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Fantasy football: Week 1 starts, busts, free agents

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Fantasy football: Week 1 starts, busts, free agents

Week 1 of the NFL season is finally, finally here. Though some still have a fantasy football draft or two remaining (hand raised), most can put away all their preseason material, stop with the mock drafts and start focusing on setting lineups. In other words, the next phase of over-thinking begins.

Don't fret. I'll talk rankings, starts/sits and pickups throughout the year. Typically, my first weekly article for CSNmidatlantic.com will focus on the "Waiver Wire." Seeing as just about everybody team should be good with their lineups except for the unfortunate souls who somehow drafted Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin, this week's offering will include a sneaky start and potential bust along with a Waiver Wire option for each position...

Quarterbacks

Sneaky start -  Ha, trick category. Owners should start the QB they drafted first for Week 1 in virtually all cases. Potential exceptions would be Eli Manning (at Dallas) or Matthew Stafford (at San Diego) if you backup is Sam Bradford (at Atlanta). Not an exception: Ryan Tannehill (That means start him).

Bust alert - Speaking of Matthew Stafford, here are his home/road splits from 2014:

Home: Touchdown passes (13), interceptions (6), yards per game (282), completion percentage (67.25)

Road: TDP (9), INT (6), yards per game (250), completion percentage (54.1)

Even if Stafford didn't struggle on the road, the Chargers ranked fourth against the pass last season.

Waiver Wire Derek Carr doesn't receive the hype or attention like many of the NFL's young passers. Good. Now you can swoop in and grab him as an upside QB2. Those with Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and such should shoot for the moon with your backup rather than hold no-trade-value types like Andy Dalton or perhaps Joe Flacco. Facing Cincinnati isn't ideal even at home, but the Carr-Amari Cooper connection starts taking off this week. 

Running backs

Sneaky start - Latavius Murray landed on plenty of sleeper lists this summer, but that doesn't mean owners selected the Raiders runner as a top-two RB. He opens the season against a Bengals defense that allowed nearly 22 fantasy points to running backs last season and won't have injured linebacker Vontaze Burfict around.

Bust alert - Plan on starting Lamar Miller against the Redskins, but the improvements along Washington's defensive line are sincere. The addition of nose tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton is a game-changer. Better run support from the safeties, particularly Duke Ihenacho, helps as well. The Redskins have the goods to finish the season among the top 10 defenses against the run.

Waiver Wire - Perhaps you didn't select a lottery ticket RB in the late rounds or perhaps you did but David Cobb and Jay Ajayi are no longer worth keeping in redraft leagues. If so or you simply have some other dead weight, take a flyer on Christine Michael. Seattle bailed on the physical freak. Keep that in mind, but now Dallas takes a shot. Considering the uncertainty with projected starter Joseph Randle and the injury fear with Darren McFadden, Michael could end up as the Cowboys starter sooner than later.

MORE REDSKINS: SOLID STARTERS, QUESTIONABLE DEPTH

Wide receivers 

Sneaky start - Arizona's John Brown turned into a big play threat during his rookie season. Expect opportunities against a New Orleans defense that allowed the eighth most point to fantasy wide receivers last season. Expect more targets than usual if Michael Floyd (dislocated fingers) cannot go in the opener.

Bust alert - Redskins fans probably like the call of DeAndre Hopkins except for those that drafted Houston's top option. While certainly worthy of his borderline WR1 status for the season, Hopkins' first matchup isn't pretty. Kansas City ranked second behind Seattle in passing yards allowed last season. This game screams low scoring; The 40.5 over/under is the lowest on the board in games not involving Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown. Brian Hoyer fits perfectly with that journeyman crew and he's the man throwing Hopkins's way.

Waiver wire - This long distance dedication goes out for an emerging long ball threat, Seattle's Tyler Lockett. Don't dump proven players for the speedster, but Lockett could be the next unknown catching deep bombs from Russell Wilson. Actually, he did just that in the final preseason game. Opening for playing time exists. Should Lockett start strong against the Rams, the previous statement won't be true anymore.

Tight ends

Sneaky start Hold for the Waiver Wire selection.

Bust alert - Coby Fleener/Dwayne Allen. Maybe one of them emerges as the Colts' main TE, but that's not super obvious now. Even if you have your fave, Indianapolis faces a Buffalo defense that allowed the fewest points to fantasy tight ends last season.

 

Waiver wireGreen Bay's Richard Rodgers probably won't end up with tons of catches, but six or more touchdowns playing with Aaron Rodgers is certainly possible. Considering the team scenario - no Jordy Nelson - and general blah with tight ends overall outside the top 7-8, taking a true flyer on this Rodgers wouldn't be that bad. Could consider starting Richard Rodgers against a Chicago that allowed the most fantasy points to tight end's last season.

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Need to Know: Could Ty Nsekhe be the Redskins' answer at left guard?

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Need to Know: Could Ty Nsekhe be the Redskins' answer at left guard?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, February 19, 23 days before NFL free agency starts.

Monday musings

—One possible solution to the left guard spot is perhaps being overlooked. Ty Nsekhe played there some last year, starting the game in Dallas and playing there until Morgan Moses got injured, forcing him to move to right tackle. Nsekhe is slated to be a restricted free agent but his return is likely. In December I asked Jay Gruden if Nsekhe might move to guard in 2018. “I think Ty is a big man and a very good tackle, but in the offseason when we have more time, maybe we can feature him at some guard when we’ve got all our guys back,” he said. “Feature him some” doesn’t mean that they will make him a starter; perhaps they want him to be the top option to fill in at four of the five OL positions. But it’s something to keep an eye on if they don’t land a left guard solution in free agency or the draft.

—When I posted about Albert Breer’s report that Kirk Cousins would file a grievance if the Redskins put the franchise tag on him in an effort to trade him, I pulled up a copy of the CBA to see the language on which Cousins could base his case. I read through the Article 10, which deals with the franchise tag twice and I saw nothing of it. But Mike Florio found it in Article 4, the one that deals with player contracts. “A Club extending a Required Tender must, for so long as that Tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season.” Since the Redskins clearly have no intention of employing Cousins after the Alex Smith trade, this seems to be a fairly simple case. In reality, it never is.

—I tweeted this last week:

However, possible cap casualties from other teams are not included in that group. That won’t turn the pool of players who will become available to sign into a bunch of potential franchise changers. Still, there could be a number of players in whom the Redskins could be interested in like RB DeMarco Murray, WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Torrey Smith, edge rusher Elvis Dumervil, and DL Brandon Mebane. A plus to signing players who have been waived is that they don’t count in the formula that determines compensatory draft picks. The Redskins have never really paid attention to that in the past but with potential high comp picks at stake if they lose both Kirk Cousins and Bashaud Breeland, this could be a good year to start.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 10
—NFL Draft (4/26) 66
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 202

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.