In 2015, the Packers were missing something in their offense. The glaringly obvious fact was that Aaron Rodgers no longer had Jordy Nelson due to a knee injury. In addition, the Packers were missing a tight end that could run down the field. Richard Rodgers was not fast enough to expose holes in the defense. Receivers were unable to get open, resulting in short drives. They needed someone faster who could run routes.  

The Rams cut tight end Jared Cook before their relocation to Los Angeles. The Green Bay organization had been in consideration to trade for Cook, but now that he was a free agent, they set out to sign him.

Cook inked a one-year, 3.6-million-dollar deal, which means the organization was committed, since they usually refrain from signing big name free agents. Green Bay tends to use the draft as a means to build their team. Richard Rodgers did a great job stepping up in 2015. Who could forget that instant-classic catch that was dubbed, “The Miracle in Motown”?  

The Packers still needed some depth though. Nelson was expected to lose some speed after his return, so it was necessary that they upgraded their speed elsewhere. The tight end position needed the most speed improvement. Richard Rodgers just was not quick enough to be the full time tight end. Other teams such as the Patriots have made a living by having two good tight ends.

The offense had an extra setback when Eddie Lacy got hurt. They found a running back in Ty Montgomery, but it wasn’t until week 15 that a running back scored a TD for them. The Packers went from passing 56.79 % of the time in 2015, to 62.37 % in 2016. This helped Cook see an increase in targets. This also helped him establish a connection with Aaron Rodgers. The offense will be more balanced next year, but there should be no concern about Cook’s targets.

That increase moved them from 18th to 5th in the league for passing attempts. Due to Nelson and Adams playing well, the ball was distributed evenly. Although Cook isn’t getting points for other receivers making plays, it makes the defense open up for bigger plays to him.

Cook started the first 2 weeks of the season, and saw 79 snaps in which his production was limited. Being new to the offense, and with Eddie Lacy getting hype for his weight loss in the offseason, Cook spent the beginning of the season blocking, or watching his targets go to Jordy Nelson. Jared saw a mere 11 targets through the first four weeks. Week 3 was short lived for Cook, as he suffered a high ankle sprain and he wouldn’t be back back until week 11

Once he was back, he started to find a groove. He caught 6 passes out of 11 targets in his first week back for 105 yards and a TD. This would turn out to be his only TD of the regular season, but the work he did on 3rd downs allowed many of the drives to stay alive, which if he continues to do this, will help raise his ceiling in 2017.

Over the regular season, in which he only played 10 weeks, Cook caught 12 of 16 passes for 200 yards while facing 3rd down. This means that 53% of his yards came on 3rd down. Due to his production, the Packers were 2nd in 3rd down offense, making him valuable to Rodgers and fantasy owners.

For a big tight end, he should have had way more than one TD during the regular season. His total yards were also rather low for his career. He only had 377 yards in 10 games. Other than the injury he sustained this season, the only reason these numbers aren’t better is that Aaron Rodgers has a lot of other targets.

However, he had the 3rd best average yards per catch of his career. His career highs being 15.5 (2011), 13.2 (2013), 12.6 (2016). Cook was tied for 7th among all tight ends in YAC. As stated above, the receivers around Cook helped to expose defenses so that he could exploit them. The Packers are going to have to decide how much money Cook is worth.

Cook will be 30 next season, but he is still quick, and he can still make spectacular catches. I would be careful about drafting Cook too high due to his injury history, however he will be one of the best tight end options of 2017 if he can stay healthy. Assuming he comes back to Green Bay, Cook should have a little more fantasy value next year, due to gaining Rodgers’ confidence.

He has a knack for working back to the quarterback, which is important since Aaron is so good at extending plays with his feet. This ability adds another dimension to his game, giving him a value many others don’t have.


Cook will have a steady season next year by being more of a touchdown threat. In his 3 playoff games this year, he had 229 yards to go along with 2 TD’s. These numbers seem to be a more accurate depiction of what he will do next year, because he was settled in and consistent. Cook should be a lower TE1. It is tough to say if Gronk will be healthy, but there are guys like Kelce, Eifert, Olsen, and Reed who have proven to be successful. It depends on the league as to where Cook falls. I would keep an eye on the draft board and pick him up after those other names begin to be picked. The Packers boasted a 10-3 record in games that Jared played in, and his value will transfer into fantasy points if he stays with the Packers in 2017.

