Fantasy Football: The five best surprises of the first half


Fantasy Football: The five best surprises of the first half

Nobody can predict the future.

That's an important fact to keep in mind as you read through or listen to any fantasy football preseason advice. Whoever is doling out the info is just guessing at best, because that's all it is: An educated guess.

Every fantasy season, plenty of surprises come out of nowhere - both good and bad.

[RELATED - Fantasy Football: The most disappointing players of the first half]

As we enter Week 8, we sit at roughly the halfway mark between most fantasy regular seasons in leagues, so the CSN Fantasy crew is taking a look at the best surprises at each position:

QB - Andy Dalton, CIN & Blake Bortles, JAC

These were the Nos. 26 and 27 QBs off the board in ESPN drafts, going unselected in most leagues and formats. Entering Week 8, Dalton is No. 4 on the leaderboard among QBs, ahead even of Aaron Rodgers. Bortles is the No. 6 QB thanks to three straight multiple-TD games.

Who expected this out of either guy? Dalton threw for 33 tuddies and almost 4,300 yards in 2013, but took a major step back last year (3,398 yards, 19 TD) despite not missing a game. This year, Dalton is averaging more than two TDs a contest, on pace for 37 TDs and almost 4,700 yards.

Bortles, meanwhile, has already thrown four more TDs than last seven fewer games. The second-year Jags QB is on pace for more than 4,100 yards and 34 TDs, which helps make up for his 18-INT pace. He has a solid stable of receiving options in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas and the Jags are an up-and-coming team on both sides of the ball.

Of course, there is the chance that both players are just out to a hot start. But they also both have the talent (and, in the case of Dalton, the track record) to keep this up for the rest of the fantasy season, at least. (Tony Andracki)

RB - Devonta Freeman, ATL

Raise your hand if you had Devonta Freeman tied with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the leading fantasy scorer through seven weeks of the season. I certainly didn't.

The second-year running back out of Florida State has blown his ADP of 117 out of the water. He's scored 161.1 total fantasy points for a ridiculous average of 23 points per game. The next closest running back is Mark Ingram who has 98.5 total points.

[ROTOWORLD - Week 8 touches and targets]

No longer is Freeman a change-of-pace third down back who's only skill is catching passes out of the backfield — pretty much all he was in 2014 with 473 total yards. Freeman was put on notice when the Atlanta Falcons used a Day 2 draft selection on Tevin Coleman. In response, Freeman has transformed into one of the best all-around backs in the game, and is running behind a Top 5 offensive line. Time will tell if he can keep it up this pace, but so far he's made a believer out of everybody. (Scott Krinch)

WR - Travis Benjamin, CLE

It's all about the U. And Travis Benjamin. Undrafted everywhere other than the annual Benjamin family fantasy league (probably), the Browns' new No. 1 wide receiver has been phenomenal after having a preseason ADP at 170.0. In his first three seasons the Miami product caught 41 passes and five touchdowns; in seven games this year he's at 35/575/4 and is the No. 6 wide receiver in standard leagues.

His 11.9 fantasy points per game rank him above A.J. Green, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Amari Cooper. That's not to say Benjamin will continue his torrid pace, but he's absolutely denounced the notion that he was simply a one- or two-week wonder and just a home-run threat after catching six passes, three of which went for touchdowns, in the season's first two weeks.

After combining for just seven targets in those first two weeks, his targets by game have gone as such: 10, 10, 12, 13, 8. Easily his most impressive game came in Week 5, when he caught nine passes on 13 targets for 147 yards against the vaunted Broncos secondary. Doing all this with Josh McCown (and Johnny Manziel under center) has made this an even bigger surprise. That, and no other Browns receiver has really made a name for himself, notably the absent Dwayne Bowe. That means more targets for the 5-foot-10 Benjamin, who is locked in as a high-end WR2 until further notice. Kudos are in order if you snagged him in Week 3 or 4, because it's paying off in a big way. A Browns wide receiver not only worth owning, but worth starting every week? Now I've seen it all. (Mark Strotman)

TE - Gary Barnidge, CLE

In Week 3, we were all saying "Wow, the Raiders are so bad they let some dude named Gary Barnidge torch them." Now, we are saying "Wow who DOESN'T Gary Barnidge torch?" The Browns TE has certainly been one of the Waiver Wire Pickups of the Year and has not disappointed since his Week 3 coming out party. Since that performance against the Raiders, he's posted double digit fantasy points in standard leagues every week since.

[Complete CSN fantasy football coverage]

Now can he keep it up? I don't see why not as long as Josh McCown is still behind center. In the two games Johnny Manziel played in, Barnidge didn't post pretty numbers (4 catches, 55 yards combined). If Barnidge can score double-digit points against the Broncos defense, I have faith in him in most matchups for the rest of the year. Long live Gary Barnidge. (John "The Professor" Paschall)

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

Film review: Albert Wilson's 75-yard TD shows how Sunday was an aberration for the Bears' defense

(For a bonus film review, check out the video above of Akiem Hicks' forced fumble on the one-yard line)

When Eddie Jackson didn’t stay on top shoulder of Randall Cobb in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ season opener, there was a clear coaching point from that 75-yard backbreaking touchdown. The Bears’ defensive mantra the week after was to focus on “plastering” receivers, which this defense did a good job of over the next three weeks. 

