high. This (probably) explains the team’s struggles to stay .500 (currently 8-7). They do possess a very talented defense and if they get into the playoffs they could surprise a few with a win in the wild card round, but this just isn’t the year for them based on what I’ve seen. They have the tools, but have consistently fallen short of expectations which forces me to list them as pretenders.
LA Rams/Arizona: After a decent start to the year with some huge divisional wins, the Rams have been severely inconsistent with a 9-6 record. Losses to the Jets, a depleted San Francisco team (twice), and a devastating divisional loss to the Seahawks have really slimmed their chances towards the end of the year. A matchup for a playoff spot (essentially) with division rival Arizona should prove to be a fun game to watch. Arizona, similarly, has had an extremely up and down sort of year– but I think they have a slight edge in offensive prowess and talent to top the Rams and potentially lock up a playoff berth. Despite the outcome, both teams have been far too inconsistent to make a legitimate run. LA has holes all over their roster and a QB who has failed to perform consistently on the big stages, while Arizona is young and untested all across the board. Both squads have to be labeled as pretenders now– especially in a highly competitive NFC.
Contenders: Buffalo, Kansas City, Green Bay, Tennessee.
Pretenders: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Washington, NYG, Dallas, Chicago, LAR, Arizona
After realizing not much was changing every 2 weeks, I wanted to give some time for the NFL to really shape up and sort out the good and not so good teams. Now, with 6 more weeks of football played, the playoff outlook has drastically changed since I last assessed things. Let’s get back to it then:
Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship
Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.
Still a Contender: Of all the teams I saw as contenders after 4 weeks, here are the ones that still sit pretty on the list.
Bills: Buffalo has a very complete team and are in prime position to win the AFC East. With key wins against Seattle, NYJ, and New England– they are sitting with 7-2 record and are sitting in the 1st place throne in their division. However, a surprise team has been slowly creeping up and may just compete for the division title… Anyway, Josh Allen is still in MVP talks (to me anyway), the Buffalo defense is balanced and super solid as a unit, and they have finally acquired a superstar offensive skill guy in Stefon Diggs– so they stay on the contender list without a doubt.
Steelers: As the only undefeated team in football, can we really even make a case for Pittsburgh to NOT be on the contending list? Big Ben, despite my worries, has been rock solid all season and has proven himself once again as an elite QB in the league– despite his age and recent surgery. Plus, the Steelers boast one of the deepest receiving groups in the league. Outside Juju, both Dionate Johnson and Chase Claypool have been outstanding playmakers and have been putting up impressive stats over the past few games. Pile the explosive passing attack on to a team with a dominant, top 3 defense in the league– and you have a contender… maybe even the best team in the AFC.
Colts: Sitting at a solid 6-3, Indy has been one of the better overall teams in the league. I’d argue that the Colts have a top 3-5 defense in the league (they’ve certainly played that way thus far), but they are hindered by the offense. In their 3 losses, we have gotten the turnover heavy version of QB Phillip Rivers, where he’s had crucial, game changing miscues (talk about a Game Winning Turnover…) that have ended badly for the Colts. However, with the emergence of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, and the steady improvement of the young receiving group (not to mention the fact that they have the best offensive line in the NFL), this team has all the makings of a contender– especially with a HUGE TNF win against division rival Tennessee to take the division lead.
Chiefs: You really can’t count out a team lead by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs after what we saw last season– especially as they sit atop their division at 8-1, and their only loss coming from a very competitive LV Raider team. I do have concerns about the offensive line and the depth on defense– but they were also the same concerns I had last year and we all know how their post season run went… Easily a contender still.
Packers: After an explosive 4-0 start, the Packers have dropped some very winnable games and they have sort of came back down to Earth. A blowout loss to an inconsistent Tampa and a crushing divisional loss to the (2-5) Vikings raised some concern, but I think they will be just fine. The trio of Rogers, Jones, and Adams has been exciting to watch, and the defense has continued it’s solid play from last season– making them a legitimate contender and all but a lock for the divisional title.
Seahawks: After a 5-0 start, Seattle has dropped to 6-3 and has a lot less momentum than they did since I last assessed them. 2 of those losses have been to the Rams and Cardinals– two highly competitive teams who are all tied in the division. However, losing those two games is a huge setback in a tight divisional race and a very competitive NFC conference… Even at, say, 10-6– this team could miss the playoffs. I’m keeping them as contenders for now, but they are on veryyyyy thin ice here with their divisional record.
Rams: The LA Rams are so inconsistent to me. They’ll have huge wins against very good teams, but then crap the bed against a team that they should have no problem handling. The LAR defense, between stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, is insanely talented and can be dominant at times– but the offense is very up and down– mostly due to the recent QB play. At this point, it is almost safe to say that Jared Goff is a bust. Not because he’s awful QB, but when you take a guy 1st overall– you expect much more dominant play, and I really believe that without an offensive genius as HC like Sean McVay, Goff would be on the bench or playing somewhere else by now. Even so, Goff has been super average– but they have gotten the job done. This past week’s win against Seattle was HUGE to keep them on my contender list. The next few weeks are pivotal however, and they need to keep earning divisional wins to keep up with the others in a tight NFC conference.
Cardinals: I have known how sneaky talented the Cardinals have been since last year, but Kyler Murray has really surpassed my expectations and has grown steadily as an NFL QB. The team has really put Kyler in a position to grow, mature, and make big plays– especially with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. At the moment, Arizona sits atop the NFC West with an undefeated divisional record, and a huge win against a dominant Buffalo team this past week. I love the explosiveness of their offense, and the defense is sneaky good. As we know, hot teams like this usually have opportunity to make nice playoff runs (see last year’s Titans), and I have a shaky feeling Arizona could be that team this season… look out for it.
Raiders: I love the makeup of this football team, but I thought the core pieces on both sides of the ball were just a bit too young to start producing at a high rate just yet– however, the Raiders have seriously proven me wrong. LV has huge wins against Kansas City, Denver, and the Chargers– keeping them undefeated within the division and two games behind KC for first place. Gruden has really made scrappy group of young guys into a solid overall squad and could seriously contend for a division title or at the least a wild card spot. They get to take on Mahomes and Chiefs again this week, and this game could have HUGE implications for the playoff hopes for the Raiders. If they can pull out a win and stay hot, look out for them as underdogs to steal the AFC West.
The Entire NFC East: At this point, it isn’t really worth making separate writing blocks for any of these squads. All of them are just flat out bad– especially when you look at some of the other NFC squads. Washington and Dallas have tremendous QB issues, New York lacks an offensive line and offensive weapons (remember Saquon is hurt), and I guess that leaves Philly– who at this point is the division leader and will probably be the winner in the end. However, I expect whoever wins this division to get smacked in the wildcard round quite honestly.
49ers: I was really hopeful for San Fran this season, but it has been an utter disaster for them. The once dominant defense is extremely injury plagued, Jimmy G is either hurt of playing awfully, and they have fallen far, far behind the rest of their divisional opponents in the race to earn a spot in the post season. Unfortunately, I don’t see their season turning around anytime soon. At least, for San Fran sports fans,
Dolphins: Now, the Dolphins have been extremely good over the past few weeks– much better than anyone probably imagined was possible at this point in their rebuild. They decided to bench Fitzmagic for their 1st round draft choice in Tua– a move that I questioned heavily at the time due to the hip injury Tua had been recovering from. However, he has been much more mobile and confident than I imagined, but he has not put up eye popping numbers or anything. What I love about Miami is their defense– which Brian Flores has really brought to life. Despite all the good, I don’t think they can grab a playoff spot without the Bills falling apart– even if that happens I don’t see them making any sort of spectacular run in the AFC. They do have room to move up on the list though, with huge games coming up against KC, Vegas, and the Bills.
Titans: After falling apart on TNF this past week, it’s hard to say that the Titans are going to go on a magical playoff run again. Unlike many more obvious contenders, Tennessee has only 1 impressive win, which was a blowout victory against Buffalo, but other than that they’ve grinded out narrow wins or lost. I think they’re a decent team with a dominant run game and underrated air attack, but the defense is up and down. Plus, the special teams has been more than inconsistent (especially when you look at the disaster of a second half they had against the Colts)– which has cost them heavily. They will continue to compete with Indy for the division title, and will probably steal a wildcard spot– but it won’t be easy and I haven’t seen enough dominant play for me to deem them a contender.
Saints: I have seen flashes of defensive dominance and excellence, but as I’ve said before, Drew Brees does not look the same after last year’s thumb injury. Also, Michael Thomas has never been able to get going and has been sidelined with injury much of the season. The offense seems out of sync to me– yet they are still in prime position to win the division… unless Drew Brees misses significant time with his rib injury from this weekend. The reason I list them here is because the NFC is tough and I just haven’t seen enough out them to list them as a legitimate Super Bowl squad. It can always change for them.
Buccaneers: Brady and the Bucs really started to get hot after a tricky start, but now they have lost both divisional matchups with the division leading Saints which puts them at a severe disadvantage. They do have a big shot to gain some ground over the Saints with Drew Brees being sidelined with an unknown return date. If they can get some big wins and take a dominant lead in the division– they could definitely move up.
Ravens: I’ve noted before that the Ravens need Lamar to be elite and on top of his game at all times for them to have a legitimate shot as contenders– and he still has been streaky. Before, Lamar was allowed to be streaky and the defense was good enough to keep them in complete control of the division– but now with their defense a bit weaker/older and the division becoming much more competitive he has minimal room for error. The Steelers hold a dominant lead for first, and the Browns are lurking right behind them. Right now I’m not convinced they can seriously push for a Super Bowl– let alone the fact that I don’t even know whether they’ll earn a post season spot.
Browns: The Browns are finally utilizing their super talented roster. Their offensive lines is probably top 5 in the league– which allows their dominant two headed backfield duo to run up and the down the field all game long. They also boast a top 15 defense in the league and have potential to sneak up on the Ravens as a wild card team. I need to see more consistency out of Baker Mayfield and a few more key wins for me to really be convinced to take them off this list though.
So, we have our verdict for the top teams in the league. There were some tough choices to be made, but at this point in the season and with what I have seen– these are my best assessments. After a few more weeks, I Imagine we will have a much clearer version of the playoff picture– which is where things will really start to get interesting
Another exciting 2 weeks of football has been played and now comes the time where I swap teams between lists, eliminate some teams, and attempt to predict the eventual Super Bowl matchup.
Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship
Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.
Bills (4-0): I can’t say enough about this Bills squad. Josh Allen is in the MVP race, their defense is playing at a high level, and they recorded 2 impressive victories against the Rams and Raiders the past 2 weeks. In those games, Allen has put up over 500 yards, 4 TDs and only 1 interception. This team is really good, and running away with the division. Look for them to battle the Chiefs for a 1st overall seed in the AFC. Easily a contender.
Titans (3-0): Since the last edition of Contender/Pretender, the Titans have only played one game against Minnesota, where they narrowly won. Tannehill was underwhelming (23/37 321 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) and the defense let a struggling Vikings team score 30. The lone bright spot was Derrick Henry was dominant with *almost* 120 yards and 2 TDs (4.6 YPC). However, I haven’t seen enough to change their status just yet- they still sit on my pretender list.
Patriots (2-2): The Patriots have caught a very tough break as of recent. They started off the 2 week period with an impressive win against the Raiders, but then were struck by the virus and lost to the Chiefs without Cam Newton (COVID). New England also received word that star corner Stephon Gilmore had tested positive for COVID and are now unable to practice for the time being. A rough couple of weeks like this would be worrisome for most other teams, but we are talking about the Patriots. I’ve seen Belichick come back from similar situations (slow starts, injuries, etc.), so I have no doubt that they can only go up from here- especially considering how well the defense has been playing. I’m gonna keep the Pats on my contender list… for now.
Steelers (3-0): Another team who were only able to get in 1 game in this 2 week span (Titans COVID outbreak postponed their matchup in week 4). Pittsburgh was able to pull together a decent win against the winless Texans– where their defense was very dominant (5 sacks and 1 INT). Big Ben looks healthy, Conner has remained active and is the undisputed #1 ball carrier we all knew he could be. I really do like this Steelers team and like to think they could steal the division from the heavily favorited Ravens… with that being said, the Steelers are a pretty obvious contender in my eyes.
Ravens (3-1): Baltimore has dominated in all 3 of their wins… against subpar teams. The only legitimate squad they’ve faced has been Kansas City- and they were toyed with through most of the game (L 34-20). Obviously, the Ravens have a very good defense and one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL (Lamar Jackson is a pretty good QB), and I still don’t see them as a contender. However, I said it before and I will say it as much as I need to, Lamar needs to prove that he can face adversity and pull through against great teams (especially in the playoffs).
Browns (3-1): Cleveland is 3-1????? WOW they must be a contender! Things have changed right?!?! Uhhh, not really. They’ve won against 3 really poor teams and have allowed a TON of points (OPP PPG = 31.5). Yes, that means they have also scored a bunch of points to compete and win- but they have only faced one serious contender (Baltimore) and they were completely plowed through. Please do not fall for this trap. The Browns are still a pretender, plain and simple.
Colts (3-1): Last edition, I was on the fence about this squad. They were upset by a pretty bad Jaguars team week 1 and then finally seemed to catch their stride against the Vikings (also not that great of a team right now). However, I needed to see some more from Indy to be certain about their status going forward. How does 1st in opponent points and yards, 5th in lowest opponent completion percentage, 6th in allowed rush yards, and 4th in fourth most forced turnovers. This is the type of production you would expect out of such a talented group (Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, Xavier Rhodes, and so on). Plus, Rivers has been a very good game manager, while rookie back Johnathan Taylor has been very impressive with his fill in for the injured Marlon Mack. Now, with a 3 game win streak and the best rated defense in the league- I can confidently say this team looks like a contender.
Chiefs (4-0): The Chiefs, since last time, have beaten the Ravens and a short handed Patriots team– regardless of the circumstances, both wins have been against legitimate contenders. With the Chargers sliding downhill with losses and the Raiders (I think) not being quite up to the task of winning this division- I think the Chiefs are primed to run away with another division title. Pat Mahomes has been electric and he has gotten help from his defense the past couple weeks. Look for KC to keep the ball rollin’ and sit on the contender list for awhile now.
Raiders (2-2): After a super promising start, the Raiders have lost their past 2 matchups (New England and Buffalo). Granted they held their own against the Bills and gave the Patriots a fight, they lost both games– which shows me they can’t hang with contenders. They have all the right pieces for the future to be great, but they aren’t quite there yet. Pretender.
Chargers (1-3): The Chargers are a really tough team that is going to compete every single matchup. Justin Herbert looks like the future of the franchise, and the defense is extremely solid. However, they just haven’t gotten the job done against the less than average Panthers and the up and down Tampa squad. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough in them at this point to keep them as contenders to this point… so they have to be pretenders.
Washington (1-3): Over the course of 4 games, I think Washington has shown flashes of becoming one of the better defense in the league in the near future. That front seven is very very talented and the defensive backfield gets better every year. However, they are just no ready to compete for a title with the state of their offense. Haskins is officially benched for Kyle Allen in the upcoming week 5 and Alex Smith was listed as the #2 option if Allen gets hurt. So the young Haskins has a very uncertain future with the team. Outside of the QB issue, the line is aging, the run game has been subpar, and they have no real receiving threats outside of Terry McLaurin. They remain “in the hunt” at this point solely because of the state of the NFC East. Pretender.
Eagles (1-2-1): Philly has probably been one of the most disappointing teams to watch in football. Carson Wentz has gone from one of the most promising young QB talents to a lost cause. He’s been off target a ton (has the most missed throws in the league) and has turned the ball over at an extremely high rate. Yes, I understand that the weapons he has are not great, but he showed us previously that he can work with what’s he given. The great QBs in NFL history can turn practice squad guys into weapons with their arm– and Carson, thus far, has not shown that ability to be elite. Tack on a swiss cheese offensive line, questionable play calling, and a defense that appears lost at times– this team is simply not good. However, they sit atop the division with a (not so) staggering 1-2-1 record. Don’t be fooled though, if this team somehow manages to sneak into the wildcard round they will more than likely finish the season with another 1 and done appearance. Pretender.
Cowboys (1-3): Offensively, this team is extremely efficient. Dak Prescott seems to be thriving in HC Mike McCarthy’s new offense (#1 in Pass Yards with 1,690 through 4 games) — which makes sense considering he has Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Mike Gallup, and Zeke Elliot to work with. However, without the disastrous mismanagement the Falcons had late in a game that was already over, the Cowboys would be 0-4. Why? The answer is simple… their defense is atrocious. The past 3 weeks (which includes their W against Atlanta) the Cowboys defense has allowed 126 points… which averages out to 42/game. You don’t have to look at any other statistic or be an NFL analyst to know that the number is insanely high and unacceptable. If you want to win a championship in the NFL, you need to play defense and Cowboys seem completely unable of doing so– making them a total pretender.
Packers (4-0): The Packers have continued to roll through the league while staying red hot offensively (averaging 38 PPG). Both Aaron Jones and Aaron Rogers have been phenomenal, despite the absences of DeVante Adams and Allen Lazard at wideout. On top of that, the defense has been excellent in supporting the offense (12 total sacks, 5 from Za’Darius Smith) and giving the team a great chance to win every week. Overall, Green Bay is extremely balanced and I really don’t see any weak points on their team. I really consider them to be the most complete team in the NFC– which obviously keeps them as contenders on my list.
Bears (3-1): The Bears have a nice record, a top 10 defense, and plenty of offensive weapons. What makes me question things is their decision to pull Mitch Trubisky, despite a very productive start, for Nick Foles. Yes, Foles came in and pulled off a comeback against the Falcons, but then came in and played very poorly against Indy (granted they are the #1 ranked defense right now). He missed several key throws and was a huge reason the Bears were unable to keep up with the Colts. An early season QB switch when the team is 2-0, playing well, and looking to keep rolling can be detrimental to the team- especially after how Foles played week 4. Unless Foles comes back the next couple of weeks and impresses me, I have to keep them as pretenders.
Buccaneers (3-1): Last edition, I looked right past the Bucs with their slow start. To be fair, a loss to the Saints and a short margin win against a rebuilding Carolina was NOT a good look. However, after dominating Denver and Brady leading the team with 5 TDs against a very good Chargers defense- I might just have to change my opinion on them. Their defense definitely needs to be more consistent, but they have shown flashes of excellent play. For now, the Bucs will be moved to the contender list, but they have a tight leash with me.
Panthers (2-2): The Panthers are very much in rebuild mode, yet they’ve stacked up two very impressive wins against the Chargers and the Cardinals in back to back weeks without CMC– which is extremely better than what I thought they’d do without their best player. Carolina also has a tough schedule coming up, so I’ll keep my eye out to see how they do (Atlanta, Chicago coming up the next 2 games). I’m going to move them up from a “no show” on my list to a Pretender.
Saints (2-2): I was impressed with how the Saints competed with the Packers in a shootout, but was very disappointed in their play against a struggling Lions squad (which they still managed to win). This Saints team, even when Michael Thomas was healthy, has just not looked the same as the past few seasons and I worry for them. The Bucs and the Panthers have been extremely competitive and if New Orleans isn’t careful they could easily slip to 3rd place and miss the playoffs in an extremely competitive NFC conference. They still haven’t shown me anything to make me take them off the pretender list… and with more disappointing play they could even end up off my list entirely.
Seahawks (4-0): Along with the Packers, Seattle is one of the more balanced teams in the league (let alone the NFC). They have an excellent defense and the probable MVP on offense with Russell Wilson, who has been electric. With the state of their division and their dominance over all teams that have come their way so far, this is an easy contender label.
Rams (3-1): The Rams have shown flashes of excellence, but their 3 wins are all against NFC East teams…. let that sink in. Plus they barely got away with a W against the Giants. Yikes. They did, however, play well against the undefeated Bills, so I’ll give credit where it’s due. 3 wins and one loss is a great start, but I need to see them pull off some wins against some better teams to feel a bit more confident. However, I’m going to keep them on the contender list due to their star power and spot within the division.
