Miami Dolphins fantasy football: Jay Cutler’s impact

On Aug. 6, quarterback Jay Cutler came out of retirement to sign with the Miami Dolphins. This signing indicates that Ryan Tannehill is likely out for the season and Cutler will take over as the starter. On paper this could be a good signing for the Dolphins, but how will Cutler fair to fantasy owners?

Adam Gase Reunion

Miami Dolphins fantasy football: Jay Cutlers impact

Jay Cutler and Adam Gase (Photo by: sportsmockery.com)

It’s hard to project players that go to new teams and new schemes but that’s not the case here. We have seen Cutler in this offense before. He and head coach Adam Gase reunite from the days of the Chicago Bears where Gase was the offensive coordinator in 2015.

While Chicago was at the bottom half of the league in both yards and points scored, Cutler had one his most productive seasons. In 15 games, Cutler completed 64.4 percent of his passes and averaged 7.6 yards per attempt. He threw for 3,659 yards, 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Even though Chicago didn’t thrive, it is safe to say Cutler had a solid season at age 32 with Gase.

The numbers under Gase

Most of us want to wonder how, if anything, Gase’s offense has changed since becoming a head coach. Fantasypros.com gives us a look at the 14 games Cutler played in 2015, and compare it to how Gase has coordinated his offenses throughout the years.

Att/gm RB Tgt % WR Tgt % TE Tgt %
2015 (Cutler) 32.2 22.0% 57.0% 15.0%
2016 (Tannehill) 29.8 18.0% 67.0% 15.0%
2014 (Manning) 37.9 16.0% 67.0% 16.0%
2013 (Manning) 42.2 17.0% 62.0% 20.0%

Besides Peyton Manning’s breakout 2013 season, Cutler’s numbers are consistent to the other years that Gase has ran the offense. But Cutler had only 57 percent of passes targeted to wide receivers the lowest of the four seasons. However, to Cutler’s credit, these are the receivers he threw to that season.

Player Games Targets
Alshon Jeffery 9 94
Marquess Wilson 11 51
Eddie Royal 9 50
Josh Bellamy 16 34
Marc Mariani 16 33
Cameron Meredith 11 16
Deonte Thompson 7 3

For starters he didn’t have Alshon Jeffrey for the nearly half the season as he missed seven games. The No. 1 and No. 2 receivers that season were Josh Bellamy and Marc Mariani for seven games. Cutler did not have Brandon Marshall as he was traded to the New York Jets that year.

You can’t criticize Cutler. In fact, he should be given an award for the miracle season he had throwing for 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. I see Cutler targeting the wide receivers in 2017 more like Tannehill last season.

Dolphins Pass Catchers

Miami Dolphins fantasy football: Jay Cutlers impact

Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker (Photo by: miamiherald.com)

It’s easy to say Cutler has better weapons than he did in Chicago. He has a good trio of receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills that can be argued as one of the better trios in the NFL. They also have tight end Julius Thomas who has been in the Gase offense in Denver from 2013 to 2014.

The one problem with Thomas is he needs to stay on the field, something he hasn’t done throughout the entirety of his career. Pass catchers will get more targets because Jay Ajayi isn’t known as a pass catcher like Matt Forte was in Chicago.

If we want to project how Cutler will fair in games, he should be throwing over 30 times a game and should be well over 500 passes for the season. I expect the wide receiver targets to double from what they have been in past Gase offenses. The targets to running backs and tight ends should be consistent with years past.

Which receivers will succeed

For starters, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills should be moving up draft boards. The difference between Cutler and Tannehill is that Cutler has one of the stronger arms in the league.

Parker has been labeled to have a great bounce back season. He struggled last year but Gase has praised him this year for his dedication to this offense. Fortunately for him, Cutler tends to favor the big body wide receivers and has the arm to get the ball downfield to them. Parker and Stills could each have 100 targets this year.

As for Jarvis Landry, he could see less targets because Cutler didn’t really take shots in the short, middle area of the field with Gase in Chicago, but personnel likely played a role in that. Eddie Royal was his slot receiver in Chicago. He has Landry this year and he won’t be ignored as he is the top target.

If anything, Landry is still a candidate for over 1,000 yards. Entering a contract year, it’s not exactly the best situation for Landry, though coach Adam Gase is known for feeding his playmakers. Landry is still a WR2 but Cutler at quarterback hurts his draft stock just a little bit.

