Rich Hribar

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32 Bold Calls for 2017

Thursday, August 31, 2017


Unlike projections –which are a checks and balances built around the highest probability—bold calls are more of a look at one extreme in a range of outcomes for an individual player or team.  Even when we have a full palate of probable data at hand to combine with our film and situational data, the absolute best at forecasting in this profession still only hit on a 55-60 percent of their statements when playing things close to the vest. When making “bold calls”, you can expect the success rate of those outcomes to be significantly marginal, but whether we’re labeling them as hot takes or bold calls, brash statements that inherently have a lower percentage of being successful should still be rooted with an evidence-based approach over just throwing darts at the board with your eyes closed.

 

When looking back at last year’s post, the results were exactly that. There were some great calls (LeGarrette Blount), some mixed (A.J. Green was the top scoring WR per game when he was injured) and some downright ludicrously awful statements (pick one, there are many). In these extreme cases of a singular outcomes, I want to treat them as more of a sobering piece of analysis than having a standalone impact on the draft implications for a player.  Especially in the cases where we’re exploring an extremely negative outcome that I’m still interested in drafting for probable and positive outcomes.

 

 

The Jets score fewer than 20 offensive touchdowns in 2017


The Jets are going to be bad at football in 2017, but just how bad can they be? In a better situation last year, the New York offense managed to score just 26 touchdowns, which ranked only ahead of Houston and Los Angeles, who each scored 23 times on offense. No team has scored less than 20 times in a season since the 2012 Chiefs scored just 17 times rushing and receiving and just seven teams have “accomplished” the feat since 2000. That Chiefs team also the last team in the modern offensive era to throw for fewer than 10 passing scores, throwing for just eight passing touchdowns, something the Jets and their personnel can duplicate. That Chiefs team started Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn and two of their top three leaders in receptions were running backs. This Jets team holds similar parallels in that they have the worst quarterback situation in the league with their best offensive players are in their backfield. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have Jamaal Charles or a wide receiver coming off back-to back 1,000-yard receiving seasons like that Chiefs squad did. 

 

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Shane Vereen leads the Giants backfield in PPR fantasy points


The Giants are a team that just isn’t built to run the football and their offseason moves told us they are still trying to swerve into a pass-first identity. The Giants threw percent 61 percent of the time and on those plays, they used three or more wide receivers on 97.4 percent of the time, which was the highest rate in the league. They went out and added Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram, while not making key additions to their offensive line or backfield. Paul Perkins is the lead back on the depth chart, but Vereen fits the offense the best and his role should outscore Paul Perkins even if that depth chart never alters throughout the season. The Giants have 11 rushing touchdowns combined the past two seasons and have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2012 or a top-20 scoring fantast back since 2011. Before injury last year, Vereen went from 43 percent of the snaps to 51 and 54 percent and was a top-36 scoring back in every one of those games. Perkins was a top-36 scorer just three times and even in the five games in which he accrued 40 percent of the team rushing attempts, cracked the top-40 just twice. I believe we'll see Vereen's snaps expand as the Giants throw the ball and more.

 

Sammy Watkins is outside of the top-30 scoring wide receivers


Watkins has flashed a major ceiling at times, but also comes with health risks and has been a volatile producer. He’s been a top-24 scorer in just 15 of 37 career games to this point. Just 7.3 percent of Watkins’ career targets have come from inside of the red zone --the fourth lowest rate of all active wide receivers with 100 plus career targets—and has since been traded to the team that ranked 31st in red zone plays in 2016. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Watkins score five or fewer times on the season. His transition from a vertical passer such as Tyrod Taylor to Jared Goff also hurts his playmaking ability down the field. Just 7.1 percent of Goff’s completions were 15 yards or further down the field in 2016. Sean McVay’s system and Watkins himself can aid an offensive growth for Goff and the Rams, but the move from Buffalo to Los Angeles is still a big downgrade in terms of expected target share and quarterback play to his strengths while adding games versus premier teams that are expected to defend the pass well such as Seattle and Arizona twice, Jacksonville, the Giants, Vikings and Texans as well as another game that should see him locked up with Josh Norman.

