by Nick Ercolano
August 28, 2017
I'm not one to heavily project a player's season from his strength of schedule (SoS) because things in the NFL change quicker than Obama's handshake from a white to black person.
But there is a time and place for everything. Including strength of schedule analysis. Now is one of those times and places. When looking at small sample sizes, a future 2-4 week schedule can be useful in fantasy football. Tons of times, we see players get out to slow starts only to be given up on a week before take off. We see a lot of this with middle/late-round picks, big-upside picks and rookies. Maybe the coaching staff doesn't trust them yet. Maybe their first few opponents are really tough. Maybe it takes an injury to the starter. Regardless, it pays to sit on some guys like Rachel Starr.
So, what we're doing today is diving into at a few guys that I think might start slow, but are worth trading for after a few weeks.
***PFF Grade Notes
Bryant's matchups are BRUTAL to start the szn, to say the least. The "easiest" CB matchup he'll see is with Trumaine Johnson when they take on the Rams in Week 4. All four of these teams were ranked Top-7 in the NFL in pass defense in 2016. But Dez is pretty good, he can win the matchup even if the defense is good too, right?
Let's take a look.
Giving the Cowboys wideout the benefit of the doubt, we'll look at Bryant's numbers from 2012-2016 against pass defenses that ranked inside the top-12, not even the top-7:
The drop-off is MAJOR. His fantasy production falls by more than 7 PPG in PPR formats when facing a top-12 pass defense. It's a tough pill to swallow for owners that use 2nd round draft capital on him (current ADP - 18). That's why I'm saying don't. Trade for him. It's not to say Dez isn't talented in his own right, but let someone else suffer for the first month of the season and they'll learn to hate Dez. That's when you jump on him like some kangarroos. After those first four matchups, you'll get (a mostly pissed off because the media is asking him why he's been a liability so far) Dez versus Green Bay and San Francisco, the NFL's 32nd and 29th ranked pass defenses in 2016. I'd lean toward starting the trade offers to Bryant's owner after Week 3 - his weakest matchup of the first four comes in Week 4 at home against the Rams, which gives him the best chance at having a big game, which will make owners think twice before getting rid of their second round pick too quickly. If you start the trade offers in Week 3, it'll get the other owner thinking, and another bad game from Bryant in Week 4 will have them itching to pull the trigger.
Unlike y'all, I don't have the chance to draft Isaiah Crowell in my big money league. He's being kept by another owner for a 12th round pick *white guy blink emoji*. If you want Crowell, it'll likely cost ya a 3rd or 4th round pick depending on how savy your league is. The reason I'd suggest trading for Crowell might not be what you'd expected to hear.
It's about DeShone Kizer. DeShone Kizer and his ability to run. This is a little fantasy football trick that surprisingly not many people take into account. Running backs perform much better when they're playing behind a mobile quarterback. From a common sense stand point it makes sense. Defenses have to use a defender to keep an eye on the QB, one less defender to worry about the running back. Defensive lineman are constantly breaking the wrong way anticipating a roll-out, etc, etc. It should be no different for Crowell in 2017. We even have a sample size with the fourth year back and the numbers speak for themselves:
And you can add basically every running back in Seattle that's ran behind Russell Wilson. Despite all the rumors of the Cleveland quarterback spot being Brock Oswielers to lose, we quickly figured out it was the Browns garbage attempt at upping his trade value after a couple of disastrous preseason performances. On the other hand, Kizer has impressed through two games, completing 19-of-31 passes for 258 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions, and most importantly adding 47 rushing yards and a score on eight carries.
Nothing about the first six games scares me away or invites me to draft Crowell, it's a mix of good, bad and whatever run defenses. Historically, there's almost 0 change in Crowell's fantasy production against top rush defenses anyways:
So, why do I suggest trading for him after week 4 if the schedule isn't a big factor for me, why not week 2 or week 7?