Cardinals (2-2): The Cardinals started off with 2 very impressive wins, but followed those with 2 disappointing losses to Detroit and Carolina. This team definitely has all the right pieces, but has shown some inconsistency along the way. The Murray and Hopkins duo is elite, plus a young defense, young and talented HC in Kliff Kingsbury– this team gobs potential. AT this point though, the two losses are tough, especially in a super competitive division. Pretender is my final verdict for now… and they are on watch to drop off the list entirely.
49ers (2-2): The Niners have so much talent on their roster– most of whom are injured. They are depleted on the defensive line, struggling to find a tolerable backup to replace Jimmy G, and they are coming off a very bad loss to a terrible Eagles team– which is alarming. Their division is very tough and playoff spots are going to be very hard to earn in the NFC, especially with all their injuries at key positions. I have no choice but to list them as pretenders and put them on watch to be dropped off the list.
Welcome to the first edition of our weekly Bold Take or Cold Take article. Each of our writers will be posting a take while the other writers will decide if that take is bold or cold. Let’s get ready for some controversy. Be sure to come back every Friday for new takes and reactions.
It is early on in the football season as we just wrapped up week two. Headlines are surrounding franchise quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Eli Maning, and Ben Roethlisberger. But there is one quarterback I would like to touch on and that is potential Rookie of the Year; Kyler Murray. Better yet, I’d like to focus on his favorite target so far, Larry FitzGerald. Through two games this year, FitzGerald has 13 catches for 217 yards and 1 touchdown. The 36-year-old has been impressive for his 0-1-1 Cardinals and my take is as follows:
Larry FitzGerald is the best wide receiver in the history of the NFL.
No it is not Jerry Rice. No it is not Randy Moss. And no it is not Terrell Owens. Let’s start with Fitz’s career rankings. He ranks 3rd all-time in receptions and he is going to be 2nd as early as this week if he can haul in 10 catches. This will result in him passing Tony Gonzalez. Will he catch Jerry Rice for first all time? If he plays as long as Rice did maybe. Is it likely? Not necessarily. Is it possible? Absolutely. Rice played 20 years while FitzGerald just began his 16th season. He needs 231 receptions to tie Jerry Rice for first all-time which is very possible if he plays another three or four seasons.
FitzGerald ranks 2nd all-time in receiving yards. He’s 6,400 yards behind Jerry Rice and he probably won’t catch up to first even if he plays a few more seasons but I will soon explain why he is better than Rice despite Rice being number one in all major receiving categories. He also ranks 6th all-time in receiving touchdowns. He could possibly finish his career 4th or 5th. The receivers ahead of him include Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Marvin Harrison. He is 10th among all players in career yards from scrimmage and 9 out of the 10 players in front of him are running backs.
Now you may be thinking, “Jerry Rice is first in all the categories you mentioned, how could FitzGerald possibly be better?” The simple answer is: Look at their quarterbacks. Jerry Rice played with two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Steve Young and Joe Montana. He also caught passes from Jeff Garcia, a three time pro-bowler and Rich Gannon, a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Rice’s quarterbacks combined for 13 Pro Bowl appearances and 5 MVP awards. This man was blessed with talented quarterbacks for basically his entire career. You definitely cannot say the same for Larry FitzGerald.
FitzGerald played with 21 different quarterbacks in his entire career. I was going to just list a few but I want you to read all 21 of these names. Josh McCown, Shaun King, John Navarre, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Tim Rattay, Brian St. Pierre, Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton, Rich Bartel, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, Brian Hoyer, Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon, and Kyler Murray. The best quarterback on that list is Hall of Famer Kurt Warner who had two MVPs (none with FitzGerald) and four Pro Bowl appearances (one with FitzGerald as his receiver). Carson Palmer appeared in three Pro Bowls (one with FitzGerald as his receiver). Outsdie of those two QBs, the other 19 have combined for one Pro Bowl and no MVPs.
FitzGerald is unarguably a top five receiver of all time even with his team’s quarterback struggles for over a decade. Just imagine if he were able to play with guys of the same caliber like Steve Young and Joe Montana. His stats would be identical to Rice’s if he ever had a great quarterback in his prime throwing him the ball. Therefore, Larry FitzGerald is the best wide receiver to ever play the game.
Keehn’s Reaction: I think a lot of people are quick to think this is a freezing cold take, but it’s not. Analytics are (obviously) on Rice’s side for the GOAT spot. These stats back him up in the playoffs as well. Except for one. Yes Rice dominates him in yards and touchdowns in the playoffs but he’s played a bunch more games. 2245 playoff yards in favor of Rice compared to Larry’s 942, 22 TD’s to Larry’s 10, and, most importantly, 29 games compared to 9. But here’s a stat that could put the playoff numbers up in Dula’s favor. The per game playoff total is 104.7 to 77.4 yards and 6.3 to 5.2 reception… in favor of Larry. His per game totals are higher than Rices. I would bet that if football had an up-to-date win shares stat… Larry’s would be higher. We can’t deny facts, but we can justify the subjective. Keehn’s Stance: Luke-warm.
Bryce’s Reaction: We can talk stats if you want, but I like to refer to the tape. Fitz, is no doubt, a top tier all-time great at wideout. However, I would never call him the best. Randy’s hands and speed are unbelievable, T.O may be one of the best route runners all time. We even have guys playing in their primes right now who I would take over Fitz in their prime. Most notably, JULIOOOOOOOOOO. In my books, Julio is the best receiver in the league by far.
If we want to throw QB comparisons, uhhhh didn’t Larry play with HOFer Kurt Werner? In a super bowl?? Larry’s great, but watch some of Julio’s games or Randy’s or T.O, and see how they dominated the game despite their QB. My stance: ICE COLD
The New York Giants seem to have been making a lot of football news over the past two seasons despite having losing records (so far this year). Giants fans went from one extreme to the other. They went from demanding Eli Manning be put back in after he was benched 2 seasons ago by Ben McAdoo, to now wishing he was benched. On Tuesday, these fans got their wish.
Starting Daniel Jones at this point makes no sense
Why are they putting this kid in when Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard aren’t even back yet? Are they trying to set him up to fail from the start? Not only that, why not wait until week 4 and start him during a home game instead of playing him away at Tampa? It doesn’t make sense when you watch the game why people are actually looking at Eli as the main problem. The problem stands with the young Giants defense. Although guys who have even played over 100 career games in the league look lost out their *cough cough Janoris Jenkins*.
In fact, the defense has been so bad that Mike Francesa, the WFAN radio guy who puts every player on absolute blast but talks so nicely to every guest that comes on, had to tell Pat Shurmur that the Giants were “terrible at everything”. I’ve seen Mike interview the Giants coach every single year… he’s never said the negatives like that before. So is it really Eli Manning’s fault this is all happening? Is he getting old, heck yeah. Is it pretty much time to hang it up? Heck yeah again. It just doesn’t make any sense as to why Daniel Jones needs to be thrown right into this. The problem wasn’t Eli, the problem was Michael Gallup in game one and John Brown in game two were WIDE OPEN on 80% of their receptions. So with all this in mind, maybe let the kid watch just a few games more? Even until the top receivers come back?
Bryce’s Reaction: I would have to agree with here when in comes to the defense. The linebacking and secondary plass is just flat out BAD. The D-Line is doing well creating pressure, but they couldn’t seem to wrap Josh Allen up Sunday and he would escape defenders and chuck it down to my fantasy stud John Brown. But yes, the Giants need to build their defense and help out the offense with some stops.
On the other hand, the Giants are not going to build that overnight. So, let’s see what the kid can do right? Eli is not a part of the long term success of the team unfortunately (RIP to a HOF career), so it would make sense to put in your 6th overall draft pick to give him some experience, find how he can get better at this level with some legit tape to review, and maybe ignite a spark in the young core. So if you ask me, I love the benching. Eli is done. His arm is not what it was, and he cannot move to save his life (literally). Its time to hand over the keys old man. My Stance: *BRRRRRRRR*
Dula’s Reaction: Well the good news is that Sterling Shepard has cleared the concussion protocol. The bad news is pretty much every other Giants receiver is dealing with an injury which is not helpful for first time starter Daniel Jones. I understand why the Giants benched Eli Manning but what I can’t wrap my head around is the timing. Week 3? Really? If the plan all along was to see what happened the first two weeks of the season then why not start Daniel Jones from the jump?
The Giants need a lot of defensive help and Daniel Jones won’t solve those issues. I do expect him to play better than Eli but not by much. He is being set up for failure by putting him into a situation where his receiving corps is depleted. I also believe that the Giants would’ve beaten Tampa Bay had Eli started but now we will hear the narrative about how Daniel Jones brought them their first win when it is a game they should’ve won anyway. My opinion of this move is that it was the right move at the wrong time. My Stance:Bold
Bryce’s HOT Take
Nobody was more distraught over the retiring of Andrew Luck than I was- well maybe Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard, and Frank Reich, but you get my point. But I never understood why the Colts were all of the sudden eliminated from contention.
Colts Built & Ready for Title Run
Has nobody watched this team play? After a 1-5 start to the season in 2018, Indy finished with a 10-6 record and sneaking into the playoffs after a prime time “win and in” duel with the Titans.
Over that stretch, Andrew Luck was the least sacked QB in the League, RB Marlon Mack was white hot with 900 rushing yards in just 12 games played, and the team ranked within the top 10 in total offense. Then on defense, Star LB Darius Leonard racked up 163 total tackles, 7 sacks, and 2 picks as a rookie. We also had young stars like Anthony Walker, Kenny Moore, and Malik Hooker all have fantastic seasons. Other vets like Margus Hunt, Denico Autry, and Jabal Sheard also had big contributions to a defense that finished 10th overall in total defense (Pro-Football Reference). Now let’s consider the fact that the Colts lost ZERO starters besides Luck. Granted, Luck is a generational talent and he will be sorely missed. However Jacoby Brissett is very talented and has a top-tier offensive line, an underrated RB in Mack, and a group of pass catchers that feature TY Hilton, Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, and young studs Deon Cain and Paris Cambell, with a top defense that only got better with additions of Justin Houston and 7 new defenisve rookies.
So far, Indy put together a huge comeback (OT loss) against one of the absolute best defenses in the league in the LA Chargers, and just came off of a huge divisional win against the Titans (who blew out Cleveland week 1). Be ready and don’t sleep on a deep Colts run at a title.