There surely are coaching points leveled by Vic Fangio and his assistants after the Bears were carved up by Brock Osweiler and the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s 31-28 loss in Miami. But maybe the over-arching though here is this: The Bears didn’t, during the off week, go from being one of the league’s more sure-handed tackling teams to one of the worst. 

A defense that swarmed to the ball over the first four weeks looked a step slow and frequently out of position on Sunday. The more likely explanation for that development isn’t the plot to Space Jam 3, where a group of cartoon aliens steal the athletic power of an entire defense to use for their own. More likely, it was the heat in south Florida that sapped this team’s energy over the course of a long afternoon.

In this week’s film breakdown, we’re going to look at Albert Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown, which was wildly uncharacteristic of this defense. 

Image 1: the Bears are in nickel man coverage with Wilson (red circle) lined up in the slot across from Bryce Callahan. Danny Amendola goes in motion to the boundary (green arrow), with Danny Trevathan (green arrow) following him, though safety Adrian Amos will be the guy covering the Dolphins receiver. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard are the two down linemen in the interior, with Leonard Floyd rushing from the left and Khalil Mack from the right. 

Image 2: Mack is chipped by tight end Nick O’Leary (yellow circle), with Roquan Smith (yellow arrow) responsible or covering him. Trevathan (green circle) is in space with Amos (blue circle) picking up Amendola. With Mack chipped, the Bears have three pass rushers to go against five offensive linemen. 

Image 3: There’s about 10 yards of space between Mack and Osweiler (yellow arrow) after Mack comes free of O’Leary’s chip. Trevathan (green circle) is in a good position here, with Amos (blue arrow) closing on Amendola. Wilson works into space ahead of Callahan (red arrow), while both Dolphins outside pass-catchers run go routes to clear cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Kevin Toliver II out of the play. 

Image 4: First, the white circle — Hicks had his helmet ripped off, with right tackle Jesse Davis the apparent culprit. He still manages a good pass rush against a double team that could’ve hit home, or forced Osweiler to Mack (who’s about five yards from Osweiler when the ball is released) or Floyd, had the play extended longer. Meanwhile, when the ball is released, Callahan (red arrow) and Trevathan (green arrow) are in good position to bring down Wilson, while Amos (blue arrow) is there for help if Wilson were to turn upfield to the far sideline. 

Image 5: Wilson catches the ball and goes to the far sideline, away from Callahan (red arrow) and toward Trevathan (green arrow). After O’Leary and Smith engaged, the rookie linebacker is the farthest back from the play of these three when the ball is caught. 

Image 6: Trevathan (green arrow) seems to over-commit, giving Wilson a lane toward the boundary to cut upfield. 

Image 7: Amos (blue arrow) still has a chance to bring down Wilson short of the sticks.

Image 8: Amos misses the tackle, and Trevathan is blocked by O’Leary. That leaves Jackson (yellow arrow) as the last guy who can stop Wilson from breaking this play open. 

Image 9: In missing the tackle, Amos tripped Wilson a bit, which Jackson admitted threw him off (“but that’s not an excuse for it,” he added). Wilson re-gains his balance, cuts inside, and Jackson whiffs on the tackle. 

“Probably just try to shoot my shot on the tackle instead of just guessing, just probably should have shot my shot,” Jackson said of what he felt he should’ve done differently. 

Wilson goes to the house, and the Dolphins tie the game one play after the Bears took the lead. The last image here is Wilson’s route chart from NFL Next Gen Stats, which shows just how much running he did after the catch on that play — yardage-wise, it was 71 yards, but by distance it was much further. 

“We talked about how many tackles we missed,” Jackson said. “Some of that could have really changed the momentum of the game if we would have made some of those tackles. Unfortunately, two of them resulted in big play touchdowns.”

No members of the Bears defense were willing to use the heat as an excuse, instead opting for thumb-pointing instead of blaming teammates, coaches or the sun. But there’s a good chance we look back at Week 6 in Week 10 or 11 and can say with some confidence that the Bears beat themselves more than the Dolphins did, and it’s something that hasn’t happened since. 

“We know we made mistakes, that don’t kill our confidence,” Jackson said. “That don’t kill our swagger. We know what we gotta do, we know what we gotta correct. So we come in here, we’re going to play Chicago Bears football that we’re used to playing.”

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

Bill Belichick sees "overlap" between the Bears and the Chiefs, and who are we to disagree with him

If Bill Belichick talks football, it's probably worth listening to. 

Talkin to reporters ahead of this weekend's Bears-Patriots matchup, Belichick mentioned how similar he views the Bears and the Chiefs: 

“Well, I mean they have a lot of good players,” Belichick said. “They have good skill players, good receivers, big offensive line, good tight end, athletic quarterback, good backs. I mean there’s some movement and some motion and shifting. I wouldn’t say it’s an extraordinary amount. They get the ball to a lot of different people and they’re all pretty effective when they get it. That’ll be a big challenge. They throw the ball down the field and have a lot of catch-and-run plays and have a good running game.”

Statistically speaking, Kansas City ranks 2nd in offensive DVOA while the Bears are down at 17th. But otherwise they're identical! We're with you, Bill.