week 7 DFS don'ts

Week 7 DFS don’ts: Wide receiver

In my opinion, this is the most important position group to predict correctly because of all the available players, and the volatility that comes with this position. To cash in almost any format, two of your three wide receivers need to hit. Let’s keep this week rolling with the wide receiver edition of week 7 DFS don’ts.

Julio Jones: FanDuel Price $8,500

Julio Jones is strictly a DFS don’ts for cash games. His production ceiling is among highest of any player; however, his floor is not worth his $8,500 price tag. On paper, Jones has a great matchup against one of the NFL’s worst defenses. The Patriots have given up 300 yards passing to every quarterback they’ve faced. But, the opposition’s number one receiver does not produce.

On the Suck My DFS Podcast, my co-host talks at length about New England’s track record this season against number one wide receivers. I won’t steal his thunder, but the results are not promising for Jones. I think New England will deploy Stephon Gilmore against Jones, and Malcolm Butler on the secondary receiving option.

Of course, Jones could overcome this individual matchup and score big. If he does, it won’t be on any of my cash lineups. Jones is great, but there’s too much risk for me this weekend.

Demaryius Thomas: FanDuel Price $7,100

week 7 DFS don'ts

Will Demaryius Thomas be able to produce at a consistent level with his matchup against Casey Hayward? (Courtesy of; SB Nation)

Yes, I was totally wrong on Demaryius Thomas last weekend. But, I’m not afraid of placing him back on my week 7 DFS don’ts. Why? Because Thomas will be seeing Casey Hayward for the majority of his routes. In week one Thomas was in Hayward’s coverage on 75 percent of his routes.

On those routes, Thomas turned six targets into four catches for 61 yards. It’s not a bad day by any means; however, that’s not enough to cash in a DFS contest from your second wide receiver. Also, Thomas will be playing without his running mate Emmanuel Sanders. This will allow the Chargers secondary to turn all of their attention to Thomas.

Given how bad the Chargers are against the run and the now shallow depth at wide receiver, I don’t think Thomas will have enough opportunities to double is value.

Rishard Matthews: FanDuel Price $5,500

Take advantage of what I’m about to tell you. After Monday night’s game and this weekend’s matchup against Cleveland, Rishard Matthews is going to be popular “pay down” play. However, you need to avoid him at all costs. Why? Because he has the toughest individual matchup in the NFL.

Matthews will face Jason McCourty. For those who don’t know, McCourty is playing the best football of his career. He is currently rated as the number one corner back by Pro Football Focus thus far. Last week, the Browns deployed McCourty in shadow coverage versus DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was only targeted three times as a result.

There are plenty of other ways to get exposure to this game. I’m begging you to please stay away from Rishard Matthews for your own good. Matthews joins Jones and Thomas on my week 7 DFS don’ts.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of Sporting News

Like what you read? Tune into the Suck My DFS Podcast this Friday and find out who TGH fantasy experts will be playing in their DFS lineups this week. You can find the link to our podcast on the Podcast page.

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week five DFS don'ts

Week five DFS don’ts: Wide receiver

Last week was the first time I hit on all three of my DFS don’ts at the wide receiver position. It’s nothing groundbreaking, it’s just proof that this position is all about the week-to-week matchup.

We know there are defenses that take away a team’s number one wide receiver. That would include teams like the Vikings, Lions and Cardinals. All of those teams have a great cover corner that shadows the opposition’s best receiver. So, let’s go beyond the obvious plays to avoid in the wide receiver edition of week five DFS don’ts.

Odell Beckham Jr: FanDuel Price $8,900

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche “the best ability is availability”. I hate it too, but most cliches have elements of truth. Odell Beckham Jr. entered this season with an ankle injury. Now, he’s dealing with an injured finger on his right hand. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me. However, I saw that this injury caused him to miss multiple goal line snaps against Tampa Bay.

For any receiver, goal line targets are DFS gold. It’s the only reason I’m willing to pay up for Jordy Nelson each week. Since the Giants have one of the worst running games in the NFL, Odell is the primary target on every down, especially near the goal line. But, if he’s not healthy, I want very little exposure given his gaudy price tag.

Injury circumstances aside, the Chargers have Casey Hayward, who is an above average corner. The Chargers also have an elite pass rush with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. More importantly, Hayward played shadow coverage for the first time since week one last week. According to Pro Football Focus, on the 74 percent of routes that Hayward shadowed Alshon Jeffery, Jeffery had one catch on four targets for 13 yards. If you want to take the risk on Odell this weekend, be my guest. I’ll happily take your money.

Antonio brown: FanDuel Price $8,800

week five DFS don'ts: wide receiver

Antonio Brown is one of the few players to appear twice on my DFS don’ts list (Courtesy of; The Source Magazine).

What? How is Antonio Brown on my DFS don’ts list for the second time this season? I’m glad you asked. It’s all about the matchup.

Last Sunday, the Jaguars deployed shadow coverage for the first time all season. According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey shadowed Jermaine Kearse on 64 percent of the snaps. During that time, Ramsey allowed two catches on four targets for 14 yards.

Now, the Jets are by no means the Steelers. However, it’s important to take this trend into consideration. On the other 36 percent of the snaps, Brown will likely see A.J. Bouye, who has played very well since becoming a Jaguar. Overall, you need to consider fading Brown this week.

If you want to pay up, consider cheaper options like Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant or DeAndre Hopkins. Those players are in great matchups and will allow you to fit in at least one of this week’s elite running backs.

Devin Funchess: FanDuel Price $6,300

Every week I have to include a player who had a breakout game on this list. Devin Funchess, like Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft, had a great situation on Sunday. Like Kroft, great opportunity and great matchup aligned.

Please don’t chase the points here. The Patriots have solidified themselves as the worst defense in the NFL. They are actually on pace to be worse than the 2012 Saints, who are statistically considered to be the worst defense in NFL history.

Let’s just use common sense. Funchess has never been a consistent fantasy producer. Yes, you may have watched every snap of that game. Yes, he was impressive. But guess what? The Detroit Lions are watching that same game film and see Funchess destroying the Patriots. They will no doubt have a strategy to contain the Panthers’ passing game.

Also, if you take Funchess, you’re betting on Cam Newton to come through again. Funchess is the classic example of point chasing, thus, he’s joins Beckham and Brown on my week five DFS don’ts list.

 

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Featured Image Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Week Two DFS don’ts: Quarterback

I was completely off in my estimation of this position last week. So, it’s time to dig a little deeper and identify who should not be your DFS quarterback this week. There are plenty of favorable matchups with high scoring potential. However, there are two players in particular that will not deliver and should be avoided. Let’s get right into the final position in my week two DFS don’ts: quarterback.

Kirk Cousins: FanDuel Price $7,700

On a personal note, I like Kirk Cousins, but I think he’ll be one of the worst performing quarterbacks of the week. On paper, the Redskins match up well player-for-player against the Rams. Their wide receivers are more than capable of creating separation and getting open. Trent Williams can match up with any of their edge rushers. Aaron Donald could present a problem inside, but there is one person who concerns me: Wade Phillips.

Wade Phillips has made a living on making opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable with pressure. During his tenure at Denver, his defense finished in the top five in points against, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Now, the Rams don’t have players like Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., but one could argue they have better personnel in the front seven with Donald, Quinn, Brockers and Ogeltree.

Phillips is going to dial up the blitz consistently throughout the game. Why is this a problem? Because Kirk Cousins is notoriously bad against the blitz.

Football Outsiders does a great job generating unique, analytical stats; particularly, their DVOA statistics for quarterbacks. DOVA represents on a per play basis, how far above or below average a given quarterback performs.

After week one against the Eagles, Cousins’ DVOA is a -45. That ranks as the 25th worst quarterback of week one out of 31 qualified players. Cousins is going to be pressured constantly on Sunday.

I do think you can find production from Terelle Pryor this weekend. However, Cousins’ inability to produce against pressure places him squarely on my week two DFS don’ts.

Jay Cutler: FanDuel Price $6,900

This is not a good matchup for Jay Cutler. I just talked Thursday about why you should stay away from DeVante Parker. Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett are one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL. Pair those players with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and the fact that Jay Cutler has a documented history of being careless with the football, and it’s going to be a long day for the Dolphins.

The only hope Cutler has of producing is if they can establish Jay Ajayi. Even still, Cutler doesn’t throw the ball in the middle of the field at intermediate distances, where Jarvis Landry can dominate. Here’s the proof.

week two DFS Don'ts

Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, this is every pass Cutler attempted as a Bear. The dark orange circles indicate completions, the light orange indicates attempts. Also, the larger the circles, the larger the volume of passes.

Jay Cutler proves that he does not target the middle of the field the same way he does from the hash marks out. This does not bode well for Jarvis Landry who can dominate the slot or Julius Thomas. If Cutler follows his regular throwing patterns, he’s going to be attacking Hayward and Verrett, which is a scary thought.

 

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Featured Image courtesy of ESPN 980

week 2 DFS don'ts

Week 2 DFS don’ts: wide receiver

Week 1 was tough for everyone, but it was especially tough for wide receivers. Players like Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Doug Baldwin no doubt disappointed their DFS owners.

How can we avoid busts at this position in week 2? For one, we’ll have more teams on the Sunday main slate, and more teams means more options. Let’s examine which options we should stay away from in the wide receiver edition of week 2 DFS don’ts.

Antonio Brown: FanDuel Price $9,400

Antonio Brown might be the only wide receiver in the NFL that is matchup proof. Brown is so talented and skilled that no scheme or player can fully contain him.

However, the same sentiment was being echoed for players like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, and they went bust in week 1. There are two things that scare me away from Brown: Xavier Rhodes and his staggering price tag.

If you don’t follow the NFL closely, you may not know how good Xavier Rhodes is. His 2016 season has catapulted him into the elite group of cornerbacks. Rhodes saw 79 targets last year. Of those 79 targets, he allowed a catch on 41.8 percent of those targets, which was the best. Rhodes’ impact even extends to the opposing team’s quarterback, as they averaged a 39.2 passer rating when targeting him. You can find the full report here, but this raises some serious concerns for Brown.

I’d say Brown is usually worth every penny of his DFS salary, but Brown is too expensive. His status of the most expensive receiver by $600 is absurd. Brown will not catch 100 percent of his targets like he did last week.

Let’s say he gets the same number of targets and Rhodes has a down game and allows a 65 percent catch rate. That means Brown only gets seven catches on 11 targets. He would have to average 26 yards per catch to equal last week’s production without getting in the end zone.

As great as Antonio Brown is, he’s not worth the price. If he was $9,000 or $8,900, I would have no problem keeping him off my week 2 DFS don’ts list.

Alshon Jeffery: Fanduel price $6,900

You’ll start to notice a theme this week. Everyone on this list has a challenging matchup. Alshon Jeffery is no different, as he’ll likely see a heavy dose of Marcus Peters.

Since Peters entered the NFL, no player has more interceptions. In 2016, he was able to limit the number of big plays he gave up, while still being one of the best ball hawks in the NFL.

However, Peters ins’t a typical “shutdown” corner. He does not travel with a player across the field. He plays the left corner position. Jeffery spends almost all of his time on the outside and can bounce between the left and right side of the field. We saw Nelson Agholor as the primary slot receiver for the Eagles, so Jeffery won’t avoid Peters completely.

I don’t believe in Jeffery’s volume yet. Drawing Josh Norman in week 1 was tough. Jeffery did catch a two-point conversion, so maybe he will get an increase in red zone targets if the situation presents itself this Sunday.

Overall, I have faith that Jeffery will emerge and start producing as a WR1, just not this week. Jeffery is firmly on my week 2 DFS don’ts.

DeVante Parker: FanDuel Price $6,400

week 2 DFS don'ts

The arrival of Jay Cutler has placed some lofty expectations on the talented DeVante Parker (Photo Courtesy of; Fantasy Alarm).

I was incredibly excited about DeVante Parker’s prospects in week 1 vs. Tampa Bay. I’m not so excited about him this week, as he’ll face one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.

On Monday night, the Chargers’ secondary held Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to eight catches on 14 targets for a total of 93 yards. Also, neither player saw a target inside the red zone.

In the aforementioned report about the best cornerbacks of 2016, Hayward was third. Like Rhodes, he only allowed a 51 percent catch rate out of the 100 times he as targeted.

Hayward was the highest targeted corner on that list, which may have been why he lead the NFL with seven interceptions. He has a track record of succeeding against great players like Mike Evans and Amari Cooper.

From a physical standpoint, Parker is more like Thomas than Sanders. Both players have unique speed and athleticism for their size. Thomas is superior in terms of run-after-the-catch ability. This is mostly because we haven’t seen that much of Parker thus far. Jay Cutler has openly said he likes targeting him, and Parker only needs one play to pay off his $6,400 price tag.

Sadly, I don’t see it happening this week. Thus, he’s on my week 2 DFS don’ts list.

 

Like what you read? Tune into the Suck My DFS Podcast this Friday and find out who TGH fantasy experts will be playing in their DFS lineups this week. You can find the link to our podcast on the Podcast page.

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Featured Image courtesy of Zimbio.com

2017 AFC West division preview

2017 AFC West division preview

The NFL regular season is finally here. The season opener is tonight and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-18 NFL season. In the meantime, Hagan’s Haus will be bringing you the divisional previews and predictions of how teams will finish in their respective divisions. Without further ado, here is the 2017 AFC West division preview.

4: Los Angeles Chargers

2017 AFC West divison preview

(Photo Credit:http://www.spotrac.com)

Last season: 5-11

Strength of schedule: 3

The Chargers are heading in the right direction. Being in the AFC West is really the only thing holding them back.

When you look at the Chargers defense there is plenty to love. The defensive line is going to be terrifying to opposing offensive lines. Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget and Melvin Ingram are going to cause nightmares. This front will dominate games and make the rest of the defense better.

The linebacking corp has a lot of questions to answer but won’t be required to be a special unit because of how good the defensive line and the secondary are. The secondary of the Los Angeles Chargers is one of the most underrated in the entire league. Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett are one of the best corner tandems in the NFL and helped the Chargers give up only 242.9 yards per game through the air.

As long as the offense doesn’t turnover the ball at the same rate as last season the Chargers defense will improve this season and make the team better as a whole. An improved defense can help Los Angeles close out games as they finished 1-8 in games decided by seven points or less.

Philip Rivers led this offense to some impressive numbers but the turnovers really hurt them. Rivers threw 21 interceptions on the season and the team averaged 2.2 turnovers per game. Despite the high volume of turnovers, the Chargers averaged the ninth most points in the NFL with 25.6 per game. Philip Rivers threw for 262.4 yards per game even though he lost his best receiver Keenan Allen early in the season. A healthy Allen could allow Rivers, and the rest of the Chargers offense, to a better 2017.

Turnovers weren’t the only problem with the Chargers, they struggled to run the ball. Los Angeles only managed to accumulate 94.4 yards on the ground. They can do much better with Melvin Gordan and a healthy offensive line.

Even with all the improvements the Chargers have made, they won’t see the results in the win column. They have the third hardest schedule in the league and it is because of their difficult division.

Prediction: 8-8 (2-4), wildcard candidate

losses: @Den, KC, @NYG, @Oak, @NE, @Jax, @Dal, @KC

3: Denver Broncos

2017 AFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: Gregory Payan/Associated Press)

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 1

When I predicted that the Broncos would finish third last season most called me crazy, some even called me dumb. Then the Broncos struggled and fell to third in the AFC West. The same will happen this season because Trevor Siemian is still going to be the signal caller. Even if he ends up being replaced, Paxton Lynch wouldn’t do much better. The Broncos will be wasting away their defense yet again this season.

Denver needs to run the ball more often to help Siemian. The Broncos only ran the ball 40.2 percent of the time last year. As a result, the Broncos averaged 92.8 rush yards per game. C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles need to remain healthy so that the running game can take off.

Another problem with the Broncos offense is their line. Denver lost Russell Okung but his injury history makes the loss manageable. To improve upon the unit the Broncos drafted Garrett Bolles. Matt Paradis is one of the best centers in the league and will have to be the anchor that gets this unit going. The Broncos’ passing attack was abysmal as well, ranking 21st. Because of the deficiencies on offense, Denver only managed to score 20.8 points per game.

Last season the vaunted Bronco defense struggled to stop the run. Denver had the fifth worst rush defense in the league, allowing 130.3 yards per game. The addition of Domata Peko should help solve this issue. The rest of the defense is still loaded. Von Miller helped lead the Broncos to 42 sacks as a team, good enough for third in the NFL. Denver still only managed to allow 18.6 points per game. Expect them to maintain this standard and give up anywhere from 17 to 20 points per game.

The defense will continue to be earth shattering against the pass but without being able to stop the run they can’t remain elite. The lack of a running game and no real threat throwing the ball means the Broncos are in for another difficult season. They also have the hardest schedule in the NFL. The defense is the only chance this team has at making the playoffs.

Prediction: 9-7 (3-3), wildcard candidate

losses: Dal, @NYG, @LAC, @KC, @Phi, @NE, @Oak

2: Kansas City Chiefs

2017 AFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: David Eulitt The Kansas City Star)

Last season: 12-4

Strength of schedule: 2

As is every year, Andy Reid will have his team in playoff contention. The Chiefs have a great defense that will lead the way. The offense is typically average but will have a few more playmakers this season. If the Chiefs can navigate the second hardest schedule in the league, they will make the playoffs as a wildcard team.

Alex Smith receives backlash but led the Chiefs offense to the 13th best offense in the NFL averaging 24.3 points per game. Kansas City didn’t do anything great but did things consistently.  They ranked 18th in third down conversion percentage (38 percent), 15th in rushing yards (109.2 per game) and 19th in passing yards (233.8 per game).

The injury to Spencer Ware will force Kareem Hunt to be the workhorse but he is fully capable. Similar to the rest of the offense, the offensive line is ranked in the middle of the pack. Tyreek Hill will be so explosive that he will open up the running game and the middle of the field for Travis Kelcie. Alex Smith will be more than a game manager this season as a result.

The real strength of the Chiefs is their defense. Kansas City only gave up 19.4 points per game despite losing top defenders Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston. What Kansas City really excelled at was red zone defense and forcing turnovers. The Chiefs only allowed points in the red zone 49.1 percent of the time. They also led the league with 2.1 takeaways per game. Kansas City will build upon this.

The Chiefs will continue to play Super Bowl caliber defense and the offense will be much more explosive. The second toughest schedule is what will cause problems, that and the emergence of the Oakland Raiders. Chiefs will likely make the playoffs but not win the division.

Prediction: 10-6 (4-2), wildcard candidate

losses: @NE, @Hou, @Oak, @Dal, @NYG, @Den

1: Oakland Raiders

2017 AFC West division preview

(Photo Credit: https://www.si.com)

Last season: 12-4

Strength of schedule: 4

Here come the Raiders. After a decade of sitting in the gutter, the Raiders are finally built for success. The only thing holding back Oakland from a Super Bowl is health.

Heading into this season the Raiders offense is poised to be one of the top units in the NFL. Derek Carr has completed 60.9 percent of his passes and thrown for 81 touchdowns to just 31 interceptions in his career. Carr still has Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw the ball out to. They also added tight end, Jared Cook. Cook is a dangerous threat but can’t stay healthy.

The Raiders also signed Oakland native Marshawn Lynch. Lynch took a season off so he should be fresh to continue his beast mode persona this season. Oakland averaged 26 points per game last season and will be somewhere around that mark this season. As long as they stay healthy they will have one of the best offenses.

To make it to the Super Bowl the defense will have to step up their play. The Raiders defensive along gave up 24.1 points per game. Oakland struggled in giving up yards as well, ranking 26th in total yards (375.1 per game), 23rd rushing yards (117.6 per game) and 24th in passing yards (257.5 per game). The Raiders spent their first three picks on the defensive side of the ball to address these defensive woes.

(Photo Credit: http://www.sportsworldreport.com)

Oakland must improve in getting to the quarterback. They ranked 32nd in the NFL in sacks, accumulating just 25 for the season. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and newly acquired Jelani Jenkins have to be better for the silver and black to get to the big game.

The Raiders are poised for a great season. They won 12 games last season and won’t win that many because of the difficult schedule. Still, 11 wins will be enough to win the division and set the Oakland Raiders up for a possible Super Bowl Run.

Prediction: 11-5 (4-2), division champion

losses: @Den, @Buf, @Mia, @KC, @LAC

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Featured image courtesy of https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/08/25/afc-west-preview-chiefs-broncos-chargers-raiders

NFL top 100 players 2017: 70-61

The NFL season is right around the corner and all the lists of top players of the NFL are out. There is only one problem with these lists: they look back on the 2016 season too much. This list will look forward to the 2017 season and predict who will be the top 100 players for the 2017 season. The Game Haus staff compiled their lists together to rank who they think will be the top 100 players this upcoming season.

This is the fourth installment, containing players 70-61.

70. Casey Hayward, CB, Los Angeles Chargers

NFL Top 100

Casey Hayward (Photo by boltbeat.com)

Hayward may not be as known as he should be, but has had five solid seasons in the NFL. Last year, his first season playing for the Chargers, Hayward 57 total tackles, seven interceptions, 20 passes defended and one touchdown.

In 2016 Hayward made his first Pro Bowl as he starts to enter his prime. The Chargers’ team will be markedly better this season, including their defense. With Hayward and Jason Verrett as corners and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram getting pressure on the quarterback, it’s hard to imagine the Chargers’ defense not getting better.

Hayward should benefit from the players around him and be a top 100 player again.

Comments: The Chargers’ defense is becoming a sneaky good unit, and Casey Hayward is a huge part of that. Last season, Hayward clowned around to the tune of a passer rating of 53.4 when he was targeted. Hayward also allowed just one touchdown last season and led the NFL in picks last season with seven. Hayward enters his age 28 season in 2017, and expect him to fight for the crown of best corner in the NFL this season.” –Tim Miller

69. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Los Angeles Rams

NFL Top 100

Andrew Whitworth (Photo by ocregister.com)

After playing for the Bengals for the first 11 years of his career, Whitworth will now be a Ram after signing with Los Angeles in free agency. At age 36, Whitworth made the third Pro Bowl of his career and is aging well.

Now Whitworth’s job is going to be protecting Jared Goff’s blindside and clearing holes for Todd Gurley. The offense may not be the greatest in 2017, but Whitworth will turn in a good campaign. Age is a concern and Whitworth will show signs of aging, but he is still good enough to turn in a solid season.

Whitworth brings a ton of experience to a young offense and could be the piece that helps them grow and get better.

Comments: “This guy ages like fine wine. Unless age finally catches up with him, I could actually see him being ranked higher. Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line and he is easily one of the best”- Robert Hanes

“Whitworth will always be criminally underrated as one of the consistently best tackles in football. The numbers speak for themselves: 14 pressures given up in 570 offensive snaps in 2016. I’m not sure why he constantly gets overlooked, but he’s maybe the most steady offensive tackle behind the great Joe Thomas.”-Blake Van Poucke

68. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins

NFL Top 100

Ndamukong Suh (Photo by cbssports.com)

Suh may not be racking up the stats like he did earlier in his career, but he is still playing solidly in Miami. In 2017 he finished with 72 total tackles, five sacks, six passes defended and one fumble recovery.

The Dolphins chose Charles Harris Jr. with their first round pick. Putting him with the likes of Suh, Cameron Wake, William Hayes and others should create more threats for opponents’ offensive lines. The defensive front will be strong and Suh will get more one on one looks in 2017.

He does more than the numbers show you and will continue to do so in 2017.

Comments: “Suh is the forgotten superstar after he signed in Miami. Even with the second least amount of sacks in his career, he was still as productive as he’s been in years past. He’s vastly improved the Dolphins run game and has been the linchpin of one of the most improved defensive units in 2016. As his sack numbers drop, his effectiveness in other areas rises.”-Blake Van Poucke

67. Michael Bennett, DE/DT, Seattle Seahawks

NFL Top 100

Michael Bennett (Photo by sportspressnw.com)

Although he had only five sacks in 2016, his lowest total since 2011, Bennett still played solidly. He missed five games last season, which severely hindered the amount of stats he was able to total.

If he can stay healthy in 2017, Bennett will return to be a force on the field. He has the added value of playing defensive end on running downs and sliding into defensive tackle on passing downs. He matches up with several different types of linemen and uses whatever competitive advantage he has over them to get to the quarterback.

With Bennett fully back in 2017, he will be a top 100 player yet again.

Comments: Michael Bennett is a character off the field, and he channels his minor case of the crazies onto the field. Bennett was the best run stopper in the NFL last season, earning a grade of 93.0 last year against the run. He played 354 of his 689 snaps as a tackle last season, further adding to his value as a versatile lineman. The Texas A&M product tallied 16 tackles for loss, which was good for tied second in the NFL last season. Bennett will continue to okie-doke sorry offensive linemen this season and help lead a perennially stout Seahawks defense.” –Tim Miller

66. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers

NFL Top 100

Greg Olsen (photo by nj.com)

Greg Olsen has gotten better as he has gotten older. The last three seasons he has had over 1,000 receiving yards each year. Last season he had 80 receptions for 1,073 yards and three touchdowns.

He may have found it hard to get in the endzone in 2016, but he still had the second most receiving yards of a tight end. Cam Newton had a down year and he still found Olsen often. In 2017 it should be expected that Newton will bounce back and still be looking to find his favorite target, Olsen.

The Panthers will continue to feature Olsen and he will perform well in a division not known for playing great defense.

Comments: “The fact that this man is still overlooked baffles me. He will go down as one of the best tight ends to play the game.”- Robert Hanes

Olsen could be considered the most important player, outside of Newton, for the Panthers. He’s been such a reliable target for Cam Newton and a guy that seems to make every play. He eclipsed the 1,000 yard receding mark for the third straight season and continues to improve his hands and route running as a tight end. The Panthers passing game without him is a giant mess.”-Blake Van Poucke

65. Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

NFL Top 100

Brandon Graham (photo by philly.com)

The Eagles’ defense has been much better since getting rid of Chip Kelly. Without having to be on the field for what seems like an eternity, players have stepped up. One such player is Brandon Graham. He finished 2016 with 59 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, one pass defended, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovered.

Graham will be coming off his best all around season as a pro and will be looking to add to it in 2017. Philadelphia was a good defense in 2016, allowing just 20.7 points per game, but they have added some key pieces to the mix. Derek Barnett, Chris Long and Sidney Jones were all acquired in the offseason and will make the Eagles’ defense better. A lot of attention will still be paid to Graham, but the other quality players on the defense will take some pressure off of him.

Graham will continue to create a good tandem with Fletcher Cox on the Philadelphia defensive line in 2017.