 

Published in Waiver Wire

Running backs adept at catching the football are often revered in fantasy football. They can turn an average fantasy scoring day into a good one, a good one into a great one, a great one into a historic one and a historic one into something you think is really, really awesome. More importantly, backs who catch the ball can alleviate the pain of a bad fantasy day on the ground, which allows the running back to become 'matchup proof.'

What is 'matchup proof?'

'Matchup proof' means a running back is startable no matter who he's playing against, and one way a receiving back becomes matchup proof is by defying game script. For example, if a running back finds his team down by 30 points in the first half and his team needs to pass more to get back into the game, he'll still accrue fantasy points because he'll likely be targeted on check down passes.

While receiving is a big factor in creating consistency among RBs, it's not the only trait a running back needs to possess. He also must be a talented inside runner, a back who can generate tough yards after contact with big defenders on runs up the gut and also possess the vision and instincts to make sharp cuts up the field. This is even more true in zone blocking schemes.

Among the traits listed above, Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson definitely fits the receiving mold, and while he hasn't shown the ability to run the ball effectively between the tackles, it's unfair to think he can't do it because he hasn't gotten a real shot at the team's 'feature back' role. He also possesses the kind of instincts and athletic ability required to make plays in the run game. In this piece, we will examine if Johnson could emerge as a breakout fantasy candidate in 2017.

Where he could be of considerable value

Going back to Johnson's receiving ability, it's very clear he's had potential in PPR leagues. Johnson was targeted 68 times in 2016, good for 5th most among all NFL running backs. He also ranked seventh in yards per reception at 9.7. Despite all this though, he only finished RB48 in PPR leagues, right around where T.J. Yeldon, Theo Riddick and Alfred Blue ended up.

While the result wasn't ideal, the potential was definitely there given Johnson's role in the offense. More importantly, we've seen smaller receiving backs have very good fantasy seasons — even in standard leagues.

One example of this is Danny Woodhead in 2015. Featured in a passing offense alongside Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, Woodhead finished as a Top 10 fantasy back in 2015 and it was largely due to his receiving stats. Woodhead caught 80 passes for 755 yards and scored six touchdowns that season. He was also targeted over 100 times total.

Standing just 5'8, 200 lbs, Woodhead benefited from an offense that scored a lot, which allowed him to see 37 red zone targets in 2015, which far exceeded anyone else on the team.

Like Woodhead in 2015, Duke Johnson's role in the passing game was prominent in 2016. Unlike Woodhead though, Johnson didn't have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Rivers throwing him the ball. He instead dealt with a merry-go-round of QBs that consisted of a still-inept Robert Griffin III, a veteran in Josh McCown who also struggled, and a rookie in Cody Kessler who was actually the best of the bunch.

Overall, the poor situation hurt Johnson's touchdown value, as he saw only 14 red zone looks in 2016. If we're going to expect bigger things from Johnson in 2016, the Browns must improve their quarterback situation.

Hope for a bigger role

Johnson also had to deal with playing second fiddle to Isaiah Crowell, who saw 34 red zone attempts in 2016 also.

While Crowell was the team's dominant inside runner in 2016, he struggled with consistency as 518 of his 952 rushing yards came in four games, making him a liability from week to week. He was also woeful in pass protection.

Crowell also finished out the final year of his contract in 2016 and the latest talk of an extension appears unlikely. While Crow managed 7 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on the year, it's likely the Browns will want to spend their money elsewhere since Crowell was only valuable on first and second down and didn't change the course of the Browns dismal 2016 season.

Crowell and Johnson are not too far off from each other in terms of talent either. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson and Crowell graded out about the same in running and receiving. Plus, Johnson carried the ball only 73 times in 2016, which gives him less wear-and-tear for next season and makes you wonder if he could play better if he gets more carries in the offense.

Hope for a better situation

It's likely Cleveland will improve its situation at the quarterback position in 2017. Imagine if they locked down a quarterback like, say, Jimmy Garoppolo from New England? A quarterback with better accuracy could allow Johnson a lot more opportunity to catch the ball in stride and make plays out of the backfield. This will be something to monitor heading into the offseason.

It's absolutely possible Duke Johnson could put together a 700+ yard receiving season given his talent, but he needs some help. He has the talent as a receiver and a good coaching staff that can maximize his skill set. He just needs a quality quarterback to go along with a bigger role in the offense next season. The latter variables could definitely turn in his favor in 2017. Keep an eye on how things fall together this offseason.

