2017 NFC South division preview

2017 NFC South division preview

The NFL regular season is fast approaching. In the blink of an eye, Sep. 7 will arrive and the Chiefs and Patriots will be kicking off the 2017-2018 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 NFC South division preview.

4: New Orleans Saints

Last season: 7-9

Strength of schedule:15

Oh when the Saints go marching in, they bring with them no defense. The Saints are hoping the additions of A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o will improve a defense that gave up 28.4 points per game last season. They also drafted defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams to improve one of the league’s worst secondaries.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo credit: Matthew Hinton)

Although New Orleans has made an effort to improve their defense, it won’t become great overnight. Despite ranking 11th in fewest plays per game, the Saints ranked 14th in rushing and 31st in passing. Until this unit shows on-field improvement, there is no way the Saints can win the division or earn a wild card berth.

Offensively, the Saints are absolutely loaded. They have future Hall of Famer Drew Brees under center. New Orleans has committed to Michael Thomas as the go-to guy on the outside in just his second season. Coby Fleener is more than a reliable tight end to compliment Thomas in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

The Saints are also blessed in the backfield with Mark Ingram, future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara. This trio of running backs will give defensive coordinators nightmares.

New Orleans has a pretty easy schedule this season and the offensive side of the ball is going to be straight fireworks. As is the story every season with Saints, can the defense be good enough to help them win games? The answer is no. Every game will be a shootout and opposing defenses are going to make more game winning plays. The Saints will be competitive because of their offense, but the defense will be their downfall yet again.

Prediction: 8-8 (3-3), miss the playoffs

3: Atlanta Falcons

2017 NFC South division preview

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

Last season: 11-5

Strength of schedule: 13

I am a firm believer in Super Bowl hangovers. Just look at how the Panthers’ season went last year after losing Super Bowl 50.

The Falcons’ players are saying all the right things about moving on and using the humiliating let down as motivation for this season but when push comes to shove that loss will be in the back of their mind. The first team to start coming back on them will bring out those painful memories.

Atlanta is also the defending NFC champions and they will get every team’s best shot. Their division is one of the toughest in the NFL and the Buccaneers and Panthers did a lot to improve.

Besides the hangover and their schedule, Atlanta has to prove they can play great defense for an entire season. The first half of last season was abysmal defensively. The Falcons finished the season ranked 27th in points, giving up 25.3 per game. Atlanta saw such a high volume of points scored in the fourth quarter. They ranked 31st in fourth quarter scoring giving up 9.9 points per fourth quarter. If that trend continues they will struggle to win games.

Offensively, the Falcons are loaded. Matt Ryan had a career year that led to him being named league MVP. It is unlikely that he has a second consecutive MVP caliber season as very few players have ever won back to back MVPs. Only four players have done so: Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

Ryan will have a slight drop off in production but not enough to warrant concern. The offense will put up plenty of points and still be electrifying but as mentioned earlier, they will be given the best shot from every team and it will cause them to come up short a few more times than most can expect.

Atlanta’s defense must improve and play to the ability they did in the second half of the season in order to get back to the postseason. Due to a massive Super Bowl hangover, an improved division all-around and a defense that will likely be mediocre, the Falcons come up short and miss the playoffs.

Prediction: 9-7 (3-3), miss the playoffs

2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season: 9-7

Strength of schedule: 14

Tampa Bay had a solid season last year but missed the playoffs. This season they should take the next step and make the playoffs behind a very solid offense that has improved. The upgrades on offense include the additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. Both of which will turn this offense from good to great.

2017 NFC South division preview

(Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The Buccaneers were led by their passing game, averaging 245.4 yards per game. Mike Evans is one of the top receivers in the league and the combination of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard will cause defensive coordinators to adjust their game plans leaving Mike Evans with more one on one looks.

The running game only averaged 101 yards per game but Doug Martin only played eight games last season. Martin will start out the season suspended but is eligible to play in week four.

Once Martin returns the running game will start to get rolling, making it even easier for Jameis Winston to air it out. Everything will finally come together for the Bucs offense this season. Don’t be surprised if the 2017 Buccaneers finish with a top 10 offense.

Tampa Bay must become a better defensive team to truly take the step and make the playoffs. The Bucs ranked 22nd in both rush and pass defense giving up a total of 367.9 yards per game. Gerald McCoy will have a Chris Baker next to him to improve the rush defense but it will take more than just one new defensive tackle.