1. Because no owners really want to trade a player they drafted after 2 games, so you'll probably have to give up more than you'd want to get him here.
2. If for some reason DeShone Kizer isn't their starter to open the season, he will be by then.
3. And if he is starting for their opener, even better. It might take the rookie, who will be the the 3rd youngest QB since 2000 to start Week 1, a little while to adjust to the game speed and get his feet wet. By week 4, they should be running fluidly behind a vastly improved offensive line.
4. The Browns have a much higher chance of being in the game versus the Jets and Texans (run/defense-first, low scoring) meaning Crowell might actually see some 4th quarter carries for a change.
Crowell, the five-star high school recruit, who won the SEC freshman of the year award in 2011 would be much more of a household name had he not been kicked off Georgia's football team regarding off-field issues. In 2016, behind a lesser offensive line, he proved that he's ready to be the center of this Cleveland offense, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, catching 43 passes in the process.
For a lot of you guys in less competitive leagues, owners don't care for "boring, Browns running back" like Crowell so he'll probably drop much later than he should. If he does drop and you want to draft him based on value, by all means, whatever sinks your submarine homies. Or, you can wait for a slow start to the season, which I'm anticipating, combined with him being a late draft pick, and fantasy owners will practically be begging you to take Crowell. Bang bang.
When to Trade for - After Week 4
I'm all aboard the Mariota hype train this season. There's nothing not to like - Three fantastic receivers (Decker, Matthews and Davis), a consistent pass-catching tight end (Walker), two more than capable and arguably an elite running back duo (Murray and Henry) and an elite offensive line (#3 by PPF). However, outside of their season opener versus Oakland, the first quarter of the Titans schedule is rough for the former Oregon Duck. They play @JAX, vs. SEA and @HOU in their next three games. Jacksonville and Houston were tied as the 2nd best pass defenses in the NFL in 2016. Seattle ranked in the middle of the pack but struggled with Earl Thomas sidelined so I'd expect a bounce-back in 2017. All three of those games should be very heavy in the rush attempt category.
So I looked into how Mariota performs in fantasy against good pass defenses since he entered the league in 2015:
It ain't pretty. It's not even usable. And it's not even against elite passing defenses, it's just the top-16. Mariota scores 12 points less per game. For y'all that ain't too spiffy in the mathematics department, that's 150 passing yards, 20 rushing yards and a passing touchdown PER GAME. Good lawd.
The other thing to consider with Mariota is Corey Davis and his hammy injury. He's been week-to-week for a while now after straining his hamstring and it doesn't look like he's going to get in any preseason action. It's going to take some time to get him going, so Week 4 or 5 sounds about right for the 6th overall pick to be a full-time player and in game shape.
If you want to draft Mariota, by all means, but don't expect a strong start in the weeks following their opener. You might want to look for a 2nd QB for that stretch with an easier string of games (Jay Cutler for y'all risky folk). After Week 4, Mariota should get back to business with juicy matchups against Miami, Indy and Cleveland.
I put Mixon on the honorable mention list, because the majority of people drafting him are definitely not looking to trade. They probably expect him to get off to a slow start while Jeremy Hill crawls himself out of the Bengals backfield rotation. Undoubtedly more talented than Hill, the rookie Joe Mixon will run train on the backfield sooner rather than later. The question becomes, how patient is the owner in your league that takes Mixon? The Bengals start their season off with three matchups against top-12 run defenses:
It's possible Mixon and Hill both struggle and a breakout game comes in Week 4 or 5, but it's also likely that the Mixon owner knows they play Cleveland in Week 4 and is expecting it. After Buffalo, the Bengals get the Steelers and Colts, both ranked poor against the run in 2016. It might be worth offering something big for Mixon after Week 2. You may not be able to swindle value in the trade, even if you're getting rid of someone that has around the same value, you've avoided two of Mixon's toughest matchups and you don't have to pay his eventual draft price of a 3rd-4th round pick.
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