Comments: “Brandon Graham is a solid edge player but Fletcher Cox takes huge pressure off of him. Graham has never had more than 6.5 sacks in a season and it looks like that is his ceiling. There are many players better than Graham and he should be in the 90’s” -Matthew Hagan

“Graham deserves to be much higher on this list. His effectiveness doesn’t necessarily show up on stat sheets, but he gets QB pressures more than nearly every player in football. 83 in 2016 is an insane number. Only Khalil Mack had more last year. The guy makes it incredibly difficult to get anything going against that Eagles defensive front.”-Blake Van Poucke

64. Danielle Hunter, DE, Minnesota Vikings

NFL Top 100

Danielle Hunter (photo by sportingsota.com)

Hunter is the only player on this list that played in the NFL last season and did not record one start. How did he do it? He put up solid numbers and got after the quarterback. His future looks very bright. In 2016 he recorded 12.5 sacks, 54 tackles, one pass defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered and one touchdown.

He still has his fair share of improvement to do in stopping the run, but Hunter has made the most of his opportunities to rush the passer. The 2017 Vikings’ defense should have another good year and Hunter will get more snaps, meaning the potential is there for him to have even more of a breakout year.

The 2017 season will tell us a lot about the third year man out of LSU, but if his first two seasons indicate anything, it is that he is on the right track to be one of the best defensive ends in the league.

Comments: “Danielle Hunter had 12.5 sacks without a single start and only played 57 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Hunter is going to be the sack champion as he and Brian Robison switch roles. By the end of the 2017-18 season, NFL fans will be debating if Hunter is the best defensive end in the NFL.” -Matthew Hagan

63. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

NFL Top 100

Larry Fitzgerald (photo by si.com)

This will be the 14th season for Larry Fitzgerald in the NFL, but he is still producing.The ageless wonder has remodeled his entire game to be able to stay productive in the NFL for as long as possible. Last season he had 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns.

Fitzgerald isn’t just putting up numbers, he has also been a great run blocker, which is an underappreciated trait in a wide receiver. Carson Palmer didn’t have a great season last year and Fitzgerald still had a big season. If the quarterback play is similar or better, Fitzgerald will be able to put up another 1,000 yard receiving season and justify his spot on this list.

Father time may work against Fitzgerald, but he has done a great job of doing everything he can to produce at a high level, so that should be expected again in 2017.

Comments: “Every year, football nerds try to paint Larry Fitzgerald as old and feeble. Fitzgerald, however, does not care about the haters. Fitzgerald dropped just seven of his 223 targets in the past two seasons, good for the second best catch rate in the NFL (97.9 percent). He was graded as the No. 9 wide receiver in the NFL last season, and will continue to be one of the best wide receivers in the league until he hangs it up, which seems like it won’t come until he’s 45. Father Time waits for no man, sans Larry Fitzgerald.” –Tim Miller

62. Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots

NFL Top 100

Dont’a Hightower (photo by bostonglobe.com)

Everyone talks about the Patriots’ offense, but they also had the best defense in the NFL last season. Hightower is a player that doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but has been an anchor in the middle of the New England defense. In 2016 Hightower totaled 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble and one safety in 13 games played.

The Patriots have added Stephon Gilmore and rookie Derek Rivers to the mix, which should make them a top NFL defense once again. Hightower won’t always have the most eye-popping stats, but if you watch the games he has an impact beyond that of his stats.

With more talent around him in 2017, Hightower will be in a good position to have an even better year in 2017.

Comments: “Hightower’s value is incredibly high as one of the leaders on that Patriots defense. In terms of absolute value (AV), he had the highest of any Patriot on defense. The guy flies around the field and has ridiculous closing speed. Patriots try and use him in many different ways but still outline his strengths by rushing the passer 30% of his snaps. He causes plenty of problems for opposing quarterbacks.”-Blake Van Poucke

61. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

NFL Top 100

Dez Bryant (photo by wfaa.com)

Bryant is another player that didn’t put up video-game level stats last season, but is still a great talent. In 13 games Bryant recorded 50 receptions for 796 yards and eight touchdowns.

A lot was made out of Dak Prescott’s favorite receiver being Cole Beasley, but Bryant had a decent season. He has also had to fight off a lot of injuries in his career, but when he is healthy, he is dynamic. A full offseason with Prescott should help improve his 52.1% catch percentage. Even if Prescott has a sophomore slump, Bryant should be able to put up enough numbers and draw enough attention to help the rest of the offense.

The connection between Prescott and Bryant is expected to be much better in 2017 and if it is, Bryant should have another great season.

Comments: “Bryant is on a team that is built to run the ball and that hurts him. He also has missed 10 games over the past two seasons. If Dak takes a big leap, and Dez can stay healthy, then he will prove to be better than this rank.” -Matthew Hagan

“Based on talent, Bryant should be higher, but he hasn’t meshed with Prescottt enough yet. His production will go up and he will have a better season in 2017. With Ezekiel Elliot facing a possible suspension, Bryant will be what opponents want to stop the most.”-Joe DiTullio

NFL Top 100 Players: 80-71

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Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

Super Bowl Series 2017: AFC West

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the eighth, and final edition, Super Bowl series: AFC West.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are entirely overlooked and it is egregious. Andy Reid has done incredibly well so far in Kansas City. Reid has gone 43-21 and the Chiefs have made the playoffs in three of his four seasons.

The only thing missing is the playoff success and thus a Super Bowl victory. Kansas City is just 1-3 in the playoffs during the Reid era. That can change this season as the Chiefs look to make a run at Super Bowl LII.

Kansas City is a team that wades in the water like a shark and out of nowhere will sneak up and attack you. Alex Smith gets the hate while the defense gets all the love but the Chiefs averaged 24.3 points per game last season, which was 13th best in the NFL. The Chiefs were able to get out in front of teams early, scoring the eighth most first half points with 12.8 per game.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit:http://www.kansascity.com/)

The Chiefs weren’t special on offense but they were consistent. They ranked 18th in third down conversion percentage (38 percent), 15th in rushing yards (109.2 per game) and 19th in passing yards (233.8 per game). Again, the offense wasn’t spectacular but they are wrongfully accused of costing this team successful playoff runs.

There is still room for growth. The offense can help the defense out even more by running more plays to keep that stellar defense rested. The Chiefs ranked 27th last season averaging 61.9 plays per game. An effective rushing attack is one of the best ways to run more plays.

Kansas City has added veteran running back C.J. Spiller and rookie running back Kareem Hunt in hopes of improving the offense, but Spencer Ware should be the feature back. This offense has been consistent and as long as they improve just a tiny bit, the Chiefs can remain Super Bowl contenders.

In the Reid era, the Chiefs have averaged 27.5 points per game in the playoffs. They also lost a playoff game to the Colts, 45-44. Anytime a team scores 44 points, they should win. As much blame as this offense gets, they have performed well enough to win games in the postseason.

Stepping away from the offense, the Chiefs are truly Super Bowl contenders because of their defense. Despite losing Justin Houston after five games and Derrick Johnson after 13, the Chiefs were able to rank seventh in points allowed per game at 19.4.