The Bucs should have a better pass defense because the defensive line will get tons of pressure from the trio of Robert Ayers, William Gholston and Noah Spence. Spence had 5.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. With an entire year in the Bucs system, Spence could improve and show the ability he displayed at Ohio State.

In total, this defense gave up 25.3 points per game. If the Bucs can improve that but just four points the offense should easily score more than 21 points per game with all the talent they have.

Tampa Bay will have a balanced offense capable of big play ability. Their defense will also be improved and with an easy schedule, the Bucs should have a solid shot at a playoff berth.

Prediction: 10-6 (3-3), wildcard candidate

1: Carolina Panthers

2017 NFC South division preview

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

Last season: 6-10

Strength of schedule: 16

Carolina had a Super Bowl hangover but this year they are locked and loaded. Cam Newton is determined to correct last seasons mistake and retake his MVP form. The front office also made quality moves to get this team back to the big game.

The Panthers added key playmakers in the draft to help Cam. Christian McCaffery has already put Panther defenders on skates based off of leaked practice videos. That includes Panthers defenders such as all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly. Curtis Samuel, out of Ohio State, was also a key piece the Panthers picked up in the draft but has yet to practice due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Even without Samuel, Cam has Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin back. With all these weapons and an upgraded offensive line, the Panthers can become one of the premier offenses in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers are still as dangerous as ever. The front four have some studs at defensive tackle in Star Lotuelei and Kawann Short. Off the edge, the Panthers bring back Mario Addison and Charles Johnson. This front four is fierce and to beef it up, even more, Panthers legend Julius Peppers has returned to finish his career in Carolina.

The linebacking corp is arguably the best in all of football with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. This front seven is going to cause major havoc to opposing offenses.

The Panthers secondary is where their defense struggled last season. To improve this unit, the Panthers signed Mike Adams, a safety, who had 12 interceptions in his three seasons with the Colts. Carolina also brought back Captain Munnerlyn, who is one of the best nickel corners in the league. These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

These additions to the secondary, paired with an elite front seven means the Panthers will have a top 10 defense and the Lombardi Trophy is a realistic goal this season.

Prediction: 12-4 (4-2), division champion

 

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Cam Newton

NFL early season games to watch: Gut check games

As nice as it is to have NFL football back on our television sets, preseason games are often a tough watch. However, it is now more than fashionable to look ahead to the regular season.

Teams can change a lot over 16-plus weeks. Even so, early fall games frequently foreshadow the future. Here is a single game from each of the first four weeks of the season that will tell us a great deal about the teams involved.

Week 1: Bucs at Dolphins

Patriots/Chiefs, Seahawks/Packers and Giants/Cowboys will get all the opening week headlines. This battle of Florida teams is a solid undercard that should not be overlooked.

NFL early season games to watch

Photo: zambio.com

The hype train has been rolling all offseason for Tampa Bay. With Jameis Winston only getting better, it is easy to see why. The charismatic signal caller has tossed 50 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

Also, new additions DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard should help free up top pass catcher Mike Evans. Toss in a young defense that had some really nice moments last year, and the end of a long playoff drought becomes realistic. Opening up against a playoff team from last season will serve as a nice measuring stick.

For Miami, the season hinges on the play of retiree-turned-knight in shining armor Jay Cutler who is back to play for his biggest supporter in head coach Adam Gase. If Cutler is healthy and motivated, he can still throw for over 3,500 yards like he did under the direction of Gase in Chicago.

However, if something is not right with the Cutler experiment, the Bucs are certainly good enough to exploit it and begin what will be a long year for the Dolphins.

Week 2: Cowboys at Broncos

Regardless of the outcome of Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal, the Cowboys are in for a dogfight with the Giants in the opener. However, the rubber will really meet the road here. As long as all members of the “No Fly Zone” are around, the only way to move the ball on a consistent basis against Denver is on the ground.

The Broncos got pushed around at the point of attack in 2016, finishing 28th against the run. If Dallas cannot run the ball here, they will likely struggle in a big way in Elliott’s absence. Conversely, going up against what is widely regarded as the best offensive line in football will be a fantastic gauge of improvement (if any) against the run for Denver.

Week 3: Seahawks at Titans:

Much like Tampa Bay, there’s lots of talk about Tennessee ending a lengthy playoff drought this year after exceeding expectations in 2016.