Final verdict

It’s safe to say that Cutler has had his highs and is lows. Who hasn’t in Chicago lately? He does have a track record of getting hurt and also being unreliable as a fantasy passer for several years. But there is some potential for Cutler in this offense with better weapons surrounding him. He’s worth a look in a two-quarterback league and also as a backup in deeper leagues.

 

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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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Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Fantasy football tight end sleeper: Julius Thomas

The 2017 season is approaching and tight end Julius Thomas begins a new chapter with the Miami Dolphins. His two seasons in Jacksonville were a bust, but being reunited with former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator and current Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, he is my pick as the top tight end sleeper.

Adam Gase Connection

Gase became the offensive coordinator in Denver under head coach John Fox in 2013. 2013 was also the year Thomas became the starting tight end with Peyton Manning and company. Thomas broke onto the scene with 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He would finish as the third tight end in fantasy that season.

He also excelled as one of Manning’s favorite targets in the red zone. From inside the 20-yard line, he finished seventh in receptions (14), second in yards (112) and sixth in touchdowns (8). He finished fifth in yards (33) and sixth in touchdowns with five from inside the 10-yard line.

Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas (Photo by:nfl.com)

The following season, Thomas slipped a little but still had another good season. Although his numbers in receptions (43) and yards (489) dropped from the previous season, Thomas recorded 12 touchdowns for the second straight season. Thomas still finished seventh in fantasy under tight ends.

He was efficient in the red zone especially inside the 20-yard line. He was seventh in receptions (13), eighth in yards (94) and third in touchdowns with nine. From the 10-yard line, he improved to fourth with seven receptions and six touchdowns.

In the two years under Gase in Denver, Thomas reached elite status. He finished no worse than the number seven fantasy tight end in standard leagues over that span, combining for 108 catches for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Down production in Jacksonville

Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas (Photo by:profootballtalk.nbcsports.com)

In 2015, Thomas got his big pay day as he signed a five-year, $46 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. What people forget is that Thomas wasn’t going to have the same amount of success he had in Denver. Not having Manning was a a big factor to some for Thomas’ decline.

In the 2015 season, he had a stretch of four straight games in which he caught a touchdown. He finished with 46 catches, 455 yards but only had five touchdowns. Catching touchdowns was part of the popularity with Thomas in fantasy. Most of the targets went to wide receiver Allen Robinson. Players like Robinson, Blake Bortles and Allen Hurns improved in fantasy and this hurt Thomas’ production as an elite fantasy player.

The following season, Thomas caught four touchdowns from weeks 1-11 before missing the rest of the season due to injury. His four scores in that span were tied for second among all tight ends.

Thomas had moderate stretches of success while in Jacksonville, but injuries plagued seasons (missing 11 games in two seasons) and limited him to 21 games with nine touchdowns and 35 yards per game.

2017 Outlook

Fantasy Football Tight End Sleeper: Julius Thomas

Julius Thomas and Adam Gase (Photo by:oregonlive.com)

The move to Miami could be the best situation for Thomas as he reunites with Gase. He was a fantasy stud in Denver, and Gase could be a big reason why, given his track record with tight ends.

In 2015 as the offensive coordinator in Chicago, Gase helped Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller combine for 87 catches for 878 yards and eight touchdowns, which would have been the number seven Fantasy tight end in standard leagues.

Last year with the Dolphins, the combination of Dion Sims, Jordan Cameron, MarQueis Gray and Dominique Jones had 55 catches for 551 yards and six touchdowns. It would’ve been good for the number 10 fantasy tight end. So there is some optimism for Thomas to bounce back.

However, there could be some problems for Thomas. Dolphins’ running back Jay Ajayi had a breakout season, and they have a core of young receivers in Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker along with re-signing Kenny Stills. Thomas will have a role in the offense, especially closer to the red zone, but he will likely be the third or fourth option in a balanced offense with a lot of guys to feed the ball to.

If Thomas stays healthy, he could reemerge as a top fantasy tight end. He’s worth a late-round flier as a second tight end. There’s little risk and plenty of reward with Thomas and Gase back together.

 

Featured image from miamidolphins.com.

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Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017: A reliable fantasy option?

Demaryius Thomas had one of his worst seasons of his NFL career last season. Thomas is a big receiver who has the whole package. Thomas runs a 4.41 40-yard dash, stands 6-foot-3, 229 pounds and has great hands. He uses his body to get after the ball and has progressed into a top target for the Denver Broncos.

But last season we didn’t see the Demaryius Thomas we are used to seeing.

The Demaryius Thomas we know would have double digit touchdowns and week in and week out would be a big factor in the Denver offense. Is Thomas still reliable as a top fantasy player? Is it his fault for his struggling 2016 season? Thomas is still a top talented receiver but poor quarterback play has made Thomas questionable as a reliable fantasy player.