The reason the Chiefs were good on defense wasn’t that they held teams to low amounts of yardage; they actually were bad at allowing yards. They ranked 24th in total yards (368.5 per game), 26th in rushing (121.1 per game) and 18th in passing (247.4 per game).

What Kansas City really excelled at was red zone defense and forcing turnovers. The Chiefs only allowed points in the red zone 49.1 percent of the time. They also led the league with 2.1 takeaways per game. There can be improvements made in how much yardage allowed but if the Chiefs can continue forcing turnovers along with getting stops in the red zone, then the Chiefs can remain a top-tier defensive team.

In order to win the Super Bowl, Kansas City must get home-field advantage. They are 18-7 at home in the past three seasons. They must also get over the tough schedule that includes New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas outside of the division, plus Oakland and Denver twice each.

If the Chiefs can navigate this schedule and make the playoffs, the offense needs to continue averaging 27.5 points per game and the defense must remain elite. Doing all of this will mean that Arrowhead will be home to the Super Bowl LII champions.

Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders were legitimate Super Bowl contenders last season but the injury bug bit at the worst time. Derek Carr broke his leg in week 16 and just like his leg, the Raiders playoff chances were shattered.

Offensive tackle Donald Penn also went down and if the Raiders can remain healthy at their key positions, then they have one of the best shots in the league to win Super Bowl LII.

In order to win the Super Bowl, the Raiders must improve defensively along with remaining healthy. The Raiders gave up 24.1 points per game and the problem was that they struggled in the second half of games.

Oakland ranked 29th in second half points, allowing 13.4 per game. The Raiders struggled in yardage as well, ranking 26th in total yards (375.1 per game), 23rd rushing yards (117.6 per game) and 24th in passing yards (257.5 per game). The Raiders spent their first three picks on the defensive side of the ball to address these defensive woes.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: http://www.sportsworldreport.com)

Part of the reason they struggled so much defensively was that they couldn’t get off the field on third down. Opponents converted 39.4 percent of the time against the Raiders on third down. If they can fix this, it will improve their entire defense.

Fixing their third down defense starts with getting to the quarterback which the Raiders were the worst at. Oakland ranked 32nd in the NFL in sacks, accumulating just 25 for the season. Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and newly acquired Jelani Jenkins must make a bigger impact in rushing the quarterback.

Oakland must also find some discipline. The Raiders ranked dead last in both penalties (9.2 per game) and penalty yardage (77.9 per game). Without these improvements, the Raiders won’t be capable of making deep postseason runs.

The strength of the Raiders is, without question, their offense which averaged 26 points per game. Oakland seemed to get better as the game went on, averaging the fifth most points in the second half with 13.6. The Raiders had no trouble racking up the yardage either, averaging 373.3 yards per game.

They can thank their surprisingly good rushing attack. Oakland ran for the sixth most yards in the NFL last season with 120.1 per game. Adding Marshawn Lynch to the mix should improve this number and make the entire offense even better.

Oakland had the 13th best aerial attack in the NFL, throwing for 253.2 yards per game. Derek Carr has been exceptional and has also been given solid targets to throw to. His two main targets, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, combined for 176 receptions, 2,156 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

The Raiders decided Carr needed more and added talented receiving tight end Jared Cook and explosive wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

Cook has struggled to remain healthy but has been effective when on the field. Patterson has been to the Pro Bowl as a returner but had a solid season catching 74.3 percent of the balls thrown his way last season. These two weapons could really push Oakland’s passing attack to the next level.

The only improvements the Raiders need to make on offense is on third down and in the red zone. Oakland only converted 38.1 percent on third down. Extending drives can help the defense get rest and therefore, perform better.

Although the Raiders averaged 26 points, they only scored in the red zone 58.6 percent of the time. If they can improve this percentage, then the Raiders could easily average 30 or more points per game. If the Raiders do that, then the Lombardi Trophy is going back to the bay, baby.

Denver Broncos

There weren’t many who believed the Broncos would struggle last season but Denver stumbled to 9-7. Similar to recent years, Denver’s defense was spectacular but the offense was just too far behind. The loss of Peyton Manning was more painful than fans care to realize. Denver might have a Super Bowl defense, but without a quarterback to make big plays, the offense is going to hold this team back.

Let’s start off with what this team is known for, and that’s defense. The Broncos have a reputation for beating up quarterbacks. Denver ranked third in the NFL last season with 42 sacks. This helped them get off the field on third down as they forced a third down stop 63.6 percent of the time. Getting to the quarterback often, and quickly, helped the secondary allow just 185.8 yards passing per game. That was the best mark in the NFL.

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Despite all the success against the pass, the Broncos did struggle against the run. Denver had the fifth worst rush defense in the league, allowing 130.3 yards per game. Altogether, Denver only allowed 316.1 yards per game and that resulted in allowing the fourth fewest points per game at 18.6.

In order to get back to the Super Bowl, Denver must clog up the running lanes. The Broncos have added Domata Peko at defensive tackle to help their run defense. Denver cannot depend on the play of the quarterback and therefore the defense must become elite in all facets of the game. All that is left to conquer is the run.

Offensively, the Broncos need to run the ball more often to make up for their quarterback play. Denver only ran the ball 40.2 percent of the time. This resulted in an average of 92.8 rush yards per game, sixth worst in the NFL. C.J. Anderson is a great back but has yet to play a full season in his career. Speaking of injury prone, the Broncos did add Jamaal Charles to the mix in the backfield as well. While neither can remain healthy on their own, maybe being paired together can help them stay healthy and turn Denver into a good running football team once again.

None of that will be possible without good offensive line play though. Losing Russell Okung isn’t a crushing blow because he had health problems anyway. This is why Denver drafted Garrett Bolles. Also, Matt Paradis is one of the best centers in the league and if he can lead the rest of the unit then Denver can improve their offense.

The Broncos’ passing attack was abysmal as well, ranking 21st. Because of the deficiencies on offense, Denver only managed to score 20.8 points per game. Either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch need to grab ahold of the quarterback spot with force and prove they can be the franchise quarterback.

If neither of them can, rookie Chad Kelly could sneak in and become the man. No matter how the cookie crumbles, one of these quarterbacks needs to have a great season to help get the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

For everything to fall into place the Broncos, offensive line play must improve which in turn will help the running game improve. Denver needs a quarterback to solidify their spot as the franchise quarterback and lastly, the Denver defense needs to stop the run. If the Broncos can solve all these problems, they can win Super Bowl LII.

Los Angeles Chargers

Super Bowl series 2017: AFC West

(Photo Credit: http://eastvillagetimes.com)

The Chargers have left San Diego and are embarking on the journey to run Los Angeles. Due to a slew of injuries and a sub-par defense, the Chargers finished last season 5-11. That record didn’t indicate how good the team really was. The Chargers went 1-8 in games decided by seven points or less. Los Angeles can become a contender simply by winning these close games.