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage

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Rick Spielman and the Minnesota Vikings front office are not known for being big spenders in free agency. Last season the team "splurged" on Linval Joseph and Captain Mannerly, two players that had ups-and-downs during their first season with the Vikings. This season the splash for the Vikings came in the form of the disgruntled Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace, after the team acquired Wallace and a 7th round pick for the Vikings 2015 5th round pick. 

After missing out on guard Clint Boling and defensive end Michael Johnson, both of whom re-signed with the Bengals, the Vikings turned their attention to improving the weakest position on the roster, the wide receiver position. Despite the near-diva attitude of Wallace, there is no doubting his ability to stretch defenses vertically.

If Wallace is able to keep his head on straight, and more importantly develop chemistry with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, this could turn into one of the more underrated acquisitions of the offseason. 

Offensive Fit

Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner is known to employ the Air Coryell offense, an offensive system predicated on a vertical passing game. If there is one thing Wallace has it is the ability to get behind defenses with his world-class speed.After being acquired by the Vikings for a late round pick Wallace will step in and become the team's no. 1 wide receiver, manning the "X" or vertical role in the Vikings offense. 

Early on this offseason it seemed as if third-year wide receiver Charles Johnson was going to become the focal point of the Vikings passing game, as offensive coordinator Norv Turner called Johnson "far and away our best receiver". Despite having the measurables of a no. 1 receiver (6'3) Johnson struggled mightily during his first season with Minnesota making contested catches.  

Although many people question Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s ability to drive the ball down the field, Bridgewater showed massive improvements during his rookie season.

Over the first 9 weeks of the season Bridgewater struggled with is accuracy and timing on vertical passes, completing just 9 of 26 attempts on balls 20+ yards down field.

From week 10 on, Bridgewater started to develop good timing with his receivers on vertical routes. In the last 8 weeks of the season Bridgewater ranked 2nd in the NFL on deep passes, completing 7 of his 15 pass attempts.

 

Weeks 1-9

Deep Passing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#

Name

Team

Att.

Comp

Drops

Yards

TDs

INTs

Att. %

Acc. %

20

 Teddy Bridgewater

MIN

26

9

1

233

2

0

13.2

38.5

Weeks 10-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 Teddy Bridgewater

MIN

15

7

2

234

3

3

7.3

60 

The biggest improvement in Bridgewater’s game came in his accuracy rating. During the first 9 weeks of the year PFF only charted 38.5% of Bridgewater’s deep passes as accurate. In the second half of the year Bridgewater seemed like a different quarterback, posting an accuracy % of 60. 

As you can see from the table above Bridgewater was becoming a very efficient QB on deep throws, posting more yards and touchdowns on fewer attempts than he did the first half of the season. Bridgewater's progression in the second half of his rookie season has to be promising for Vikings fans and coaches for a team that has been held back by paltry quarterback play since Brett Favre retired.  

The addition of Wallace to the Vikings finally gives the Norv Turner the vertical threat that he need to make his offense successful. As long as Wallace is able to stay committed and Bridgewater is able to continue his progression from his rookie season, the Vikings offense could be in a position to take a major leap forward next season.

Quarterback/Wide Receiver Disconnect

During Wallace's time in Pittsburgh he established himself as one of the premier deep threats in football averaging over 17 yards-per-reception during his his four years in black and yellow. 

After signing a 5 year/$60 million deal with the Dolphins in 2013 the hope Wallace would bring his electric speed to South Beach and become the focal point of their passing attack. It seemed as if Wallace was starting to develop into an all-around wide receiver after posting a career high 73 receptions in his first season in Miami. 

Despite posting a new career high in receptions, Wallace saw his yards-per-reception and touchdown receptions drop for the third straight season.  

According to Pro Football Focus’ metrics that separate receptions by direction Wallace and Tannehill only connected for 6 out of 24 attempts for 199 yards and one touchdown on passes travelling 20+ yards down the field. The most staggering statistic I noticed was of the 24 attempts that Tannehill threw 20+ yards down field, only 7 of those passes were deemed “catchable”.

 

 

Games

Receiving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year

Tm

Pos

G

GS

Tgt

Rec

Yds

Y/R

TD

Lng

R/G

Y/G

2009

PIT

WR

16

4

72

39

756

19.4

6

60

2.4

47.3

2010

PIT

WR

16

16

98

60

1257

21

10

56

3.8

78.6

2011*

PIT

WR

16

14

114

72

1193

16.6

8

95

4.5

74.6

2012

PIT

WR

15

14

119

64

836

13.1

8

82

4.3

55.7

2013

MIA

WR

16

16

141

73

930

12.7

5

57

4.6

58.1

2014

MIA

WR

16

16

115

67

862

12.9

10

50

4.2

53.9

Career

 

 

95

80

659

375

5834

15.6

47

95

3.9

61.4

 

Fantasy Implications

Last season Wallace scored a total of 170.5 fantasy points (.5 PPR leagues) a total good enough for the 21st highest wide receiver in fantasy football. In layman's terms, even with Tannehill's inconsistencies throwing the ball down the field, Wallace was still able to post number equating to a solid WR2 in fantasy football. 