NFL early season games to watch

Photo: larrybrownsports.com

The Titans are a rarity in the modern NFL. They run the ball as much or more than they throw it. Games are rarely placed squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Mariota does a great job fulfilling his role and taking care of the football. He put up 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions last year.

No team has mastered the physical brand of football that the Titans are trying to build a powerhouse with better than Seattle over the last half decade. Barring key injuries, Seattle will be in the mix again this year.

However, if the Titans want to sit at the big kid table of the NFL, this is their chance to prove they belong.

Week 4: Panthers at Patriots:

With the exception of Josh Norman departing, many of the main cogs for the Panthers are the same as they were when Carolina reached the Super Bowl just two years ago. However, a similar cast of characters also posted a losing record last year.

The Patriots are the gold standard in the NFL. That will likely remain the case as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are around. While talk of them going undefeated is ridiculous, they will certainly be the toughest team in the league to beat.

Make no mistake that Cam Newton and the Panthers still have the talent to play with any opponent in any location. Their performance against the reigning Super Bowl champions will speak volumes about whether their true identity is the team that reached the Super Bowl, or the team that fell off a cliff last year.

 

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2017 fantasy football wide receiver rankings: 40-31

This class of wide receivers is deeper than it has been in years for fantasy football. You can win your league with two stud running backs in the first round and take one of these wide receivers as your number one, so pay attention to this list if you’re going to take two running backs.

 

40. Randall Cobb (Green Bay Packers): In 2015, when Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending knee injury, the demand for Randall Cobb was high. He was the No. 1 wide receiver on a high-powered Packers offense, but he didn’t live up to expectations.

He followed up his disappointing 2015 season with an even more disappointing 2016 season. Cobb had 610 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and less catches per game last season than any season since 2014.

Mike McCarthy wants Cobb to get more involved in the Packers’ offense, but with a healthy Jordy Nelson, an emerging Davante Adams and a recently acquired Martellus Bennett, targets are going to be hard to come by. Don’t draft Cobb too early, but if the price is right take him.

39. Jeremy Maclin (Baltimore Ravens): The Chiefs made the surprising move to cut Maclin this offseason. He ended up signing with the Ravens on a two-year deal. Jeremy Maclin had a disappointing season with the Chiefs but is in line for a lot of targets this season with Baltimore.

After losing their core of receivers and recently losing tight end Dennis Pitta, Jeremy Maclin is the new No. 1 receiver in Baltimore. He’s playing with a reliable (and elite, debate that in the comments if you must) quarterback in Joe Flacco, but there are some things that make Maclin unreliable.

He ranked in the bottom half of production and efficiency last season and has dealt with his fair share of injuries. He ranked 62nd in receptions and 69th in receiving yards. I have high hopes for Maclin given his current situation in Baltimore, as he has a chance to regain his No. 1 wide receiver status.

2017 fantasy football wide receiver rankings: 40-31

http://prod.static.ravens.clubs.nfl.com

38.  Pierre Garçon (San Francisco 49ers): Pierre Garçon had a bounceback season with the Washington Redskins last year. Quietly, he was one of the most productive receivers in the league last season. He ranked 16th in the league in receiving yards with 1,041 and 17th in receptions with 79. He’s now joining a revamped 49ers team led by quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Not only was Garçon one of the most productive receivers, he ranked in the top half in efficiency. Pierre Garçon was the 13th-ranked receiver in terms of yards per target and that number can increase during Garçon’s tenure in San Francisco.

All in all, I didn’t agree with his choice to leave Washington, but I do think Garçon will surprise people and keep up his production next season.

37. Devante Parker (Miami Dolphins): The long awaited breakout of Devante Parker came last season, kinda. Parker had a nice year, with 744 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He has drawn criticism from head coach Adam Gase and hasn’t fully emerged as the big receiver everyone thought he would be.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Parker should be catching more touchdowns than he did. He had only seven end zone targets which ended up as four touchdowns, which is weak for his size and role in the offense.

With Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry on the Dolphins’ roster, there’s limited space for targets for Parker. He needs to emerge as a big end zone threat to make some noise in fantasy this season.