The Los Angeles Chargers are going be a much improved defensive team. For starters, Joey Bosa will be ready at the start of the season and he had 10.5 sacks in just 12 games as a rookie. They also added safety Tre Boston to help out in a secondary that gave up 242.9 yards per game through the air.

The defense also includes Corey Liuget, Brandon Mebane, Melvin Ingram, Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. These are some really good players but they must play together to improve last year’s bad season.

Last year, the Chargers ranked 29th in the NFL in points, allowing 26.4 per game. It was so high because they really stunk in the second half of games. The Chargers gave up a total of 14.6 points per second half last season with 8.3 of those points coming in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers defense partly struggled just because the offense gave up 2.2 turnovers per game, which was worst in the NFL. The defense is really talented and if they don’t get put into bad situations due to turnovers, they will easily bring down that amount of points they give up.

Last year’s offense was really good aside from the turnovers. They averaged the ninth most points in the NFL with 25.6 per game. Philip Rivers’ aerial assault led the way. They averaged 262.4 yards through the air despite losing their best receiver Keenan Allen. A healthy Allen could allow Rivers to have a better 2017-18 campaign.

In order to really improve the offense, the Chargers must run the ball more effectively. They averaged 94.4 yards per game but a banged-up offensive line hurt their potential. The Chargers know that a better offensive line will improve everything. Los Angeles snatched offensive tackle Russell Okung from the division rival Broncos. They also drafted guard Forrest Lamp.

Improvement for the Chargers starts with the offense. Running the ball more and simply staying healthy will accomplish that. The defense will then be able to bring down a number of points they allow due to rest. Lastly, the Chargers special teams must stop shooting themselves in the foot with bad punts, missed field goals, botched snaps and just horrible coverage.

It will not be easy for the Chargers to make the playoffs, especially in their division. If they can make the improvements listed, then they will have a puncher’s chance. Once they get into the playoffs it is anybody’s trophy.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl series: AFC West. This was the final edition of the Super Bowl series and you can find the previous editions of the Super Bowl series here.

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Is Dez Bryant a top fantasy option?

Dez Bryant has struggled with injuries and in-season battles in the past two years. Bryant was once a top five receiver in fantasy. From 2012-14, he finished in the top five in fantasy points in the receiver group. But with struggles with injuries and a transition to a new Dallas offense and quarterback, will Bryant return to being the elite fantasy player that he was early in his career?

Throw up the X: 2011-14

After his rookie season, Bryant came to life. In 2011, Bryant became a top option for Tony Romo behind Jason Witten. He finished with 63 receptions, 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He finished in the top 20 that year in fantasy for receivers.

The following season, Bryant broke onto the scene. He had his first season over 1,000 yards and had over 90 receptions and double digits in touchdowns. He finished in the top 10 in receptions (92), yards (1,382) and receiving yards per game (86.4). His 12 touchdowns were top-three. Bryant finished third in fantasy that season.

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant and Tony Romo (Photo by: zimbio.com)

In 2013, he had another solid season. He saw his targets spike from 138 to 160. He finished in the top five in fantasy again under receivers and his 93 receptions ranked eighth. His 13 touchdowns again ranked third.

Bryant did see a small decline in receiving yards with 1,233 and his receiving yards per game (77.1) that both ranked outside the top 10.

However, Bryant did perform in the top two inside the 10-yard line of the red zone. He led the league in targets (16), receptions (11) and touchdowns (9). He finished second in yards (38) and target percentage (43.2).

Bryant developed into a red zone weapon and also ranked in the top 10 in receptions (13) and target percentage (29.9) inside the 20-yard line. He was also second in touchdowns with 10 inside the 20.

2014 was probably Bryant’s best fantasy season to date. He finished third in fantasy points among receivers, his third top five finish in a row. He led the league in receiving touchdowns with 16. Bryant also improved his receiving yards (1,320) and receiving yards per game (82.5), which ranked eighth and 10th respectively.

He did have less receptions (88) but averaged 14.3 fantasy points per game, a career-best that season which ranked third. He also had his best PPR fantasy points per game at 19.8. Bryant also doubled his catches of 20-plus yards with 22 that ranked fifth in 2014.

In those four seasons, Bryant totaled 4,863 yards and 50 touchdowns. During that time, just Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green had more yards than he did. His touchdowns were the most during that timeframe, and no other receiver had more than 43 touchdowns.

Injuries and quarterback issues: 2015-16

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: whatthebuc.net)

Before the season, Bryant resigned with the Cowboys on a five-year, $70 million contract that included $45 million of guaranteed money and a $20 million signing bonus.

In a game against the Giants on Sep. 13, 2015, Bryant had a foot injury. The x-ray revealed a fracture in the foot that required surgery. He returned in week eight and struggled, getting two receptions for 12 yards.

In a season in which he struggled with health issues, he caught 31 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. Before the injury, part of Bryant’s success was having Tony Romo as the quarterback. They only played three games together in 2015 as Romo had a back injury.

Bryant played with two other quarterbacks (Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) that season. All of his three touchdowns came from a different quarterback. On Jan. 6, 2016, he underwent foot and ankle surgeries.

In 2016, his favorite quarterback in the preseason went down with another back injury and rookie Dak Prescott became the starter. It proved again that Bryant missed Romo as the quarterback as he and Prescott only connected on 16 of their first 41 targets in their first five games together.

This led to inconsistent fantasy numbers, as Bryant had just three games with 10 or more points, but two games with less than two points. He also missed three games with a knee injury. However, removing week 17 where they played only one series, Bryant and Prescott came to life.

In the final eight games including the playoffs, Bryant had 66 targets, 43 receptions, 646 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s a 65.2 percent completion rate. It seemed that Bryant came back to being the receiver he once was.

2017 outlook

Dez Bryant fantasy value

Dez Bryant (Photo by: sbnation.com)

In 2017, there is some concern regarding Bryant. Besides adding no receiver help to complement him, Bryant will face Janoris Jenkins twice, Josh Norman twice, Aqib Talib/Chris Harris Jr., Patrick Peterson, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett/Casey Hayward and Richard Sherman.

In the two matchups with the Giants last year, he was held to just two catches for 18 yards on 14 targets and fumbled once that clinched the Giants win in the second meeting.

The last time he played against Sherman, he totaled just two catches for 12 yards on six targets.

And expect Norman to shadow Bryant this year after not doing so in 2016. In the first three games for Bryant, he plays the Giants at home and then goes to Denver and Arizona on the road. We could see again early season struggles for him.

He has missed 22 games in two seasons. He is also in a run-heavy offense with a great offensive line and a premier running back. The defense in Dallas hasn’t improved, especially in the backfield which could lead to Prescott throwing the ball more if they have to play catch up. That would benefit Bryant but the game plan will be to run the ball to protect Prescott.