Keehn’s Reaction: Look, I like the colts just as much as the next guy. But after seeing Mahomes and Brady play the way they have thus far, this team has NO CHANCE against them. Not to crush dreams here but let’s be realistic. The Brady AB connection looks like they’ve been together for a decade. Mahomes doesn’t even have Tyreek Hill and he’s lighting up the scoreboard. The colts would have to go through them both to even get a shot at playing in the super bowl, and through two games it doesn’t seem highly likely. Keehn’s Stance: Cold
Dula’s Reaction: Define title. Divisional title? Possibly. Conference title? Unlikely. Super Bowl title? Not a chance. The AFC is just too difficult for the Colts to win with teams like the Patriots, Chiefs, Chargers, and Ravens. I like Jacoby Brissett as a game manager and with the talent around him I think he will definitely help the Colts achieve a winning record but they will easily get bounced in the playoffs. However, if we’re talking about divisional titles then I agree the Colts have a good chance at winning that. The AFC South has had three different winners each of the last three years. I’d say the division is up for grabs.
Jacoby Brissett is a good quarterback, not great. Now, you don’t necessarily need a great quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Look at Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, even Peyton Manning wasn’t exactly great when he won Super Bowl 50. But more often than not, a great quarterback is what can lead a team to a Super Bowl and I just don’t think Brissett has it in him. Although, had Andrew Luck been healthy then I do believe this team would’ve had Super Bowl potential. My Stance: Divisional = Bold, Conference = Cold, Super Bowl = Even Colder.
If you followed me last week then you were up BIG. 100% of my cash game lineups were successful while all but one of my tournament lineups were in the green. I’ve also been avoiding posting Thursday night lineups because I haven’t liked the matchups but after selecting a winning cash game lineup I will start posting Thursday lineups. Looking ahead to week three all the chalk can be found in one matchup which will be used as a building block for cash games while I’m planning on fading that game for GPPs. Now let’s win some cold hard cash.
Games With the Highest Projected Point Totals
Baltimore @ Kansas City (O/U 52.5)
This is the chalkiest matchup we have seen so far this season. Due to cheaper players and a lack of depth for the Chiefs to go along with injuries in the backfield, I will be targeting Baltimore in this one but I wouldn’t fault anyone who would want to target Kansas City.
Houston @ LA Chargers (O/U 49)
NY Giants @ Tampa Bay (O/U 48)
UPDATE: Damien Williams has been ruled out for Week 3 making LeSean McCoy ($5,000) a plug-and-play selection for cash games if he is cleared to play.
Cash Game Lineup
QB Lamar Jackson $7,000
Lamar Jackson is featured in what could be the game of the week in a matchup against Kansas City and his Ravens enter the game as 5.5 point underdogs. Mahomes would be a good play here too but he’s the highest priced QB on this slate at $7,600. Jackson is the cheaper play here with the potential to have the same production as Mahomes. His projected 3.5X value is 24.5 while his actual projection is 22.6 which is almost a whole 2 points lower than his projected value but he’s outscored his projections by 16 and 13 respectively.
RB Saquon Barkley $9,100
Saquon is going to remain a chalk play until his price reaches $10,000. While he has been slightly under-performing so far this season you can’t risk not having him in your lineup at a reasonable price. Daniel Jones being named the starter is also in Barkley’s favor as the offense may rely heavily on RPOs which is part of an offense Shurmur wants to implement in New York. Barkley’s projected 2.5X value is 22.75 while his actual projection is 24.55. He is once again a valuable play as his projections are higher than his projected value.
RB Frank Gore $4,400
After spending up for the highest-priced RB and the highest-priced QB I had to go searching for some value for the second RB spot (I said almost the exact same thing last week but hey the strategy worked so I’m sticking to it). Gore ran the ball 19 times for 68 yards and a touchdown last week and most of this production came before Devin Singletary’s hamstring injury. Gore is in a spot where he can see 20+ touches again. Cincinnati is coming off a week where they allowed 259 yards on the ground to the Niners making this a juicy matchup for Gore with Singletary looking like he will sit out this week. His 2.5X value is 11 points while his projections are 11.06. I personally think he gets at least 15 this week but according to the numbers he is a valuable play nonetheless.
WR Marquise Brown $5,900
Hollywood Brown is the first part of my Ravens stack this week. In two weeks Brown has 12 receptions for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was also targeted by Lamar Jackson 13 time last week. At just $5,900 as Jackson’s favorite receiver so far Brown is poised for another big game in what could be a shootout. His projected 2.5X value is 14.75 while his actual projection is 14.28. He has outscored projections in each of the first two weeks and he easily could again against a below average Kansas City defense.
WR John Brown $5,500
John Brown, along with Saquon Barkley, have been in my lineup every week so far this season. He is yet to be anywhere close to being priced like the WR1 he is at just $5,500. He has 14 receptions on 18 targets with 195 yards and a touchdown to go along with it. His price has quickly risen from $4,300 in week 1 to $5,500 in week 3 which means there may come a time where I’ll have to let my beloved John Brown go but for now he remains valuable. His projected 2.5X value is 13.75 while his actual projected point total is 12.64. I’m ignoring projections a lot this week because the majority of these players have outscored projections every week so far.
