Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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Is Mack the Man?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Sooo … where do you guys think LeBron will end up? Yes, football is off-peak, but the action will pick up soon enough. We’re only a few weeks away from SFB8 (my Scott Fish Bowl debut) and if you’re a football fanatic like yours truly, you’ll have plenty of time to dip into the best-ball waters before training camp opens in late July. And before long, you’ll be zooming to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy of the Rotoworld Draft Guide. I suggested Alvin Kamara for the cover but we’ll see who the publishers choose (last year’s cover athlete was Matt Ryan).

 

While we’re waiting for football to get interesting again—and for LeBron to pick his next team (as a Celtics diehard, my only hope is that he doesn’t sign with Philadelphia)—here’s another mailbag of fantasy questions to wet your whistle.

 

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In an eight-team keeper league, are you more apt to keep LeSean McCoy or Derrick Henry?

 

For a second I misread the question and thought you said your league allows eight keepers, which would be anarchy. Maybe I need some caffeine. The reader who sent this question mentioned he has a “fairly loaded team,” to which I would say, isn’t every team in an eight-teamer loaded?! I played in an eight-team fantasy baseball league a while back—it was originally ten but interest had waned because you know how life is after college with responsibilities and such. I always found it to be frustrating because I’d check my team every day and think, “Wow, I can’t possibly improve this beautiful work of art.” And then I’d look around and see that every team in the league was just as loaded. #ShallowLeague problems, am I right?

 

So back to the matter at hand—McCoy or Henry? Your humblebrag actually provides important context. If this were a “trust the process” situation, you’d probably be better off with Henry, who is much younger and thus a better long-term bet than the aging McCoy. But assuming the plan is to win this year, I think Shady is still the better play for 2018. McCoy is an established star and the clear lead dog in Buffalo while Henry is a promising up-and-comer who could be in for a third-year breakout, though his upside is limited by the presence of Dion Lewis.

 

While I still prefer Shady, the gulf between the two isn’t as large as it once was. Henry and Lewis actually complement each other well—Lewis has speed and pass-catching chops while Henry is more of a power back—and I expect both to be useful fantasy contributors in Tennessee. The fantasy community seems to be down on McCoy and for good reason—the Bills figure to be a train wreck this year and Shady turns 30 next month, which is usually the point of no return for running backs. Bad teams tend to abandon the run late in games, but I don’t think that’s a concern for McCoy, who has always excelled as a pass-catcher (59 grabs last year). What I’m more worried about is the Bills’ O line, which could be in rough shape following the offseason losses of Eric Wood (retired), Richie Incognito (released after retiring and un-retiring) and Cordy Glenn (traded to Cincinnati).

 

I know I just rattled off a bunch of red flags (here’s another: Shady averaged a career-low 3.97 yards per carry last year) but McCoy’s workload is still strong (346 touches in 2017) and I’m willing to bet on his talent. It’s gotten him this far, hasn’t it? It’s a tough call, but I’d rather hitch my wagon to a six-time Pro Bowler (he’s also 29th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list) than a relatively unproven committee back playing under a first-year head coach (sorry I had to bring you into this, Mike Vrabel).

 

How good is Marlon Mack going to be?

 

My honest answer is, I have no idea! Just the answer you were hoping for from a paid fantasy football analyst, right? Mack scored a respectable four touchdowns as a rookie, though it can’t be encouraging that million-year-old Frank Gore out-touched him 290-114. Rather than pass the torch to Mack, the Colts double-dipped by grabbing Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins in consecutive rounds at April’s draft. That doesn’t show much faith in Mack, who received a negative pass-blocking grade from ProFootballFocus in 2017. It doesn’t help that new coach Frank Reich is already talking up Robert Turbin, a known goal-line vulture who missed most of last year with a dislocated elbow.

 

My guess is that Mack will be given first crack at leading the Colts’ backfield—I had him highest in my fantasy rankings—but this has all the makings of a running-back-by-committee (I’ll put a dollar in the swear jar). I’ll admit, the 22-year-old’s NFL sample size is relatively small (309 snaps last year). But it’s not like he was a can’t miss prospect coming out of USF—14 running backs were drafted ahead of him in 2017. Given all the moving parts and the fact that I’m not a big risk taker (aside from putting Tabasco on almost everything I eat), I don’t imagine I’ll have many Mack shares this summer.

 

Will Brandin be the cooker or the cooked this season?

 

Cringe-worthy puns aside, I’m intrigued by your question, loyal reader of Rotoworld. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, what’s the deal with Brandin Cooks? Despite his accomplishments—last year marked his third straight 1,000-yard receiving season—the Rams will be Cooks’ third team in as many seasons. The former Oregon State Beaver saw less volume in New England—the 114 targets he logged were his fewest since his rookie year in 2014—but Cooks was still highly productive, averaging a career-best 16.6 yards per catch (that ranked seventh in the league) while outgaining every Patriot not named Rob Gronkowski. Who knows, maybe the Patriots would have raised a sixth championship banner if Cooks hadn’t suffered a concussion early in New England’s Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia.  

