Fantasy Football 2013: Random Musings, Part I

Leon Halip

Want some guaranteed success in fantasy football in 2013? Well, I can't give you that. I can, however, give you a weekly opinion column with way too many words on who I will be targeting this coming fantasy season. Does that do it for you?

Disclaimer: SB Nation and its affiliates are in no way responsible for any of the views expressed in the article below. This writer’s opinions are his own, and any money spent in fantasy football is at the full discretion of the parties involved. Players of fantasy football are not encouraged to lay down any more money than they are willing to lose as online fantasy sports leagues are considered binding agreements of payment in a court of law. Please play responsibly.

Nearly thirteen months ago, I turned twenty one years old. Thirteen months and yet I have still not had one opportunity to make the customary pilgrimage to Las Vegas, Nevada to enjoy a three day weekend of drinking, gambling, and shooting any and all automatic firearms that are illegal in California (semi-related note: I did get to spend a total of eighteen hours in Sin City a few months back, but it was for a bizarre college extra credit "field trip" that did not give much time to really have any fun). Fortunately for me, or unfortunately in some cases, while I let this window pass me by I also came to be employed by the National Football League, which strictly prohibits its employees from gambling on football. If my chosen career path goes as planned, it is quite possible that I never will get an opportunity to walk into the sports book at Caesar’s Palace and put down a hundred bucks on the Texans to win the Super Bowl. I suppose I will have to settle for the other American Football past times that involve wasting money, like accidentally ruining good meat, buying memorabilia off eBay, and purchasing Coors Light instead of real beer.

However, there is another option that allowed me to pay for my Christmas shopping last season – fantasy football. Rather than betting on the outcomes of real football games, I was simply prognosticating the successes and failures of individual players across a wide spectrum of contests based on my basic knowledge as a fan and student of the sport. That little distinction is also why the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006 sees fantasy football a game rather than actual "gambling." An article from last September in Forbes outlines the distinction better than I ever could.

"In other words, fantasy sports are considered games of skill – not chance – if they can be won by successfully utilizing superior knowledge of the players involved. The Act adds that the game in question cannot have a prize that is determined by the number of players or amounts paid (think betting odds on game picks), but rather is established in advance of the game’s start."

So what does this all have to do with anything? Well, for starters, it means that I have a means to actually make money off of football outside my two other football-related jobs, and of course that also means I won’t get in trouble for giving all of our loyal BRB readers some weekly advice on how to demolish all of their buddies this upcoming season while making some extra scratch on the side. Whether playing in a deep dynasty league with 45 man rosters, with a rookie draft coming up in a couple weeks (which I happen to have) or just wanting to get an early jump on some cheap sleepers in daily leagues for weekly supplemental income, I will do my best to help our readers be as successful as possible in all of their leagues this year. Rest assured that during the season when I post my weekly Fanduel rosters, they are in fact my Fanduel rosters that I myself am putting money down on that particular week. That being said, playing for cash on Fanduel might not be everyone's cup of tea, so I will of course offer advice for more conventional fantasy leagues as well. Either way, one of the few things I can guarantee is that I will never give any advice that I myself would not be willing to back up with personal investment. To kick things off, here is my unnecessarily long-winded explanation as to why you (and I) should invest heavily in the Eagles' offense for the foreseeable future.

There is a common misconception about Chip Kelly’s playbook at Oregon that the Ducks ran a gimmicky, "college-ish" attack that will not mesh well with the pro game. On the surface, Kelly’s detractors had a point. Marcus Mariota was an athletic quarterback that worked well in rolling pockets and as the keeper on option plays. He often threw screens or quick option routes to DeAnthony Thomas as receiver or hit easy seam routes to big tight end Colt Lyerla deep over the middle if they wanted to start bombing people on play-action. He seemingly did not have to do that much work with Kenjon Barner destroying people for most of the game on the ground; opposing defenses ran out of gas by halftime because of the Ducks' breakneck offensive pace. It all just reeks of "not going to fly at the next level," or at least it does until one takes a closer look.

For whatever reason, the successes of Cam Newton, Russel Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III still have not changed the perception that offenses with quarterbacks that can run fast are not "pro style." It is almost as if any quarterback that has a YPC over 4.0 is suddenly a gimmick in an option or pistol offense rather than, you know, an NFL quarterback.

Do people even know what "pro style" means? Am I the only one who thinks it does not have a meaning? The way I see it, there is no "pro style." There is only what works and what does not work, and what Chip Kelly did at Oregon certainly worked. Yes, there were rolling pockets and yes, there were some keepers and designed runs thrown in here and there. What everyone seems to ignore was that the Oregon offense was built almost entirely off of the same typical running attack you would see in any professional team. Inside zones, outside zones, pitches, and even power just for giggles. It is all the same stuff in a slick feathered uniform.

In a typical Oregon drive, Chip Kelly would run a couple zone runs or pitches with Barner to force the opposing defense to put a safety in the box to stop the run. In addition to a creeping strong safety isolating matchups on the outside, the majority of college corners, and especially those in the Pac-12, do not play press coverage because the majority of them cannot play press coverage. A safety in the box plus corners that are not capable of press-man coverage means ten yard cushions for DeAnthony Thomas all day long, which means smoke routes and screens to DeAnthony Thomas all day long. A player like Thomas one on one with ten yards of space - who do you think wins that one? Heck, if the corner was not the fastest guy of the bunch, they would just skip the smoke routes and run straight lines to the end zone while daring people to stop them, which they of course could not. After Thomas beat an opposing defense for big yardage a couple times, the safeties would shift back to their original two deep shell, which then allowed Barner to continue ripping off big runs against soft boxes. Most defenses would compromise by tasking their Mike and Will linebackers to force the issue against the run while the secondary held on for dear life, at which point Colt Lyerla would then go up and grab a twenty yard pass one-on-one against a slower Sam linebacker in the hole over the middle. It did not matter if their opponents sold out against Barner or sold out against Thomas. Somehow, some way, they were going to pay for doing something. It was the perfect system punctuated by a ridiculous no-huddle pace that was all but completely written off at the professional level because of the running ability of the quarterback.

I’m going to pretend that you are not yet convinced that Chip Kelly knows exactly what he is doing and compare the Oregon offense of 2012 to another successful no-huddle attack last season, the New England Patriots. Quick slot receiver that can embarrass people on option routes or beat people deep? Check. Relentless running attack that would wear down opposing defenses with startling efficiency? Check. Elite tight ends that make linebackers pay over the middle? Check. Absurd number of plays run per minute? Check.

If these two systems seem to have a lot in common, it is because they do, and a lot of that is due to Chip Kelly himself being the one who taught Bill Belichick how to run an offense with a one word play call in the first place. A byproduct of this exchange in ideas (which was born from Chip Kelly’s close friendship with former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien) was New England’s love of "mismatch" tight ends rubbing off on Kelly, who then featured Colt Lyerla in his offense more prominently in 2012 and drafted Zach Ertz high in the 2013 draft to be his Gronkowski to Brent Celek’s Aaron Hernandez.

Okay, so Kelly has the tight ends. What then? Take a look at Kenjon Barner, and now just think about how big of an upgrade Shady McCoy will be. Look at DeAnthony Thomas’ skillset, and now think about DeSean Jackson. Look at Kyle Long opening holes on the ground, and now think about Evan Mathis and Lane Johnson. Did I mention Jeremy Maclin and James Casey exist in this picture too? McCoy, Jackson, Maclin, Ertz, Celek, Casey, all operating at Kelly’s famously high speed. Throw in an improved and finally healthy offensive line and there is no way this change in scheme does not make LeSean McCoy a ridiculously productive running back, and Zach Ertz a potential long term goldmine in dynasty leagues. DeSean Jackson will be used properly as a space player. Jeremy Maclin will finally be a true number one receiver. James Casey maybe, just maybe, will finally get the touches he deserves. It is almost too perfect.

What is the one thing potentially holding this all back? Michael Vick. What is the one reason that I could not care less about Michael Vick anyway? Matt Barkley. Suffice to say that Chip Kelly loves Matt Barkley and was shocked he was available in the fourth round. While he does not possess the mobility of Marcus Mariota, Barkley was very much the most feared quarterback among Pac-12 coaches for the last four years, even while Andrew Luck was present. Nobody could light up the Ducks like Barkley, and Kelly vividly remembers every single perfectly timed throw and pre-snap adjustment that torched them the last two seasons (though Oregon’s offense was able to score even more than Barkley against the Trojans disappointing defense, just as they did against everyone else). Considering Nick Foles excites nobody and Michael Vick is one deep breath away from breaking his ribs again, I would not be shocked at all if Barkley takes the wheel during the season and never lets the job go.

Hmm, why does that sound familiar? Is there another offense out there with a quarterback that was known for his leadership, intelligence, and clutch play ability in college only to be taken late in the draft because he did not have a strong arm or great mobility? Did that quarterback then go on to shut everyone up on the way to winning three Super Bowls and getting a lifetime supply of lady boots? Man, if only Barkley was playing in the exact same offense as that guy. Maybe he would be a good pickup in dynasty leagues.

Go get some Eagles. Go get them now.

Three other random tidbits that I may or may not expand upon in the future...

1. Jordan Reed should be heavily targeted in deeper or dynasty leagues. Fred Davis is on a one-year contract and Mike Shanahan wants a new Shannon Sharpe. Reed can and should fill that role for RG3 for the foreseeable future. It would not surprise me if he becomes one of the top weapons in that offense by the end of the season.

2. My money is on Johnathan Franklin to eventually beat out Eddie Lacy in Green Bay. Lacy had work ethic and injury issues that spooked me to begin with during the pre-draft process, but my main problem with him lies in the fact that I honestly do not know what the Packers plan to do with him. Franklin is a more well-rounded back that is faster in the open field, has better hands, and can pass protect well enough to at the very least be a third down option. I have a feeling like the Packers thought there was going to be a run on backs in the second and third rounds and tried to get out ahead of it, only to be surprised that Franklin was still being there in the fourth. That is the only way I can really reconcile the selection of Lacy in my head. Talented back? Yes. Long term answer? I'm not convinced...yet.

3. The waters for tight ends are murkier than ever when it comes to getting reliable studs, so I’m hitching my long term dynasty wagon to Jimmy Graham. He has been healthier than most other elite big men and will undoubtedly continue to produce ridiculous numbers with the return of Sean Payton to the sidelines. For single season re-draft leagues, I would probably round out my top five right now with Tony Gonzalez, Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, and Jason Witten. Dennis Pitta is really close to making it, and I am leaving Gronkowski out of the discussion until I know he will still be alive come September. If healthy, Gronk would of course be an interchangeable top option with Jimmy Graham.

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