WR Sterling Shepard $4,900
Shepard has cleared the concussion protocol and is good to go for week 3. He enters the game as the best receiver for the first game of the Daniel Jones era. Golden Tate is still suspended, Cody Latimer has a concussion, and Bennie Fowler and Darius Slayton are both dealing with hamstring injuries. Shepard is currently the Giants’ healthiest receiver meaning he should be in for a lot of targets this week. His projected 2.5X value is 12.25 while his actual projection is 13.63 making him a valuable play in this slate.
TE Mark Andrews $4,600
Mark Andrews has been the best fantasy tight end through the first two weeks of the season and $2,500 separates him from the top spot. Andrews might be the chalkiest play of the week meaning he might not hold much GPP value but he will be in all of my cash lineups. He’s had 16 receptions on 17 targets for 220 yards and 2 touchdowns through 2 weeks and I don’t expect him to slow down this week. His projected 2.5X value is 11.5 while his actual projection is 11.93 which he should exceed. Also, don’t worry about the questionable tag as he went through the same process last week.
FLEX Emmanuel Sanders $4,800
Draftkings has been handing us a gift with Sanders since the start of the season. Week 1 his stat line was 5-86-1 at a price of $5,500. His price may have been skewed because of the limited player pool due to a Monday night game but in week 2 he was still only $4,700 then he put up 11 receptions on 13 targets for 98 yards and a touchdown. After two monster performances he is still only $4,800 after emerging as Joe Flacco’s favorite target. His projected 2.5X value is 12 while his actual projection is 13.72. Even if he is half as good as he was last week he is a solid cash game play.
DST Patriots $3,800
The Patriots defense was a big reason why all but one of my cash game lineups were successful after scoring 37 points last week. I don’t expect the same performance by them but I do expect them to limit the Jets offense who are now on their third string quarterback. Their 2.5X projected value is 9.5 while their projection is 12.56. They are a very valuable play this week.
QB Dak Prescott $6,500
The Cowboys are matched up against the Dolphins at home this week and there a combination of things that make me love Prescott this week. The Dolphins could be the worst team of the decade or even century and they find themselves in another lopsided matchup against the high-powered Cowboys offense. Prescott also looks like a completely different quarterback under new OC Kellen Moore. I honeslty believe Prescott’s price should be comparable to Jackson and Mahomes this week but fortunately for us it’s not. His projection is 22.56 while his projected 4.5X value is 29.25 which is very attainable against the abysmal Dolphins.
RB Dalvin Cook $7,800
Cook is averaging 30.1 DKFP through two weeks so far and it seems like the Vikings gameplan will revolve around the running game especially with the Kirk Cousins has been playing. He’s totaled 311 scrimmage yards and 3 touchdowns so far and he is showing no signs of slowing down. Cook could also be a contrarian play because the raiders have only allowed 63 rushing yards so far this season but I’m deeming Cook matchup-proof. His projected 3.5X value is 27.3 while his actual projection is 19.4 but I wouldn’t be surprised if he flirts with 30 again.
RB Peyton Barber $4,600
Last Thursday, Barber logged 23 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown and it looks like he is now the clear-cut favorite in Tampa’s backfield. He is facing a Giants defense that has a number of issues so 20+ carries will yield a decent amount of production once again. His projection is 12.18 while his projected 3.5X value is 16.1 which is an attainable point total against a bad Giants defense.
WR Amari Cooper $7,500
I’m going with a Cowboys stack this week for my tournament lineup because of the favorable matchup against the Dolphins and because Cooper underperformed last week. Other players may fade Cooper because of the Cowboys’ balanced offensive approach but he is in a spot where he can score in bunches especially with Gallup sidelined. His projected 3.5X value is 26.25 while his actual projection is 19.51.
WR Chris Godwin$6,900
After saving his fantasy value with a touchdown in week 1, Godwin broke out in week 2 like the breakout receiver we all expected him to be. He hauled in 8 of 9 targets for 121 yards and a touchdown. I expect his matchup against the Giants to provide similar numbers this week. This might be a chalky play and I try to avoid chalk in GPPs but Godwin’s ceiling is just too high this week. His projected 3.5X value is 24.15 while his actual projection is 16.78.
WR Emmanuel Sanders $4,800
See Cash Game Analysis.
Projected 3.5X Value: 16.8
Actual Projection: 13.78
TE Mark Andrews $4,600
See Cash Game Analysis.
Projected 3.5X Value: 16.1
Actual Projection: 11.93
FLEX Darren Waller $4,100
Waller is definitely Derek Carr’s second favorite option behind Tyrell Williams. So far, he’s had 13 receptions on 15 targets for 133 yards. Waller has been consistent the first two weeks of the season and his price definitely helps when spending elsewhere in the lineup. His Projected 3.5X value is 14.35 while his actual projection is 10.88.
DST 49ers $3,200
The Niners D put up 27 points in week 1 against Tampa Bay and I think they could be in another good spot hosting Mason Rudolph in his first NFL start. Their projected 3.5X value is 11.2 while their actual projection is 9.1.
As always feel free to tweak these lineups. Listen to me if you want to or don’t if you don’t want to, after all these are just suggestions.