36. Eric Decker (Tennessee Titans): I don’t think Decker would make this list if he was still on the Jets. Riddled by injuries last season, Eric Decker never got the chance to do anything noteworthy for the Jets. But in 2015, we saw the Eric Decker that we expected. He was one of the most productive receivers in the league ranking in the top half in categories such as receptions, receiving yards, total touchdowns and fantasy points per game.

Now he heads to Tennessee to play alongside Demarco Murray and Marcus Mariota. The up-and-coming Titans offense has their new No. 1 receiver and Decker has the opportunity to regain his status from 2016.

2017 fantasy football wide receiver rankings: 40-31

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35. Willie Snead (New Orleans Saints): Willie Snead has found success early in his career in the NFL. Snead has eclipsed 850 yards and 65 receptions in both of his seasons in the NFL so far. Playing with elite quarterback Drew Brees, Snead was the number 2/3 wide receiver for the Saints but now things have changed.

Brandin Cooks is gone but the emergence of Michael Thomas has put Snead as the No. 2 receiver. Snead won’t flash anything special in terms of efficiency and production, but one thing he is, is reliable. His reliability is what makes him so intriguing, as he’s a lock to gain 900 yards and five touchdowns. Take him as a No. 2 receiver or flex and love the numbers.

34. Desean Jackson (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Another old face in a new place. Desean Jackson almost played a full season last year and was as explosive as ever. Jackson eclipsed 1,000 yards for Kirk Cousins and has the opportunity to be even better this year.

Most likely lining up in the slot and returning punts, Jackson has big play ability written all over him. Playing with Mike Evans and Jameis Winston, the new look Bucs have a high-powered offense and a lot of potential.

When healthy, Jackson can put up big yardage, but the only issue with him is he won’t have the touchdowns that the stud wide outs will have.

33. Brandon Marshall (New York Giants): From one New York team to the next, Brandon Marshall finds himself in a good situation with the New York Giants. He is the No. 2 wide receiver behind the top tier, two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning.

Last season didn’t go as planned for Brandon Marshall but he’s a big bodied, reliable receiver with something left in the tank. The Giants pass on 62 percent of their plays and Marshall has the opportunity as the No. 2 receiver to see tons of targets and big plays in the red zone. The Giants weren’t great in the red zone last season, as they were successful on 51 percent of their plays, but Marshall will help in that category. Expect double digit touchdowns from Marshall this year.

2017 fantasy football wide receiver rankings: 40-31

http://prod.static.giants.clubs.nfl.com

32. Kelvin Benjamin (Carolina Panthers): Everyone is down on Kelvin Benjamin this season and I don’t know why. He missed his sophomore season with a torn ACL, and didn’t quite rebound like everyone thought he would. He still had 941 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Those numbers were only slightly worse than his impressive 2014 rookie campaign. Keep in mind that the entire Panthers offense was out of sync last season.

Now the revamped offensive line and a healthy Cam Newton makes KB an intriguing fantasy player this year. Still the No. 1 receiver in Carolina, Kelvin is a monster and has the opportunity to be a stud this year.

31. Stefon Diggs (Minnesota Vikings): Diggs broke out as the No. 1 receiver for Minnesota last season. He had 903 yards and three touchdowns in 2016. Stefon Diggs ranked in the top 15 players in the league in terms of receptions with 84 and fantasy points per game with 13.

The Vikings did a lot to revamp their offense by bolstering the offensive line and adding rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Teddy Bridgewater won’t be under center for the Vikings this season, as he recovers form his a knee injury. Diggs won’t have double digit touchdowns due to a lack of looks in the red zone, but 1,000 yards is very possible as he is a clear WR2.

 

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Top 5 2017 Fantasy Tight Ends

The tight end position is known for big targets that can create space and are touchdown machines in the red zone. Tight ends can sometimes be nerve racking because there aren’t many that are elite. When its draft time it’s all about patience especially for tight ends as you don’t want to reach too high or wait to long for your starting TE.

Here are the top-5 fantasy tight ends you should consider for your fantasy team in 2017.

No.5 Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings

To start, my number five tight end is Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings. In 2016 he was the most heavily targeted tight end in the league. This was due in part to Pat Shurmur replacing Norv Turner as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator in early November. Tight ends have accounted for a 24 percent target share during Shurmur’s 122 games as a head coach or coordinator since 2009 according to ESPN.