 

Zach Ertz leads all tight ends in targets


Ertz’ familiarity with Wentz and the Eagles’ lack of interior pass catchers bodes well for him rolling over his end of the season production into 2017. Over his final nine games he received 86 targets (fifth in the entire league), catching 63 passes (second) for 666 yards (eighth) as he was the highest scoring tight end in both formats over that span. Ertz benefits from Jordan Matthews’ absence--he received 31 targets in the two games Matthews missed a year ago--and being the most reliable target that has a body of work with quarterback Carson Wentz. The addition of Alshon Jeffery will prevent Ertz from pushing those 15 targets per game without Mathews available, but the average amount of targets per game for the leader at the tight end position over the past five years has been 8.9, which is attainable. 

 

Matthew Stafford is in the back half of QB scoring through 8 weeks


Stafford has been the QB7 and the QB8 in overall scoring in each of the past two years as he’s re-invented himself as an efficient, shallow passer. Over his past 24 games, Stafford has completed 66.8 percent of his passes after completing 59.6 percent over his previous career. But what gets lost in Stafford’s re-invention and the credit Jim Bob Cooter has taken for it is that Stafford has been extremely matchup dependent over the past two seasons for fantasy. Over that span, Stafford has faced 20 pass defenses in the top-20 and in those games averaged just 249 passing yards and 1.6 touchdowns per game while finishing as the QB16 or lower in 14 of those 20 games. In 12 games against the extreme bottom feeders, Stafford has been a top-12 scorer nine times, throwing for 302 yards, 2.0 touchdowns and scoring 21.4 fantasy points per game. This year, Detroit has a rough opening slate, with matchups against the Cardinals, Giants, Vikings, Panthers and Steelers through their opening seven games. 

 

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Russell Wilson is the top overall scoring quarterback for the season


Wilson threw just 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions with a career-worst 3.9 percent touchdown rate in 2016. He also set career lows in rushing output, carrying 72 times for 259 yards. Wilson’s early season play was hampered by an ankle injury sustained Week 1 and then a knee injury that forced him to exit in Week 3. Over the first seven games of the season, Wilson had thrown just five touchdowns and rushed for only 44 yards as he was the QB24 over that span in fantasy. Once his health returned, so did his fantasy production. Over the final nine games of the season, Wilson was the QB3 in overall scoring, passing for 16 touchdowns and adding 215 yards rushing on the ground as he was a top-12 scorer in six of those final nine games. High expectations for both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady could get in the way here, but Wilson’s pass attempts and passing yardage have risen in every season of his career with room to still rise and Seattle has one of the most favorable schedule layouts for any team in the league. We’ve seen Wilson put together stretches of being the premier fantasy quarterback and 2017 will be the first time he does so throughout an entire season.

 

Emmanuel Sanders outscores Demaryius Thomas

 

Sanders came close a year ago, finishing just .7 standard and 11.7 PPR points below Thomas, but in summer drafts, Thomas is the WR15 while Sanders is the WR29. Sanders matched or received more targets than Thomas in eight games a year ago and has a much higher weekly ceiling post Prime Peyton-Manning, albeit with a lower floor, which is partially why you see the discrepancy in ADP. Sanders has the same number of touchdowns (11) as Thomas on 42 fewer receptions over the past two years and had 14 end zone targets a year ago to seven for Thomas.  Sanders has been a top-12 scorer in nine games with five top-5 scoring weeks to just seven WR1 weeks for Thomas and just two inside of the top-10. If talking bang for your buck, Sanders can manipulate more weeks on your roster.

 

Charles Clay will be a top-12 scoring PPR tight end


Clay should easily push the 100-target mark in 2017, but is being drafted as the TE29 this summer. The Bills are missing 65 percent of their targets and 59 percent of their receptions a year ago and are shifting to a new offensive system. Rick Dennison’s lead tight end has averaged 22.9 percent of the team targets and that number was at 24.6 percent prior to the past two years in Denver, who were never able to fill the position with a capable pass catcher. He is just one of seven tight ends to catch at least 50 passes in each of the past four seasons and is the only pass catcher that has familiarity with Tyrod Taylor, for however long he remains the starter.


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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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