Early Career

Thomas was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. From 2010-2011, he was a non-fantasy factor as he was still developing as a receiver in the NFL. He only started seven games in the two-year span and had 40 and 79 fantasy points in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Combining those two year stats are still less then what he did in 2012 and also in his disappointing 2016.

Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017

Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow (Photo: Denver Post)

Part of the lack of early production is similar to what Thomas struggled with last season: poor quarterback play. In 2010, Kyle Orton had a solid campaign with over 3,600 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But one bad game against the Arizona Cardinals led to Tim Tebow taking over for the last three games.

2011 really started the inconsistency of quarterbacks in Denver. Orton struggled in the first four weeks and was replaced again by Tebow and never took another snap. Tebow finished the season with the lowest passing completion rate in the NFL, reaching 50 percent in just four of his 14 games.

Thomas did thrive towards the end of the season as he emerged as Tebow’s favorite target. He would end the season setting a franchise-record by leading the Broncos in both receiving and targets over the final seven games.

The dominance with Peyton Manning

Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017

Demaryius Thomas and Peyton Manning (Photo by:lightningrodsports.com)

Thomas’ production with Peyton Manning was crazy. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Thomas finished fifth, second and second respectively among all receivers in fantasy points. In those three years, he had over 200 fantasy points in those seasons during Manning’s prime with Denver.

He had at least 10 touchdowns per season from 2012-14 and as well as over 140 targets, 90 receptions and well over 1,400 yards in each of those three years. He was clearly a fantasy beast while Manning was Manning. It could be also because the Broncos finally went back to orange jerseys instead of those horrible navy blue jerseys.

In 2015, Manning struggled with injuries and had to give way Brock Osweiler for nine games, yet Thomas still performed well. He still saw 176 targets, 105 receptions and 1,304 yards. He did only finish with six touchdowns but still ranked 13th at wide receiver in 2015.

The production was still there for Thomas as he used his size to his advantage to catch the ball and rack up targets and yards. One key factor that could have led to the decreased production was the coaching staff changes. In 2013 and 2014, Thomas thrived with offensive coordinator Adam Gase and head coach John Fox. Fox and Gase were let go after 2014 but Thomas still produced with head coach Gary Kubiack and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in 2015.

2016

In 2016, Thomas saw a lot of change before, during and after the season. Manning retired and Osweiler left for the Houston Texans. Before and during the season there was always a quarterback controversy between Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch. Kubiack missed a game early in the season with concerns over his health which led him to retire after 2016.

Demaryius Thomas fantasy football 2017

Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian (Photo by: USA Today)

Thomas had 90 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns on 145 targets in 2016. He also had seven games with double digits in fantasy points in standard leagues. Thomas finished as the 16th wide receiver by posting consistent but not flashy games, averaging 67 yards and 5.6 receptions per game.

Most of the decline was due to poor quarterback play, and that isn’t expected to get much better this year with either Siemian or Lynch as the starter. Last season, Siemian struggled with injuries and Lynch didn’t develope the way the Broncos expected him to. The Broncos passed for an average of 230.3 yards per game last season, tying them for the 11th least passing yards per game in the league.

One of Siemian’s most noticeable flaws as an inexperienced quarterback was taking unnecessary hits by holding onto the ball too long. The Broncos are trying to work around that habit by upgrading his protection. They signed offensive tackle Menelik Watson and offensive guard Ronald Leary, while also drafting offensive tackle Garrett Bolles with their first pick in the draft.

This also helps the run game they will try to use more as they have C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and Jamaal Charles. Last year the Broncos averaged just 92.8 rushing yards per game and only 3.6 yards per carry, good for 27th  and 28th in the league.

2017 prediction

Is Thomas still an effective receiver? Thomas still has plenty of upside as a No. 2 fantasy receiver or a very high-end flex player if the quarterback play is consistent. He’s working on five years in a row of at least 90 catches and 1,000 yards. One reason he could bounce back is the return of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy who left Denver in 2012 when Thomas broke out.

He has the potential to still be a bonafide WR1 especially as he is now healthy from a hip injury. He is still a WR2 or a flex option as I mentioned previously.

 

Featured image from sportsglory.com

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Arizona Cardinals

Despite New Hall of Fame Status, Warner Still Criminally Underrated

When people debate the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history the same names always come up. Brady, Montana, Elway and Peyton Manning. The next series of names is usually led by Favre and Marino. Aaron Rodgers is starting to get thrown in there as well.

There is one name that does not come up nearly as much as it should, newly minted Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.

The mere fact that Hall of Famer now precedes his name means there are plenty of folks out there who think Warner was great. Even so, few people realize how great he was.

Context:

            The beginnings of Warner’s journey are well documented. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he went from grocery store stock boy to NFL and Super Bowl MVP in 1999 following a preseason injury to starter Trent Green.

Warner spearheaded a then St. Louis Rams offense that scored 30 points on a dozen separate occasions in 1999. The nickname “Greatest Show on Turf” was shockingly accurate. It is almost impossible to put in to words how good Warner and that offense as a whole were that year. Warner, Marshall Faulk and the rest of the offense took their rightful place as one of the best in NFL history by notching the narrowest of victories in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Kurt Warner

Photo: kurtwarner.org

After a close playoff loss to the Saints in 2000, Warner and the Rams returned to top form in 2001. Warner bagged another league MVP and the Rams returned to the Super Bowl. However, they fell victim to Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri and the rest of the Cinderella Patriots as time expired.

From 1999-2001, Warner threw for over 11,000 yards, 98 touchdowns and 53 interceptions while reaching two Super Bowls. Despite missing five games in 2000 due to injury, Warner tallied a regular season win loss record of 35-8 as a starter over this three year span. That is as good a three year stretch as any quarterback has ever had.

Injuries caused Warner’s career to bottom out from 2002-2004. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns, won just five games as a starter and only appeared in 19. Following a 2004 campaign that saw the Giants bench him for Eli Manning, Warner’s career looked to be done.

The Cardinals took a flyer on Warner signing him to a one year deal in 2005. Warner always seemed to be in competition for the starting job in the land of the sun, but the Cardinals kept bringing him back. By 2008, Warner was healthy and firmly entrenched as the starter.

That season, Warner guided Arizona to a 9-7 record and a playoff spot. To say Warner and the Cards got hot would be a gross understatement. Behind Warner’s 112 passer rating, the Cardinals franchise won its first playoff game since 1947. In Super Bowl XLIII, Arizona lost by the length of Santonio Holmes’ toenail.

Santonio Holmes

Photo: ftiznews.com

Playoff Success and Place Among All Time Greats:

            Warner led two different franchises to the Super Bowl. He is one of just three quarterbacks to do that. Moreover, unless you count the Rams Los Angeles glory days, both franchises have struggled to spell Super Bowl before and after Warner, much less get there.

Warner ranks second all-time in postseason passer rating. At one point, Warner owned the top three performances in Super Bowl history in terms of passing yards.

Warner retired after leading the Cardinals back to the playoffs in 2009. It is reasonable to speculate that being a part of two narrow Super Bowl defeats keeps him from being mentioned with the usual suspects of all-time great quarterbacks. His mid-career nosedive does not help matters either.

Even with those two negatives on his résumé, Warner has far more postseason success than guys like Favre amd Marino. When one considers the franchises he led to the promised land, his career becomes all the more impressive. For all these reasons, Warner belongs in the single digits when it comes to the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

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Franchise Analysis – Denver Broncos

Entering the 2016 season, the Denver Broncos had one question: “Who will take over for the legendary Peyton Manning?” One could argue that the question still remains. Trevor Siemian proved to be a serviceable quarterback, but not capable of overcoming below average running back and offensive line play. Other than the quarterback position, where else do the Broncos need to improve to make another run at a Lombardi Trophy in 2017?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

The Broncos failed to pick up where they left off in the 2015 season. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both contributed to an offense that ranked 19th in points and 16th in yards. The offense dropped to 22nd in points and 27th in yards this season. Who carries the blame for such a decline? We’ve already outlined the quarterback regression, but let’s take a closer look.

Trevor Siemian proved he has limitations this season. Will the Broncos be able to elevate his play by improving his supporting cast this off season (Courtesy of; DenverBroncos.com).

If it wasn’t apparent last year, it should be now. Peyton Manning covered up a lot of holes on this team last season. Even in his diminished state, Manning’s mind and control of the offense allowed him to put the Broncos in the best play possible on every snap. When Manning played, he accounted for 16 of the 39 sacks allowed. He was able to call plays that wouldn’t ask the offensive line to block for four to six seconds. He was able to minimize the impact that his average to below average linemen had on the passing game.

Even with an upgrade at the left tackle position from Ryan Clady to Russell Okung, the Denver Broncos still struggled. The biggest hole in this starting unit was the right tackle Donald Stephenson. Using Pro Football Focus player rankings, Stephenson was rated as the 77th best tackle out of 78 qualified players. Stephenson was also rated as the worst pass-blocking tight end in football. No quarterback can have success when one of his tackles is constantly getting beat.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

One aspect of the Denver Broncos that was never in doubt, was their defense. As a whole, they ranked 4th in both points and yards allowed. The unquestioned strength of this defense is their secondary. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. provide this defense with incredible flexibility. Talib is able to match up with the top tier receivers on the outside and Harris can lock down even the best slot receivers. When a defense doesn’t have to roll coverage to a player or exchange responsibilities in the secondary, they can focus on rushing the passer.

Sylvester Williams had a down year defending the run. Will the Broncos look to upgrade the nose tackle position, or hope Williams will bounce back in 2017? (Courtesy of; Predominatelyorange.com)

When Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and the emerging Shane Ray are able to rush the passer, this defense is suffocating. However, they must get better at stopping the run. This defense, despite their greatness, was 28th in rushing yards allowed. In their 3-4 defense, the nose tackle must be able to occupy double teams and keep linemen from blocking linebackers. Sadly, Sylvester Williams was unable to do that. Williams ranked as the 106th best interior defender against the run out of 117 qualified players. Denver must upgrade their nose tackle in their base defense if they hope to have more opportunities to rush the passer in 2017.

Divisional Analysis

The best way to ensure a spot in the postseason is to win your division. What does this team need to ascend back to the top of the AFC West?

Clearly, Denver needs to have more production from the quarterback position. However, that doesn’t mean the position needs an upgrade. Trevor Siemian proved to be a serviceable quarterback and can absolutely play better with an improved supporting cast. They also have their 2016 first round pick, Paxton Lynch. What Siemian lacks in talent, Lynch has. With these two players on the roster, they don’t need to try and upgrade the position.

Outside of the right tackle position, Denver could benefit greatly by upgrading their tight end. In 2016 we saw Carson Wentz be productive with an average at best collection of receivers. While they may be better than my analysis, they certainly aren’t as talented as Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. What allowed Wentz to succeed? He had a receiving first tight end that worked the middle of the field in Zach Ertz. Given that this team isn’t great in pass protection, an upgrade at tight end will allow whoever is starting to get the ball out of their hands quicker.

Some options in the draft include David Njoku from Miami, Gerald Everett from South Alabama, and Evan Engram from Ole Miss. I know I didn’t include O.J. Howard, but I don’t think Denver will use their first round pick on this position and Howard most likely won’t be available in the second round. If Denver wanted to use a day two or three pick to address this position, they could select Tyrone Swoopes from Texas or Eric Saubert from Drake University.

We talked previously about their lack of production from their nose tackle. Given the importance of that position in the 3-4 defense, they need to bring in another player. Given John Elway’s track record of acquiring defensive free agents, I could see them going that route instead of the draft to address this need.

PostSeason Prospects

There are certain criteria that can translate into post season success. Where did the Denver Broncos stack up to the rest of the league in 2016?

It’s almost incredible that this team won nine games and didn’t finish inside the top 20 at any of these critical criteria. What’s most telling is their third down conversion ranking. It goes beyond just third down. This statistic gives you an idea about their success on first and second down. Because they struggled so much to run the ball effectively on first and second down, they often faced longer third down attempts than most NFL offenses. Also, if you can’t convert on third down, you won’t have prolonged drives. Thus, their ranking of 28th in Time of Possession.

This defense is unbelievable. Despite having a bottom third offense, the Denver defense was top 10 in every relevant defensive metric. Of course, they were not good against the run. No team can just run the ball for four quarters. When teams put the ball in the air, most of the time, it fell incomplete or in the hands of a Broncos defender. If they can just be an average team against the run in 2017, they will find themselves in the post season.

2017 Predictions

There’s no reason to doubt that John Elway will address their needs this off season through the draft and free agency. I think they will absolutely find a way to get more production out of their quarterback, whoever it is. I do want to say, under no circumstances should they try and acquire Tony Romo. Yes, Romo is talented. He’s better than every quarterback on that team, but he isn’t a good fit. Putting an injury-prone quarterback, who’s older than 30, behind a suspect offensive line is foolish because they will have to give up substantial defensive assets to acquire Romo.

This team cannot sacrifice their defense to support their offense. Elway and company will do everything possible to put their team in the best position possible. Overall, I think it will be enough to get them back into the playoffs. I believe the Denver Broncos will finish 11-5 and second in the AFC West and enter the 2017 postseason as a Wild Card.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

O’Brien Benches Osweiler and Earns My Respect

People have spent the entire football season talking about a certain quarterback controversy in the state of Texas. The severity of that quarterback controversy depends on who you ask. However, with the events of last week, Dallas is no longer the most interesting city in Texas when it comes to quarterbacks.