In 2016, Rudolph  paced all tight ends with 128 targets and ranked in the top four in receptions, yards, touchdowns and end zone targets (11). In the past, Rudolph would average around three receptions and 27.8 yards per game, basically becoming a touchdown-or-bust tight end. Rudolph flipped the switch in 2016 and put up 5.2 grabs and 52.5 yards per game. This helped him finish second at the position in fantasy points, his best ranking since he landed 11th in 2012.

In 2017, Rudolph should continue to be a featured option in the Viking offense as Shurmur is still around. He’s not a top-tier option but he’s much better than the tight ends you’ll find at the end of your draft.

No.4 Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

Jordan Reed has proven to be a valuable target in Washington. In 2016 he ranked in the top 10 tight ends in receptions, yards and touchdowns despite only playing 12 games.

Reed has posted a pair of top-10 fantasy seasons in the past two seasons. In 2015, he had his best season to date with 87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns, which allowed him to finish as the No. 3 fantasy tight end in standard leagues. In 2016 he still produced at a high level with 66 catches for 686 yards and six touchdowns but finished as just the No. 8 tight end in standard formats. An impressive stat is that Reed has caught at least three-quarters of his targets during each of his four NFL seasons. That’s scary good.

The one issue with Reed is injuries. He has yet to play a full 16 games in his career. Last year he missed two games with a shoulder injury and one with a concussion. But these injuries haven’t prevented Reed’s numbers to drastically decline. However in 2017 he should become the number one option in Washington with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon both moving on.

No.3 Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

My number three tight end is Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers. He may not be the flashiest player, but without a doubt he’s the most consistent tight end in the NFL.

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Tight Ends

Greg Olsen (Photo by: nj.com)

Olsen finished third in fantasy points and in the top-seven at the position in targets, completions and receiving yards each of the past five years. In 2016 he had seven games with eight-plus fantasy points. He did, however, only have three touchdowns, his fewest since 2007. Olsen is still the main piece in the Panthers passing game especially in the red zone . He had another 1,000 yard season for the third year in a row and maintains consistency in targets and receptions.

The thing that Olsen excels in is durability. He hasn’t missed a game since 2007. He is always a reliable TE1 and expect him to bounce back in touchdowns and being consistent.

No.2 Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

Top 5 2017 Fantasy Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski (Photo by: washingtontimes.com)

I know I will have some hate mail, but if it weren’t for injuries Gronkowski would be my number one tight end. The three-time top fantasy tight end has missed at least one game during each of the past five years and a total of 24 during that span. However, outside of fantasy he is the best tight end in the NFL and always a top two in fantasy.

In 2016 he appeared in eight games and finished with 25 catches for 540 yards and three touchdowns on 38 targets. He still finished as the No. 20 Fantasy tight end in standard leagues which goes to show how good he is. From weeks 6-10 he was the top fantasy tight end in fantasy points. He’s finished in the top five in touchdowns, fantasy points and yards per target during the past four seasons in which he’s appeared in at least 11 games. In fact he has double digit touchdowns in all but two seasons of his seven year career and they were due to injuries.

Again, people will not agree with this ranking but I fear Gronkowski will again have injury issues. He hasn’t seen a full 16 games since his first two seasons. In 2014 and 2015 he only missed a total of two games and had top fantasy seasons. We hope he plays at least 13 games because when he’s healthy he’s easily the best fantasy tight end in any format. If he can do that he will be the Gronkowski that we can rely on. I do expect him to be ready and also to be the first tight end off the board in Rounds 2 or 3.

No.1 Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

Everyone might question this but I’m going with Travis Kelce as my number one tight end for fantasy in 2017. The first thing is why is he in front of Gronkowski? . Gronkowski hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2011. Kelce has played in 16 games three of his four seasons and has started 42 of his 49 career games.

But other then durability Kelce had a breakout 2016 season. He led almost every category at the tight end position including yards, yards per game, catches for 20 and 40 plus yards, and had the longest catch among tight ends. The Chiefs tight end was also second in receptions. Kelce finished as the No. 1 Fantasy tight end in standard leagues with 85 catches for 1,125 yards and four touchdowns on 117 targets. Another interesting stat about Kelce is that he was second among receivers with 100 plus yard games behind only Julio Jones with six. He had a span where he had four 100 plus yards game towards the time of the fantasy playoffs.