The move to Minnesota could be a blessing for Wallace's fantasy outlook. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner loves to throw the ball down the field and with Bridgewater's improved accuracy on deep passes, and the addition of Wallace's speed is just what the Vikings offense needs to make Turner's system go. 

According to fantasyfootballcalculator.com's ADP calculator Wallace is on average the 31st wide receiver drafted in fantasy drafts, slotting Wallace to be selected at the beginning of round 7. In my opinion that is incredible value for the speedster as he will likely be the Vikings leading receiver in 2015, and has a chance to produce his first 1,000 yard season since 2011.

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage

The NFL's new year has not even officially begun and fireworks are going off around the league with transactions including some of the premier players in the league. There is no bigger trade than the one being finalized between the Saints and the Seahawks. According to Jay Glazer, the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints have agreed in principle to trade Jimmy Graham and a 4th round pick to the Saints in exchange for Max Unger and a 2015 first-round pick. 

This trade certainly came out of left field. If you recall the Saints just agreed to a four-year/$40 million contract extension with Graham last offseason, and Graham was the teams most productive receiving option over the last few seasons.

Seattle Perspective

From the Seahawks perspective they acquire the thing they needed most, a bonafide no. 1 receiving option in their offense, and with the acquisition of Graham they get exactly that.

Over the last three seasons there arguably not been a more dominant player in the NFL than Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. For comparison's sake I wanted to look at the production between the two premier tight ends in the NFL, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.

 

Graham

TA

Rec.

% Ct

Yds

Yds / Rec.

YAC

YAC / Rec.

LG

TD

2012

131

85

64.9

982

11.6

310

3.6

46

9

2013

145

90

62.1

1267

14.1

433

4.8

56

16

2014

121

85

70.2

889

10.5

292

3.4

29

10

 

397

260

65.73

3138

12.07

1035

3.98

 

35

Gronkowski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012

78

55

70.5

790

14.4

311

5.7

41

11

2013

64

39

60.9

592

15.2

198

5.1

50

4

2014

152

98

64.5

1328

13.6

535

5.5

46

15

 

294

192

65.3

2710

14.11

1044

5.4375

 

30

As you can see by the chart Graham has been an terror for opposing defenses to try and contain. The statistics are skewed slightly towards Graham due to the various injuries Gronkowski has dealt with, something Graham has been able to avoid at this point in his career.

The biggest improvement that Graham will bring to the Seahawks offense is Graham's ability to stretch defenses down the middle of the field. Over the last three seasons Graham has averaged over 12 yards-per-reception, an absurd number for a tight end. 

Looking at the history of the Seahawks wide receivers it is clear that Wilson has never had a receiver with the talent that Graham possesses. Over the last three season the only player on the Seahawks roster to amass 90 targets was Golden Tate, who signed with the Detroit Lions last offseason. 

Graham's playmaking ability in the red zone is not only going to help the Seahawks passing attack, but should help Marshawn Lynch and the running game open. Due to Graham's ability to get up the seam and attack defenses vertically defenses are going to be forced to play a lot of nickel packages (5 DB's) in order to attempt to match up in coverage. The downside of these substitutions for defenses is that the Seahawks offensive line is going to have more space to get up to the linebackers allowing Marshawn Lynch one-on-one match-ups against defensive backs, a match-up Lynch will win more times than not. 

Saints Perspective

It is never easy to replace a talented player that accounted for over 3,100 receiveig yards over the last three season, but it was a move that the Saints needed to make.

Prior to the offseason beginning the Saints cap situation was a mess, as the team needed  to clear $20 million in cap space just to be within the leagues threshold.

By trading Graham the Saints cap space is now in a place where they can make some move too address their needs. With the acquisition of Max Unger the Saints get one of the best young centers in football, but also acquire a first-round pick in the 2015 draft.

It is safe to assume that the Saints offense is going to transition form one of the most pass happy offenses in the leauge, to one that is centered around a strong offensive line and running game. Pro Football Focus has graded Unger as +36.7 over the last three seasons, including a +36.8 rating in the run game.  