But how good will Prescott be if he has to throw to win? That’s a question for another article.

Bryant is a top-10 fantasy receiver that should be drafted somewhere in the third round. Be cautious with his durability, and Prescott worries me this year as he is my top bust for quarterbacks. In some leagues he will be a top receiver for most teams, but he’s a high-end WR2 with a ceiling as a middling WR1.

 

Featured image from reddit.com

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Franchise Analysis – Los Angeles Chargers

In just over a calendar year, Los Angeles goes from having zero, to two NFL franchises. Both the Chargers and Rams had disappointing seasons for a variety of reasons, but are incredibly different. While they both will have rookie head coaches in 2017, the Chargers are in a much better position to rebound. With Anthony Lynn at the start of his head coaching career, and Phillip Rivers at the end of his playing career, what will the Los Angeles Chargers look like in 2017?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

Melvin Gordon put the critics to bed with his offensive output this year as the Chargers’ work horse back (Courtesy of; Chargers.com).

Entering the 2016 season, one could argue that Melvin Gordon was the biggest offensive question mark. At this point, you know what you get with Phillip Rivers. He’s going to take chances and sometimes they don’t always work out. But, when an organization spends a first round pick on a running back who failed to reach the end zone in his first season, that can raise some eyebrows. Thankfully, Melvin Gordon did not disappoint. Gordon was effective even though the Chargers finished as a bottom third rushing attack. Despite missing the final three games and only playing eight snaps in another, Gordon rushed for 997 yards averaging 3.9 yards per carry.

As most Chargers fans know, Gordon wasn’t able to be as much of a factor because of negative game flow. The offense often had to resort to throwing their way back into the game. As a whole, the Chargers finished 9th in points and 14th in yards according to Pro Football Reference. This offense had one fatal flaw, turnovers. Rivers led the NFL with 21 interceptions. The Chargers also lost 14 fumbles, tied for 2nd highest in the league. Meaning, this offense must become more efficient in 2017 if they want to compete. One way to become more efficient is to have better balance on offense, starting with the offensive line.

Like many teams, the Chargers suffered from multiple critical injuries; they must upgrade the offensive guard position. Using Pro Football Focus player rankings to compare players at the same position, the Chargers suffered from poor offensive guard play. D.J. Fluker and Orlando Franklin were ranked the 56th and 69th out of 75 eligible players at guard. Getting consistent, average play at this position will allow the Chargers to be more efficient and turn the ball over less.

When an offensive line is strong at the guard position, they can eliminate immediate pressure up the middle. This means that Melvin Gordon will be able go an extra third or half yard before being contacted by a defender. Aging quarterbacks also benefit more. Rivers is comfortable moving forward in the pocket and evading edge rushers. However, when the pressure forces Rivers outside the pocket, he becomes less efficient and more turnover prone. While I believe Rivers is an underrated athlete, he’s not capable of producing like Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers outside the pocket.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

Despite their overall record of 5-11, the Chargers had one of the NFL’s underrated defenses. On the surface, that seems absurd. How can a defense be ranked 29th in points and 16th in yards be underrated? The Chargers finished tied for 4th in terms of creating turnovers with 28 on the season. The two defenses they tied with, were Arizona and Baltimore, two of the best defenses this season. What Arizona and Baltimore didn’t have to deal with was their offense being first in giveaways. Those put the defense in impossible positions. If the offense becomes marginally more protective of the football, the defense will improve.

Joey Bosa proved that he was well worth the wait after holding out to start the season (Courtesy of; Sporting News).

The Chargers have multiple players on defense that will no doubt allow them to improve next season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers have the 5th and 6th best edge defenders in the NFL with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. While they play different positions, they often have similar responsibilities, thus, them being classified as edge defenders and not as a linebacker or lineman. These players, along with Brandon Mebane, make for a stout defensive front; however, it is not without flaw. Corey Liuget did not play well this year and has sadly been declining since 2014. Maybe he would play better in a limited role on defense, but the Chargers need to have a better every down on the interior.

 

In the back end, the Chargers have an emerging star in Casey Hayward. Hayward has been playing well for years, but ascended to another level this season by shadowing the opposition’s best receiver. When Hayward is playing at such a high level, Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers will be heavily targeted. Both players had to deal with injuries this season, which contributed to their decreased production. The Chargers need to make sure that they have adequate players that can produce in a relief role.

Divisional Analysis

If Anthony Lynn has learned anything in his coaching tenure, it’s that you have to build a team that can compete in their division. Thankfully, Lynn will have the 2nd most talented quarterback in the division entering 2017. The offense has to improve up front. What do the Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders all have in common? They all have at least one great pass rusher. We already talked about the need at guard for the Chargers. They can also upgrade the tackle position if an appropriate free agent or prospect makes sense.

Currently, there isn’t a tackle or guard that warrants selection in the top ten. Jahleel Addae will become a free agent at seasons end, so they could look at drafting Malik Hooker, the play making safety out of Ohio State. However, they could still select Cam Robinson if he is universally rising up draft boards late in April. It’s likely that they will use second day picks to address the offensive guard position. That could mean selecting Dan Feeney out of Indiana or the versatile Taylor Moton from Western Michigan who could play guard and tackle.

I don’t think the Los Angeles Chargers need to spend multiple picks on offensive weapons for Rivers. Both Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, and Hunter Henry proved they can produce in this offense. With Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon returning from injuries, this team can be explosive in 2017. If this team can upgrade their offensive line and add depth on defense, they will be poised to rise up in the AFC West.

Post Season Prospects

The Los Angeles Chargers have some work to if they want to make a playoff push in 2017. There are key offensive and defensive metrics that can help predict postseason success. Here are the categories and where the Chargers stack up compared to the rest of the league.

As I’ve said in my previous evaluations, you don’t have to be elite in every statistic. But, a team can’t have a glaring hole and hope to compete in the playoffs. Every divisional winner this season was top 15 in two or more categories on each side of the ball. We already know the Chargers need to be better up front. Upgrade those positions and they will give up less sacks and allow them to have more prolonged drives. Thus, improving their time of possession as well.

The future of the Chargers defense is not as bleak as their overall rankings may suggests. I’ve talked at length in this series about how the points allowed statistic can be misleading. Yards allowed, 3rd down defense, and turnovers are all stats that the defense alone can control. In two of those areas, they are just outside the top 15 and top five in the third. If the offense can be more efficient, the defense will benefit tremendously.

2017 Predictions

Despite my positive outlook for the Chargers next season, I don’t think their record will improve much. First time head coaches rarely have immediate success. Not to mention, the transition to becoming the Los Angeles Chargers. While their weekly schedule isn’t set, their opponents are. Having to face the AFC and NFC East divisions does not bode well. Thankfully, the Chargers get the Brown and the Jaguars as their other non divisional games. I think the Chargers will finish 7-9 next season and last in the AFC West.

 

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