The Texans season was at a crossroads on Sunday. Desperately trying to protect a slim division lead, head coach Bill O’Brien pulled starting quarterback Brock Osweiler. Osweiler, who was the Texans hyped free agent signing, scuffled his way to a stat line of six completions on 11 attempts for just 48 yards and two interceptions in just under a half of play. The former Arizona State Sun Devil was making the Jaguars look like the ’85 Bears. If you have watched Jacksonville at all this year, you know how hard that is to do.

Photo courtesy of dssportsnews.com

Photo courtesy of dssportsnews.com

Trailing by 13, O’Brien turned to little-known signal caller Tom Savage. The third-year quarterback had never seen game action anywhere close to as meaningful as what he was thrown into. Unfortunately, Savage is not related to late wrestling legend “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Despite that, he still received a roaring ovation from the home fans and was able to lead Houston to a comeback victory that allowed them to stay in the playoff race. Savage was not spectacular, but was certainly clean. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 260 yards. Most importantly, he threw no interceptions.

It is all the little subplots that make this story so interesting. The Texans are no stranger to having a great roster that is held down by poor quarterback play. Osweiler was brought in to correct that. The near seven footer signed a $72 million deal with $37 million guaranteed in the off-season. Osweiler made a name for himself last year when he stabilized the Broncos while Peyton Manning was injured. It is fair to say that the Broncos do not win Super Bowl 50 without Osweiler posting a 5-2 record as a starter and helping them nail down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Osweiler eventually gave way to a rejuvenated Manning. We all know how that story ended.

Photo courtesy of dsportsnews.com

Photo courtesy of dsportsnews.com

Osweiler got the job done in 2015, but did not set the world on fire. In eight games he threw 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. His quarterback rating was a shade over 86. It does not get much more average than that.

Given those numbers, it is easy to see why so many around the league (including the Broncos) balked at paying the kind of money the Texans did for Osweiler. In Denver, Osweiler was asked to manage a franchise for a little while. He is more than capable of doing that. In Houston, he was asked to carry a franchise to glory. It takes a special quarterback to do that. To say it has not worked out for Osweiler in Houston would be an understatement. Struggling to complete half his passes, he sits in the bottom five among qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage. He has also thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.

Give credit to the rest of the Texans roster for staying in the playoff race with their starting quarterback playing so poorly. Something had to be done on Sunday. O’Brien could see his team’s season slipping away. He deserves a ton of credit for having the stones to turn to his backup quarterback knowing the media firestorm it would create.

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

 

O’Brien continued to earn my respect after the comeback victory saying “we don’t make decisions based on how much a guy gets paid.” I wanted to stand up and applaud from my couch. While every NFL organization should operate based solely on what gives the team the best chance to win, it is no secret that not all of them do. The Texans announced Monday that Savage will start Saturday night against the Bengals. It was about this time last year that Osweiler was benched for a legend in Denver. That decision was a key one on Denver’s road to a title. While Savage is by no means a legend, sending Osweiler to the bench again was and is the only chance Houston has to achieve the same result as last year’s Broncos.

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What is Next for Tony Romo?

Following last Sunday’s thrilling win in Pittsburgh, the Cowboys made it official that rookie quarterback Dak Prescott will remain the starter over long time signal caller Tony Romo. Prescott deserves a ton of credit for giving the Cowboys no choice, but Romo is the fascinating part of the story. Barring an unforeseen injury, he has likely thrown his last pass in Dallas. What lies ahead for one of the NFL’s most polarizing figures in terms of performance?

 

Romo seemed to indicate that he is healthy and wants to keep playing in a very classy statement to the media on Tuesday. His .600+ career winning percentage will make him a hot commodity to the many quarterback needy teams in the league. Whether it comes via trade or his release from the Cowboys, several destinations are being thrown around by fans and media alike. I have narrowed the list to five. Two bad ideas and three more sensible options.

 

Bad Ideas

Cleveland- At the very least Romo would bring them to instant respectability, but Romo is 36 with a lot of miles on his body. It is reasonable to speculate he would want to go to a team that is ready to win now. No matter who the quarterback is, the Browns are at least three years away from being contenders. He is not Peyton Manning. He cannot turn them into contenders all on his own. If he has a choice, Romo should avoid Cleveland like the plague.

Denver- This would not be a bad idea for Romo because Denver is loaded with talent. However, it makes no sense for the Broncos organization. All you have to do is listen to one of Gary Kubiak’s press conferences to know that the entire organization is coaching the hell out of two young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Also, they are staying quietly competitive while doing it. Bringing in Romo for a few years would make all the time and effort invested in the two youngsters a waste. The Broncos do not do business that way. Unlike when they brought in Peyton Manning a few years ago, the Broncos have other viable options on the roster and seemed pleased with their progress.

Best possible fits

49ers- This is a long shot, but could be a better fit than people realize. As is the case with the next two teams, San Francisco’s quarterback for 2017 is not on their roster, barring a miracle. While I am very bullish on the University of Miami’s Brad Kaaya, the 2017 quarterback draft class is underwhelming. A veteran like Romo will have his share of suitors.

photo from Miami Herald

photo from Miami Herald

 

The 49ers are in the middle of a dismal season. The quarterback play from Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert has been so bad that it makes the rest of the team look awful. Neither quarterback can distribute the ball to the skill positions. Thus, they are last in the league in time of possession, and the defense is on the field for well over half the game. Unsurprisingly the defense is in the bottom five of every major statistical category. Romo could at least keep the offense on the field. Who knows what the defense or the rest of the team would look like with capable quarterback play? No, an injury prone 36-year-old quarterback probably isn’t the best fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive system, but as far as I can tell that “system” is hot garbage. Maybe Kelly looks in the mirror and decides to change things, but I doubt it.

NY Jets- This makes a lot of sense. Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall still have some big plays left in them. The front seven on defense is as good as you’ll find anywhere. All the Jets need is someone to not make the game changing mistakes that their quarterbacks have made this year. Say what you will about Romo, but he can certainly get a team to the playoffs. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s success of last year appears to be a one year wonder. The young signal callers in New York do not seem to be ready yet. Romo would make this team an instant contender.

Chicago- This would be another ideal fit. Chicago appears destined to move on from Jay Cutler. That weak draft class may force them to bring in a veteran like Romo. It’s unlikely they would hitch their wagons to current veteran backup Brian Hoyer. John Fox is rebuilding that defense. If given one more year, his track record says he will get it done. The Bears have three solid young running backs that could be a quarterback’s best friend. Also, the addition of a guy like Romo may be enough to convince troubled star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to stick around long term.

photo from nfl.com

photo from nfl.com

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The Five Best NFL Head Coaches Right Now

One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of NFL success is coaching. A great coach can elevate his players, an overmatched one can drag them down. Here are my top five NFL head coaches right now. This is based on their body of work along with their current situation.

5: Bruce Arians- Mike Zimmer of the Vikings gets “honorable mention” status in favor of this 64-year-old football lifer. Arians put Temple football on the map in the 80s. His NFL work went largely unnoticed until 2012. As interim coach while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia, he took the Colts and then rookie Andrew Luck from the cellar to the playoffs. However, as an assistant coach, he had a hand in the early careers of both Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. In his first full-time NFL head coaching gig, he has turned the vagabond franchise that was the Arizona Cardinals into perennial contenders. They are 36-17 in just a bit more than three seasons under Arians.

photo from foxsports.com

photo from foxsports.com

4: Pete Carroll- Yes, he was fired by the Jets and Patriots before catching on in Seattle, but every coach gets fired or moves on at some point. Also, while out of the NFL, his USC Trojans dominated college football. In history, there are four people to win a NCAA football title and an NFL championship/Super Bowl. Pete Carroll is one of them. That says it all. On a lighter note, I hope I look half as good and have half the energy Carroll does when I am 65.

photo from reignoftory.com

photo from reignoftory.com

3: Andy Reid- The common knock on Reid is he has not won a Super Bowl. While true, it is not entirely his fault. The guy can coach. He only missed the playoffs four times in 13 seasons in Philadelphia. Under Reid, they reached four NFC title games and the Super Bowl. The franchise still has not recovered from letting him go. Reid continues to work wonders in Kansas City. In three full seasons, he has not posted a losing record. Apart from the one year Terrell Owens ended up in Philadelphia, he has never had top-flight players to work with. He has gotten the most out of guys like Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith, Freddie Mitchell, and Jeremy Maclin. Also, his 11-11 postseason record is far from embarrassing.

photo from nypost.com

photo from nypost.com

2: Gary Kubiak- Yes, I am a Broncos fan, but if anyone thinks Kubiak is overrated at number two, someone please tell me one wrong button he has pushed since taking over in Denver. Last year, he knew exactly when to go to Brock Osweiler and when to go back to Peyton Manning. Under a lot of coaches, that quarterback situation would have disintegrated into a circus. Kubiak calmly named his starter each Monday and got down to business. Long before leading the Broncos to Super Bowl glory, he turned Matt Schaub into a Pro Bowler and led the Texans to the playoffs for the first time ever. He also has three additional Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach. Another sign of a great leader is knowing when to delegate. Kubiak knows his forte is offense. Thus, he hired Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator in Denver. We all know how that has worked out. This year, he has molded Trevor Siemian into a competent NFL quarterback. Maybe the greatest indicator of Kubiak’s brilliance is how awful Brock Osweiler has looked in Houston this year as well as what a disorganized mess the Broncos were without him last week in San Diego. Rant over. Gary Kubiak is brilliant.

photo from bleacherreport.com

photo from bleacherreport.com

1: Bill Belichick- As good as these other guys are, calling Bill Belichick brilliant simply does not do him justice. Prior to being a model of consistency in New England, he led the Browns to the playoffs in the early 90s. They have only been back once since he left. He was also the defensive coordinator for two Super Bowl wins with the Giants in the 80s. He has tallied double-digit wins every year since 2003. Other than Tom Brady, the players have come and gone. Yet the Patriots are never unprepared for a game or lack direction. Whether it is running the ball 45 times or throwing it 50, the Pats are able to do it successfully to win a football game. It is amazing what Belichick has done over the years with players no one else wanted. Wes Welker, Mike Vrabel, and Rob Ninkovich are just a few examples of castoffs from other organizations that Belichick turned into pro bowlers, and in many cases Super Bowl champions.

Do you agree with my rankings? It is important to realize that no coach can be successful without good players, but the reverse is also true. No coach is perfect and every single one has been fired at some point. If you are a Bengals fan calling for the head of Marvin Lewis or a Bears fan itching to get John Fox out of town, remember how hard it is to win in the NFL. There is nothing wrong with taking a few years to build something. Also, making the playoffs every year is a hell of a lot better than going 4-12 every year like the Browns. There is only one happy coach at the end of the season.

photo from bosonherald.com

photo from bosonherald.com

The Three Horse Quarterback Race In Denver

With the Browns naming Robert Griffin III their starting quarterback earlier this week, the most interesting preseason quarterback battle now resides in Denver, with the world champion Broncos. Less than 24 hours ahead of their preseason opener in Chicago Thursday, here is a glance at all three candidates.

Mark Sanchez- The safe bet. Sanchez is the only proven NFL winner the Broncos have on the roster at quarterback. Say what you will, but he has an above .500 career record as a starter and a 4-2 playoff record. The one negative is his decision making. He has almost as many touchdown passes as interceptions in his seven year career and is prone to fumbling. Sanchez will get the first good crack at the gig. Head coach Gary Kubiak says Sanchez will play the entire first quarter Thursday. He is the favorite to be the starter. I do not know if you can win a Super Bowl with Sanchez, but you can certainly win games with him.

scoopnest

photo from scoopnest.com

Trevor Siemian- The unknown. All we know about Trevor Siemian is that the Broncos really like him. In a little more than a year, he has gone from seventh round draft pick to viable candidate for the starting quarterback job. His only regular season play in the NFL was a single kneel down last year. From the little bit of film I have seen, he seems to have above average smarts and mobility, but lacks top flight arm strength. It would be huge gamble for the Broncos to name Siemian the starter, but the Broncos organization has never been afraid to gamble. Siemian will handle the second quarter Thursday.

photo from denverbroncos.com

photo from denverbroncos.com

Paxton Lynch- The project. Paxton Lynch will play the second half Thursday. The Broncos hope Lynch is the future. However, if the rookie first round draft pick starts at all in 2016, the Broncos season will be ugly. Despite a wealth of raw talent and arm strength, the former Memphis signal caller has never lined up under center before. Most of his throws in college were bubble screens and other one read type throws. Also, there are no words in the English language to adequately describe the jump in competition from the American Athletic Conference to the NFL. In a perfect world, Lynch will do nothing but be coached and learn in 2016, but the NFL is rarely a perfect world.

photo from scout.com

photo from scout.com

One thing in Denver is certain. Whoever the starter is in Denver, there is a certain way he needs to approach it. Rather than being terrified at the prospect of replacing Peyton Manning, the starter needs to realize that he has a fantastic supporting cast in terms of both players and coaches. The only way the quarterback can hurt this team is by trying to do too much.

 

 

 

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