In the trade the Saints also acquired the Seahawks first-round pick in the upcoming draft. This may not seem like a lot since the Seahawks are picking 31st overall, for the Saints it is very important.

The Saints currently hold the 13th and 31st overall picks in the 2015 NFL Draft and have several needs to fill along the defensive side of the ball. With two first round picks the Saints would be in position to acquire a pass rusher like Alvin Dupree (Kentucky), a nose tackle like Danny Shelton (Washington), or even a cornerback (Peters, Waynes, Darby). If the Saints were able to land any of these players I mentioned it would go along way towards revamping one of the leagues worst defenses.  

Conclusion

Despite the big price tag for each team I consider the trade a win-win for each team. For Seattle, they fill a serious need at the tight end position, as well as a player that can step in and be the focal point of their passing game.

For the Saints the impact that Max Unger has may not show up directly in the box score, but trust me it will be major. Since being drafted Unger has consistently been graded as one of the best centers in football. There is injury concern with Unger, but in my opinion the risk is well worth the reward.

For Seattle not only do they fill a serious need in tight end, but they also get a player that can step in and be the focal point of their passing game. It is no secret that the Seahawks receivers are a below-average unit, and the addition of Graham should not only help improve their offense between the 20’s, but their red zone efficiency as well.

Like I said earlier this trade looks like a win-win for both sides. The Seahawks finally have a guy they can gameplan there passing game around, and the Saints gain assets while repair one of the worst cap situations in recent memory.

 

Published in Fantasy Coverage
Thursday, 12 March 2015 00:00

Episode 49: Newly-minted players

On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Helpers discuss several players who have gone on to new teams and assign new fantasy value to their respective situations. Players discussed include Andre Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, Frank Gore and Ryan Mathews. Plus Bill Walton drops. This is going to be fantastically fun.

NFL Free agency is upon us, and fantasy football value is about to shift all over the place like a bunch of tectonic plates under a fault line. With so many players moving around, there's always a lot to take in. But here are the biggest running back transactions so far and what their fantasy impact is.

Podcast notes

Trent Richardson out, Frank Gore in

After the debacle of a trade that ended with Cleveland attaining a first-round draft pick in exchange for Richardson, the lifetime 49er is about to finally see what it's like to put on a different jersey after signing with the Indianapolis colts.. Gore turns 32 in May but the veteran back has shown remarkable consistency despite his age. He rushed for over 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his last nine seasons in 2014. Gore has also never averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry.

From an NFL standpoint, Gore made a great choice signing with Indy. It's a winning team with one of the Top 3 quarterbacks in the league. Gore will get another chance to compete to a championship in the somewhat weak AFC and the AFC South will be a cakewalk compared to the types of defenses he saw in the NFC West.

From a fantasy perspective, Gore will likely assume the role of former Colt Ahmad Bradshaw. Always an underrated receiver, Gore posted reception numbers of 61, 53, 43, and 52 from 2006-09 with San Francisco. He compiled those numbers before the run-minded Jim Harbaugh took the helm, which resulted in less passes being thrown his way.

Now that he's back on a team that passes a lot (Indy threw the ball 616 times last season which ranked 3rd highest in the league) expect Gore to see plenty of passes in the flat similar to what Bradshaw saw when he caught six receiving touchdowns over the first half of 2014. While Gore is a bit older than Bradshaw, he's also more durable, playing in all 16 games for the last four seasons.

Gore likely won't be the only back seeing snaps in the backfield, as Dan 'Boom' Herron showed some positive signs as a runner last year, but make no mistake Gore is going to be fantasy relevant as an RB2 this season.

LeSean McCoy out, Ryan Mathews, DeMarco Murray in

An injury prone back who's still in the prime of his career at 27, Mathews still has plenty of value as a running back and should see much better run blocking from the Eagles offensive line than the one he had in San Diego.

Obviously, you can't generate too much fantasy value if you're hurt, and Mathews has long been a guy who has never finished a season strong even when healthy. It's why the Chargers backed him up with so many other players (Danny Woodhead, Brandon Oliver and Donald Brown) in hopes of keeping him fresh throughout the season. But the situation is better in Philadelphia because of the offensive line. Plus, Chip Kelly's system will allow the athletic Mathews to use his conditioning to beat defenders rather than bruise through them.

As far as Murray goes, the former Cowboys running back will see plenty of runs as well in the offense. There should be enough ball to go around so that Murray and Mathews will remain fantasy relevant.

 

Published in Podcasts

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