 

I don’t think anyone was stunned to see the Pats move on from Cooks. He’ll be a free agent after this year and New England returns Julian Edelman, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL (he’s currently appealing a four-game PED suspension). At the time, the Patriots were also seeking draft capital as a means of moving up in the first round, presumably so they could land a successor to Tom Brady (though New England ultimately passed on Lamar Jackson twice). I suppose none of that matters because Cooks is now a Ram, playing 3,000 miles west of Touchdown Tom and Emperor Bill.

 

In Los Angeles, Cooks will replace Sammy Watkins, who jumped ship to join rocket-armed Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency. Obviously, Jared Goff is a major downgrade from Brady and even with the loss of Watkins, Cooks must still compete with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Todd Gurley for targets in L.A.’s passing game. Speaking of Gurley, the reigning Offensive Player of the Year logged an exhausting 343 touches last season while accounting for over 35 percent of the Rams’ yards from scrimmage. Gurley remains the unquestioned focal point of L.A.’s offense—he led the team in catches last year without even playing Week 17—and should occupy a similar role in 2018.

 

Cooks investors can’t be thrilled by anything I just wrote and given the Gurley-centric nature of L.A.’s offense, I’d be surprised if the 24-year-old matched the 114 targets he saw a year ago in New England. The good news for Cooks is that he’s always had a nose for the end zone (seven-plus touchdowns in each of his last three seasons) and I don’t see that changing much in L.A. The Rams, helmed by offensive mastermind Sean McVay, led the league in points per game last season (29.9) and could see even more scoring opportunities this year thanks to an improved defense featuring newcomers Marcus Peters, Ndamukong Suh and Aqib Talib. Among wide receivers, only Jarvis Landry scored more red-zone touchdowns than Watkins in 2017. If Cooks can absorb a similar red-zone role, I think he’ll be in for a solid fantasy year. For what it’s worth, I have him as the WR25 in my current fantasy ranks, one spot after Landry and one before Michael Crabtree.

 

How do you rank the more prevalent draft strategies—value based, zero-RB, RB-heavy, best player available, late-round QB, late-round TE, randomly picking players because you like their names—in terms of effectiveness?

 

Finally, we get to talk some strategy! If you’re a regular reader of Bump and Run, you probably know my stance on this. I’ve never been a proponent of zero-running back and though it may still have some traction in PPR leagues, I think the fantasy community has mostly distanced itself from that way of thinking. Personally, I think the best approach is a combination of many different strategies. It’s always nice to get a bargain (value-based), but there’s also a danger in adhering too strictly to ADPs or pre-draft rankings. Those can be crutches. I don’t think anyone should be afraid to draft a player just because of their ADP or where they’ve been going in mock drafts.

 

Most fantasy analysts will tell you that the only technique that consistently works is drafting a quarterback late. In our Draft Guide mock, Matthew Stafford went in the 12th round. Ben Roethlisberger came off the board a round later. Both are tremendous values at that juncture. No one is stopping you from drafting Aaron Rodgers in Rounds 4 or 5, but in a 12-team league where you might go 20 players between picks, you’re better off targeting running backs and receivers early and saving quarterback for the end. Tight end is another position you can wait on, though the big three of Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz are notable exceptions. I wouldn’t wait to draft any of them. Rhinos tight end Hingle McCrinkleberry would be a first-rounder if you went by the best name (The Artist Formerly Known as Mousecop would also be in the mix) but I can never find him in my draft queue.

 

Which RBs not currently at the top of their team's depth chart do you see having the best chance to emerge from out of nowhere and have real value?

 

“Out of nowhere” wouldn’t be the best way to describe Tarik Cohen since most of you are already well aware of him, but he does fit the first part of your description. Jordan Howard will enter the year as Chicago’s lead ball carrier, as he should after topping 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. But as productive as Howard has been, I think he’s one of the most vulnerable starters in the league. He’s a dismal pass-catcher (14 career drops) and averaged just 3.35 yards per carry over his final six games last season.

 

Meanwhile Cohen totaled 723 yards from scrimmage (370 rushing, 353 receiving) on only 360 snaps as a rookie and should see an expanded role under new head coach Matt Nagy. Cohen doesn’t have the size (5’6”/181) to be a workhorse but I think we can expect something close to a 50/50 split or at worst 60/40 in Howard’s favor. Howard won the touch battle 299-140 last year, so that usage would represent a drastic increase for Cohen.

 

Nick Chubb is another player to keep an eye on. He was a rock-star in college, topping 1,000 yards rushing in three of his four years at Georgia (he would have been 4-for-4 if not for a knee injury in 2015) despite splitting carries with Sony Michel, who was drafted four spots ahead of him. Many have compared Chubb to a young Jamal Lewis including Browns VP of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith, though playing in Cleveland isn’t ideal for his fantasy prospects. He’ll be competing with the likes of veteran Carlos Hyde and pass-catcher Duke Johnson in a crowded Browns backfield. That presents an obstacle for Chubb but if the 22-year-old continues to break tackles like he did in college, it won’t be long before he gives Hyde a run for his money.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
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