Kelce if anything he should see an increase in usage this year with the release of Jeremy Maclin.  Even though he will be picked as the second tight end behind Gronk, Kelce is a good option and is valuable in both standard and PPR leagues. Look for him around the 4th to 5th round to be off the board as he has become a top tier tight end in fantasy.

 

Featured image from arrowheadaddict.com.

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Jameis Winston on the Rise

Jameis Winston on the rise in fantasy

Jameis Winston had an average fantasy season in 2016. He ranked outside of the top 12 on a per game basis but finished 10th in overall fantasy points at the quarterback position. He was, however, able to score at least 20 fantasy points in nine of his 16 games played and failed to post at least 15 fantasy points just once. Winston had 21.2 fantasy points per game that ranked 14th among QB’s. This was better then Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr who were all drafted higher then him. Jameis Winston is on the rise and poised to have a breakout 2017 fantasy football season. He is in route to being a top quarterback this year and you don’t want to miss it.

Winston should be expected to have a great season in large part due to the plethora of weapons he has. The Buccaneers signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson, drafted tight end O.J. Howard and they still have wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate. This creates more opportunities as Winston is expected to have more designed roll-out plays called for him in 2017, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

Jameis on the Rise

DeSean Jackson (Photo by: thefantasygreek.com)

Winston will have a deep threat to work with this season in Jackson. Last season Winston ranked towards the bottom in 40+ yard completions.  Jackson has proven he is one of the best deep threat receivers in the NFL, having five catches of 40+ yards that ranked seventh in the category. In fact, three of his four touchdowns came off from 40+ yard catches. With Jackson on the field, safeties will be forced to play a little deeper to respect his speed. This will open up the field for Winston to hit his underneath receivers.

The signing of Jackson doesn’t only help Winston, it also helps Evans. With Jackson’s speed making safeties play deeper, it will be more difficult to roll coverage in Evans’ direction. That will result in a lot more man-to-man coverages for Evans which he the size, speed and soft hands to take advantage of.

Winston will also have two tight ends to throw to. We have seen a quarterback by the name of Tom Brady excel with two reliable tight ends . Winston loved throwing to Brate last year as he was the second leading receiver on his team. Brate also led the league in touchdowns for tight ends and was second among receiving touchdowns inside of the 20-yard line.

O.J. Howard (Photo by: mmqb.si.com)

Winston will also have first round draft pick Howard to go along with Brate. Howard, from Alabama, could struggle early but he is still a weapon that defenses will have to respect. He can also be a valuable deep threat option along with Jackson. At Alabama three of his seven career touchdowns were from 40+ yards with two of them coming against Clemson in the National Championship game in 2015. Howard can be a game changer tight end the Winston can rely on especially a big target in the red zone.

Last but not least, the running game in Tampa is finally healthy. All of the moving parts in the backfield from last year have created a deeper, more confident stable of runners that offer multiple pass-catching options for Winston. This will help Winston from having to force the ball down field which led to 18 interceptions. Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers will be the primary pass-catchers out of the backfield and Doug Martin will pound the ball taking some of the pressure off Winston (after finishing is PED suspension).

Winston may not be a top five quarterback but he is a quarterback you should be targeting after the top players at the position are gone. He will rarely lose you a week as Tampa’s offense is built around him. Winston looks to be ranked between the 10th to 12th quarterback and thus won’t be drafted high. He could be the steal of your fantasy draft at quarterback as people aren’t quite sold on him yet. He enter as a high-end QB2 in most leagues but has the potential to be a QB1 as the season progresses.

 

Featured image from nytimes.com

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NFL Field

Fun With Projected NFL Win Totals

I am a football nerd and proud of it. With the NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, another favorite offseason event of mine took place earlier this week. Las Vegas released their projected regular season win totals for all 32 NFL teams. Here are my three favorite over/under bets for 2017.

Cowboys (Under 9.5 wins)

Unless you are an all-time great, this league has a way of humbling players whose careers get off to a hot start. Dak Prescott could be the latest example of that.

If he takes just a half step back from his 2016 season that saw him toss 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions, the effect will be dramatic.

In addition to their own division where all three opponents are at least reasonably capable, Dallas squares off with the western divisions in each conference, along with the Falcons and Packers. That is a really tough schedule for any team.

Dallas will still be very competitive, but that defense is not scaring anyone. The addition of Brandon Marshall makes the Giants the most complete team in the NFC East, and they already beat Dallas twice last year.

Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will have to be superhuman again for this team to be close to where they were last year. That is a tough thing to bank on.

Browns (Over 4 wins)

This one is a bit dicey given the quarterback situation. None of Cleveland’s options are particularly appealing in the short term.

Even so, accumulating talent is the name of the game in the NFL. They’ve added linebacker Jamie Collins and three freakishly talented first-round draft picks that actually made sense. Add that to franchise mainstay Joe Thomas and this roster is already much better than last year’s 1-15 squad.

Cleveland Browns

Photo: dawgpounddaily,com

Several of Cleveland’s losses last year were relatively close. They’ve improved via the draft and free agency. They also have a schedule that includes the likes of Jacksonville, Minnesota, the Jets and division rival Cincinnati twice. Four wins does not seem like much to ask.

Bucs (Over 8 Wins)

In each of the last two seasons, an NFC South team has risen from relative obscurity to reach the Super Bowl. If you are a fan of odd trends, here are a few reasons why Tampa Bay could follow their division rivals.

The thought of Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans along with new additions O.J. Howard and DeSean Jackson is enough to make any defender lose sleep. Winston gets better with every snap. The organization surrounding him with this kind of talent will only expedite that process.

Jameis Winston

Photo: cbssports.com

Most of the same faces are on the young defense that is far from perfect. They did have a few shining moments last year, including holding Seattle and the Saints to under 15 points.

The Super Bowl might be a reach in the minds of some, but eight wins feels like stealing.

 

Featured Image by flannerysdublin.com

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

How Can Desean Jackson Improve His Game?

After missing the first two weeks of Organized Team Activites (OTAs), DeSean Jackson returned to Redskins Park on Monday June 6th.

Jackson, known for his speed and big playmaking ability, caught touchdowns of 56, 63, 28 and 77 yards in the nine games he saw action in 2015. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch (down from 20.9 in 2014) and his knack for tracking the ball in the air is second to none.

DeSean Jackson makes a one-handed catch during training camp in 2014.

Despite his gifted talent, Jackson lacks other qualities found in the most well-balanced players. For starters, his route capability is very limited; he can run the fly, post, seam, and bubble screen, but is rarely seen running the slant, hook, out, or dig patterns. His run blocking comes off as lazy or unenthusiastic on some plays too. This means that as Jackson gets older and loses his speed, his most valuable asset, his route running and blocking will have to compensate if he wants to stay in the NFL and become a more versatile wide receiver.

Jackson’s shortcomings are not limited to the strategy of the game. Jackson often expresses frustration during a game when the Redskins are losing or he isn’t getting the ball enough. His negative physical language doesn’t excite his teammates, it agitates them, seeing as energy of all kind has been known to spread like a virus around fellow players. Jackson also enjoys taunting the defensive backs he just burned as he slowly dances into the end zone, a process otherwise known as “hotdogging.”

DeSean Jackson taunts his former team after a scores on an 81 yard touchdown reception in 2014.

This kind of behavior may not seem like a huge deal at times, but it can still make a major difference in the course of a game. A prime example occurred in the Redskins/Packers playoff game last January. Jackson caught a shallow crossing route, a rare sight to begin with, and attempted to outrace a defender to the end zone, only to come up just short because of his decision not to dive in. Any other Redskin receiver – Reed, Garcon, Crowder, etc. – would have muscled their way into the end zone for six points. Instead, the offense stalled and the Redskins had to settle for a field goal. They could have been up 9-0 but instead were only up 5-0 (Preston Smith recorded a sack in the first quarter in the end zone for a safety).
As a general statement, I’d like to see a better attitude out of DeSean Jackson. Make no mistake, he is pretty darn good right now. But, he could always be better; he could be one of the greatest of all time.

DeSean Jackson is forced out of bounds before reaching the end zone against the Packers in a 2016 wildcard matchup.

It is a positive sign to see Jackson at Redskins Park because he missed seven games last season due to a hamstring injury he sustained in week one after he stretched out to catch a deep ball that was just overthrown. He was not touched by a defender on the play. Early reports indicated that Jackson would be out for three to four weeks but Jackson’s health took much longer to improve. Could Jackson’s injury be a result of his absence from OTAs last offseason? It seems like a probable reason that went into his status. With a little more conditioning and effort, Jackson could be in better shape, maybe build a little more muscle, and strengthen team chemistry.

Five Instant Impact NFL Fantasy Players for 2016

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Ezekiel Elliot transitions from one of the best teams in college football to one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

It’s the beginning of May and life in the NFL is boring. The draft is over, OTA’s don’t start until late May (as if anyone cares), and I’m left rooting for my sorry baseball team that’s worse at baseball than Johnny Manziel is at staying sober.

It’s never too early to look ahead to the 2016 season (those rankings were published in the beginning of January, so they don’t reflect my feelings now). If you’re looking for some rookies to draft for your fantasy team next season, take a peek at these five future stars.

For the record, you won’t see a quarterback on this list, as I feel as comfortable with any rookie quarterback as I do going to a pool party hosted by Jerry Sandusky. As I sit at my computer listening to the rain fall, I can only assume it’s Joe Paterno crying profusely at my terrible joke.

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott is the most obvious choice out of all rookies. The best running back in the draft will go run behind the best offensive line in the NFL. Elliott can run, catch, and block, proving he’s a three-down back. The OSU product can be a huge find in PPR leagues, as he could catch three balls a game or so.

This is a no brainer pick, but since he’s a rookie, I don’t want him until round two at the earliest. If you can grab Elliott in the third round, he’ll be a great value and a great starter for your fantasy team.

Laquon Treadwell

Dubbed the most NFL-ready receiver in the draft, Laquon Treadwell has a chance to be a true number one receiver in his first NFL season. Stefon Diggs will be the the other starting wide receiver for the Vikings, so Treadwell could easily become the best receiver on the team. Questions about Treadwell’s explosiveness, speed, and durability caused Treadwell to fall to the 23rd pick of the draft, but I’m not concerned about that. Don’t expect Treadwell to take the top off defenses. Treadwell will make his money running quick slants and other double move patterns.

You have to make sure you get a top wide receiver before drafting Treadwell. I’m not confident that Treadwell will break out as a star this season, but he’ll be a quality WR3 at the worst. A team with Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, and Laquon Treadwell won’t have to worry about the position all season.

Michael Thomas

The second player out of #THE Ohio State University, Michael Thomas should be a solid find in fantasy world this season. Thomas is a great all-around player, who really doesn’t lack any skill sets. The one knock against him is that he isn’t the biggest vertical threat around, but that has never kept him from being successful. Thomas is a great route runner, has spectacular hands, and has the tools to be an elite receiver to just about anyone who watches him (Our very own Dan Taylor has a different opinion, go to 2:56:25 to hear him and myself get #heated. It gets better as it goes on, trust me.). It’s Thomas’ time to take over and lead the New Orleans wide receivers, and he’s more than capable.

I trust Thomas more than I trust Treadwell when it comes down to just skill and potential, but Thomas has more competition in New Orleans. With a talented third-year receiver in Brandin Cooks, Thomas will compete to be the number one threat on a rebuilding Saints team. I’m taking Thomas as my number three wideout, but Thomas has more upside yet more risk than Treadwell.

Will Fuller

Easily the most enticing deep threat in the draft, Will Fuller is capable of putting up huge numbers in any game. Fuller’s only disadvantage is his small frame, but Steve Smith and Wes Welker (in his prime, of course) scoff at silly scouts who think small receivers can’t be true threats in the NFL. Fuller joins forces with DeAndre Hopkins in Houston, which could be the makeup of an elite one-two punch of wide receiving for years to come.

Fuller reminds me of DeSean Jackson, as he could put up 10 or 100 yards in any game. I’d only use the Notre Dame product as a spot starter for the first half of the season before I trust him fully as a starter for my team.

Roberto Aguayo

Here lies Tim Miller, who demanded that #SpecialistsArePeopleToo be etched into his tombstone.

Maybe my death will bring justice, but until the day I die, I will go to bat for long snappers, punters, and kickers. Roberto Aguayo has been the highest graded kicker in 20 years according to some scouts, and he was the most accurate kicker in college football history. I’m no kicking expert, but it shouldn’t be hard to translate the success he’s had in college to some 1o-plus point performances in the NFL.

Although I love specialists, I believe kickers are basically interchangeable in fantasy football. I’ll never draft a kicker before I draft my second tight end, but Aguayo will be a starting kicker in fantasy football until he turns 40. If you must reach for Aguayo, reconsider your life choices and cross your fingers. Either way, Aguayo could become the next Stephen Gostkowski.