Fantasy Football: 4 guys whose stocks are rising after NFL Draft


Fantasy Football: 4 guys whose stocks are rising after NFL Draft

With the NFL Draft come and gone, the entire Fantasy landscape has changed. There are plenty of new rookies who are in great situations (Kevin White included here in Chicago), but there are also some up-and-comers and veterans whose stock is on the rise. 

Carlos Hyde (RB), SF

No more Frank Gore means Carlos Hyde is the No. 1 dude in San Fran. Hyde impressed in his rookie season, averaging 4.0 yards per carry with 12 catches and four rushing TDs in 14 games. He's flashed potential and now is atop the depth chart. Somebody has to replace the 255 carries Gore had last season and Hyde is already a factor in the passing game. The only guy that is truly a threat to Hyde right now is Reggie Bush, who is suddenly 30 years old and put up career-lows in yardage (discluding the 2010 season in which he played just eight games), while only scoring two touchdowns in Detroit. Bush's arrow is trending down and Hyde's is on the way up. Look at Hyde as an upper-tier No. 2 running back, with the potential for more.

[ROTOWORLD: Veteran winners from the NFL Draft]

Eli Manning (QB), New York Giants

After a horrendous start to the 2014 season, Manning rebounded later in the year and posted some great numbers with the help of Odell Beckham Jr., showing the two have developed on-field chemistry. This offseason the front office decided to add to the talent around Manning by bringing in pass-catching running back Shane Vereen and using their first-round pick on Ereck Flowers to help keep the Giants' franchise QB standing up in the pocket. With the potential return of Victor Cruz, Manning is poised for a huge year in 2015. He could be this year's 2014 Big Ben and be that mid-to-late round selection that ends up being a huge steal. Oh, and did I mention he's in a contract year? - John

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Latavius Murray (RB), Oakland Raiders

After missing the entire 2013 season with an ankle injury, the second-year running back out of Central Florida had a semi-breakout season in 2014. He rushed for 424 yards with a sparkling 5.2 yards per carry. And there are plenty of reasons why Murray is on the verge of stardom. The front office cut ties with veterans Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden this offseason, while signing Roy Helu and Trent Richardson. At this stage in his career Helu is viewed as a third-down back, while Richardson doesn't pose as a threat to unseat Murray as Oakland's lead back. Murray will also benefit from new Raiders offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who already mentioned that he wants to "tailor" the running game to Murray. Musgrave used a high-volume running game in the past with Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Clinton Portis and Fred Taylor. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr now has weapons in his disposal after GM Reggie McKenzie added arguably the best wide receiver in the draft in Amari Cooper and selected Miami tight end Clive Walford in the second round. Teams won't be able to stack the box against Murray now that the Raiders have players that can stretch the field. While Murray isn't necessarily a Top 20 fantasy player as of now, I wouldn't be surprised to see him reach that mark by season's end. - Scott

Jay Cutler (QB), Chicago Bears

With all the holes the Bears needed to fill on either side of the football, general manager Ryan Pace didn't have the luxury of drafting for need last week. Instead, he went for a best-player-available approach, and that meant using three of his first four selections on offensive players. That's good news for Jay Cutler, who got what should be an upgrade at wide receiver in No. 7 overall pick Kevin White, potentially a new center in Hronnis Grasu and a chance-of-pace back in Jeremy Langford who, at the very least, won't be as bad as Michael Bush or Ka'Deem Cary. Cutler still isn't a QB1 guy, but he's a much safer QB2 bet now that he's got White AND Alshon Jeffery, free agent signee Eddie Royal, Forte and Langford as targets. The offensive line will have to hold up - which is didn't do a year ago - but maybe Cutler will flourish in Adam Gase's offense. He's a guy to keep an eye on after the Bears improved their offensive in the draft.

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

How much better Mitch Trubisky will be is the defining question for the 2019 Bears. But we won’t begin to know the answer to that question until September — it’s not something that’ll be easily discernible during training camp practices in Bourbonnais or a handful of snaps in preseason games. Those can sometimes produce false positives and false negatives.

The Bears believe in Trubiskiy, of course, and you’ll likely hear Matt Nagy and players laud their quarterback’s growth over the coming weeks. But belief is one thing; tangible production is another. And we won’t truly get to see that growth until the night of Sept. 5 at Soldier Field. 

But there are a few things to look for in Bourbonnais that could clue us in that a big-time leap is coming for No. 10. We’ll begin this mini-series leading up to the start of training camp next week with this: Better success from running backs catching passes on first down. 

It’s a narrowly specific angle, but one that carries plenty of weight. Consider this excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview:

“First down has long been perceived as a running down. In 2017, the league-wide average run-pass split on first down was 47-53. It was 50-50 last season, but that was still well below the 59-41 league-wide split on all downs. Yet passing to running backs on first down is significantly more effective.

“In 2018, there were 6,248 running back rushing attempts on first down. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, minus-0.01 Expected Points Added per attempt, and a positive play rate of 41.3%. When teams threw to running backs on first down, they averaged 6.02 yards per target, 7.8 yards per receptions. 0.08 EPA per attempt — slightly more efficient than the average of all passes regardless of down at 0.05 EPA — and a positive play rate of 52.3%.”

The larger point here (especially if your eyes glazed over some of those numbers — which, we promise, make sense) is this: Scheming more throws to running backs on first down is an area in which almost every team in the NFL can improve. It's worth noting the Kansas City Chiefs' most effective play on first-and-long in 2018, per Sharp, was a pass to Kareem Hunt. 

And the good news is the Bears re-worked their running back room in a way that could optimize their success throwing the ball to David Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on first down. 

The 2018 Bears simply didn’t have the personnel to do that regularly or successfully.

Jordan Howard was only targeted nine times on first-and-10, catching five passes for 42 yards. All nine of those targets were short throws, either to the left (two), middle (one) or right (six), and Trubisky had a passer rating of 83 on those attempts. Meanwhile, Howard carried the ball 128 times on first-and-10, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and only generating nine first downs (the NFL average for rushing attempts on first-and-10 in 2018 was 4.7 yards per carry). 

Cohen was, roughly, the inverse of Howard’s numbers: He caught 30 of 37 targets for 241 yards (6.5 yards per target) and generated seven first downs through the air, but averaged just 3.2 yards on his 46 rushing attempts with four first downs. Neither player was particularly balanced in these scenarios: Howard was mildly ineffective running the ball and not a threat catching it; Cohen was largely ineffective running the ball but was a threat catching it. 

And for the crowd who still believes Nagy wasn’t willing to establish the run: The combined rushing attempts on first-and-10 of Howard, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell totaled 182; the combined pass attempts by Trubisky and Chase Daniel in that down-and-distance was 176, per Pro Football Reference’s play index. 

The Bears, in 2018, averaged 5.5 yards per play on first-and-10, tied for 24th in the NFL. Yet only three teams — the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts — averaged fewer yards-to-go on third down than the Bears’ mark of 6.9. That’s a sign of Nagy’s playcalling prowess and the talent on this offense, and it’s not a stretch to argue an improvement of first-and-10 success will have a significant impact on the overall success of the Bears’ offense. 

So back to the initial point about passes to running backs in these situations: The Bears believe both Montgomery and Davis have some untapped potential as pass-catching running backs. Montgomery caught 71 passes in college at Iowa State, while Davis was targeted the most by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 on first down (17 of 42 targets). Cohen, of course, is already an accomplished pass-catcher. 

The “Run DMC” backfield needs to have more success carrying the ball on first-and-10 than last year’s group did, of course. But if you’re in Bourbonnais or watching a preseason game, keep an eye out for how effective the Bears are at passing to their running backs — especially if those passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage (another inefficiency noted by Warren Sharp's 2019 Football Preview). 

If you start seeing Montgomery making defenders miss after catching a pass, or Davis looking fluid with the ball in his hands, or Cohen breaking off some explosive gains — those will be significant reasons to believe in Trubisky and the Bears' offense in 2019. 

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Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense


Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: