Fantasy Football: The fallout from Tom Brady's suspension


Fantasy Football: The fallout from Tom Brady's suspension

The NFL dropped the hammer on the New England Patriots and Tom Brady on Monday, suspending the star quarterback for the first four games of the season, fining the team $1 million and taking away a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017. 

Not only could Brady's absence have a big effect on the AFC but it raises a lot of questions in the world of Fantasy Football. 

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Here are some answers to those issues about the Patriots offense and how the team will fare over the first four weeks.

1. Is Jimmy Garoppolo now worth drafting and what does this do for Brady's stock?

The former EIU standout is absolutely on the fantasy radar now. The best news for the Patriots was that this ruling came down in May and not August. Bill Belichick now has a lot of time to prepare Garoppolo for the first four games of the season. In garbage time in 2014, Garoppolo performed well against the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears. Obviously, garbage time and crunch time are much different. But the rookie signal caller didn't look rattled. 

[MORE FANTASY: Top rookies to target in 2015

Let's also take a look at who Garoppolo will be facing (Patriots have a Bye Week 4):

Week 1 - PIT

Week 2 - @ BUF

Week 3 - JAX

Week 5 - @ DAL

Three of those four matchups are enticing for Garoppolo. The Steelers, Jaguars and Cowboys all finished 22nd or worst in total passing yards allowed in 2014. The Steelers defense didn't improve that much this offseason with the departures of Troy Polamalu and Dick LeBeau while the Jaguars likely won't make a dramatic jump up the rankings. The Cowboys could be better if their pass rush improves with Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence. The Bills matchup will be one to avoid for sure with Rex Ryan now in control and a dominant unit still in tact. 

[MORE: Four guys whose stock is falling after free agency, NFL Draft]

Garoppolo will probably be overdrafted in some leagues but target him in the later rounds as a spot starter if you decide to not build your team around a stud quarterback. As for Brady, he's still a Top-10 quarterback for the 2015 season. It'll hurt having him out for a few favorable matchups but there's no doubt he will come back with a vengeance and light the league on fire. Hey, if you end up picking Brady, it wouldn't be a bad idea to also snatch Garoppolo later.

2. Does this affect Rob Gronkowski's stock?

No. He's a beast on the field and shouldn't have trouble developing a connection with Garoppolo, who knows throwing to Gronk is his best chance at succeeding. As we mentioned in the last answer, the Patriots aren't facing any stout pass defenses (except for the Bills) so Gronkowski's value shouldn't be altered at all by the news. Draft him as you normally would this August. 

3. Does this mean the Patriots will run the ball more?

Potentially, but the Patriots have secretly become a running team over the past two years. They finished in the Top 10 in rushing yards in the league two out of the past three years. If Garoppolo struggles, New England could absolutely lean on a handful of running backs to carry the offense. 

[RELATED: Four guys whose stock is on the rise after free agency, NFL Draft]

But there's always an issue with Patriots and running backs: It's impossible to guess who will be the lead back. Remember Jonas Gray? He disappeared after his 200-yard, four touchdown performance. Will Brandon Bolden step up? Can LeGarrette Blount shoulder the load after his suspension is done? There's no real answers at running back for the Patriots so don't go digging for a New England running back to draft or pick up during Brady's absence. 

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: