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The question is not whether Saquon Barkley is the best running back in this draft class. The question is whether any running back, even one as good as Barkley, warrants a top-five draft selection in the NFL in 2018.

31 Dec 2015

Scramble for the Ball: New Year's Resolutions

by Andrew Healy and Sterling Xie

Sterling: 'Tis the season for holiday cheer and impulsively created New Year's resolutions. Fortunately, a wasted gym membership isn't going to hurt as bad as an ill-conceived coaching hire, free-agent splurge, or draft gamble. Lots of franchises need to make big changes for 2016, but some are going to move forward, while others are just going to move in circles.

In the spirit of the season, I think we should make resolutions for the franchises that aren't making the playoffs. To get things started, I'll look at the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys, who will resolve to get their quarterbacks healthy. Both franchises went all-in this year, but when Andrew Luck and Tony Romo went down, that only exposed how weak the infrastructure in both places was. We know changes are coming to Indy, and while the mild-mannered Luck doesn't seem likely to take a page from the NBA superstar handbook and force his way out of town, the Colts' next hire should determine whether or not they'll truly take advantage of Luck's prime years. Dallas will keep the status quo in place, and hopefully for the soon-to-be 36-year-old Romo, the injury gods grant him one more real shot at a deep playoff run.

Andrew: I'll stay in the NFC East and look first at the newly Chip-less Eagles. For 2016, Philly resolves to devote less of its salary cap to running back, though they would take a $13 million cap hit by cutting DeMarco Murray. The Eagles guaranteed $18 million to Murray and got below replacement-level play in 2015 (-24 DYAR and -11.7% DVOA, ranked 39th of 44 qualifying running backs). Let's even assume that they will choose to let someone else sign Marshawn Lynch should the Seahawks cut him.

I'm assuming the Giants will also be finally looking for a new coach this offseason. The as-yet undetermined new Giants head coach resolves to give training camp instructions on fireworks usage and on-field etiquette. Jason Pierre-Paul's mummified hand has shockingly proven less than adept at tackling people like Cam Newton as they pass by. The Giants' offense made Odell Beckham look as indispensable as Rob Gronkowski on Monday against the Vikings.

Sterling: At least the Eagles and Giants possess the stability and self-awareness to evaluate themselves rationally from year to year. So the Rams and 49ers get a healthy franchise's self-evaluation skills. Both seem stuck in unhealthy relationships, yet can't stand to pull themselves together and genuinely start over. The Jim Tomsula hire reeked of front office politics when it happened, and Tomsula sticking around for Year 2 only makes the stench stronger. Meanwhile, Jeff Fisher's Rams are the gatekeepers of purgatory. It would be nice to see superstar talent like Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, and Robert Quinn play for more than just .500 in December, so hopefully the Rams figure out where they're headed, both on and off the field.

Andrew: The Rams have devoted almost their entire 2015 and 2016 drafts to the offensive side of the ball and none of it matters until they find a quarterback. If they did, that team would be legitimately scary. I want to see the Rams move to L.A. and Peyton Manning rediscover himself for one last season with that team after the Broncos decide he's done. So let's make that a bonus resolution for a player who needs one: Peyton Manning resolves to use an all-natural nutritional regimen to squeeze out one last season on a stacked Rams team.

Like the Rams, two other squads seem to be in a frustrating rut, like a 38-44 NBA team with no clear path either to rebuilding or to genuine contention: the Bears and Lions. For the Bears, John Fox resolves to finally learn from his past mistakes of being a strategic weenie for almost his entire career, enrolling in the Riverboat Ron School for Reformed Coaching Strategy. This year, I have Fox ranking 27th in aggressiveness on fourth downs, and he sure does love to punt.

The Lions resolve not to have two players guard the sideline on untimed Hail Marys and to trade the ghost of Earl Morrall for the ghost of Bobby Layne. Since trading Layne for Morrall and draft picks in 1958 -- after which Layne said "the Lions would not win for 50 years" -- the Lions have a .427 winning percentage. The Lions had won three championships in the previous six years when Layne was traded. Since then, they have won one playoff game in 58 seasons. How does this not get more attention? Bobby Layne might be a witch.

Sterling: As a bonus, Peyton moving to the Rams would ensure another Brady-Manning matchup next year. It'll help fill the void of having no scheduled Patriots-Colts game for the first time since 2002.

Speaking of Peyton, his dad's old team is in pretty rough shape right now. Thus, the Saints resolve to get their salary cap in order by the end of the year. The Junior Galette catastrophe has left New Orleans' 2016 cap beyond repair, as the Saints already have nearly $15 million in dead money. That figure could become even more unwieldy if New Orleans lets go of underperforming vets like Brandon Browner, Zach Strief, and David Hawthorne, but the rebuild needs to get underway, even if Drew Brees and Sean Payton remain aboard. So long as the Saints don't delusionally fancy themselves as top Super Bowl contenders, it might be a good idea to bite the bullet for one season to clean the books and continue the youth movement they half-started this year.

New Orleans' division rivals in Tampa Bay are headed in the other direction, having seemingly found stability at quarterback for the first time in franchise history. The Bucs still have problems, but none are as hideous as those uniforms. So I'm going to skip over Tampa's lack of an edge rusher or issues at corner and say that the Bucs must resolve to start designing new uniforms. Unfortunately, the NFL has a five-year rule in place for new unis, so Tampa's duds, which look like what a toddler would eject after eating too many Twizzlers, must continue burning retinas for the next three seasons. The pewter-and-red color scheme evokes memories of the franchise's dominant defenses, and this is just a slightly altered knock-off. The Jameis Winston era should get its own distinct look, rather than riding the coattails of Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

Andrew: Moving to a more aesthetically pleasing team in the NFC South, the Falcons resolve to either actually get better or return to their losing records of 2013 and 2014. The Falcons went 4-12 in 2013 with a DVOA of -10.4% (ranked 25th). In 2014, they improved to 6-10 with a DVOA of -5.4% (ranked 20th). This year, playing the third-easiest schedule in the league, the Falcons have improved in record to 8-7 while falling to -14.3% (ranked 24th) in DVOA.

The Bills resolve to cut Mario Williams and take him to court to recover the $17.5 million he stole from them this season. As I wrote about last week, the film makes it pretty clear that Williams isn't trying. He has been showing up on the stat sheet as much as I have for the Bills. After recording yet another triple-bagel against the Cowboys this week (no sacks, no tackles, no assists), Williams has been entirely shut out in four of the last six weeks. Only an unclear assist credited to Williams against Washington averted a fifth shutout. Williams' early retirement is a big reason the Bills' defense -- vaunted before the season as possibly the NFL's best -- ranks just 29th in DVOA.

Sterling: Speaking of offseason AFC East larceny, the Miami Dolphins resolve not to try and make an offseason splash. The Fins have turned into one of the league's blandest franchises, and making headlines in March isn't changing things. Miami has a reputation for seeking out big names in both coaching and free agency searches, but for once, the Dolphins need to fly (swim?) under the radar and plan ahead instead of planning for tomorrow's headlines.

Wherever they end up, the Chargers must resolve to get Melvin Gordon going. I don't want to buy into the Wisconsin narrative and condemn the first-round back, who has looked extremely uncomfortable running out of the Bolts' predominantly shotgun offense. Having an offensive line actually stay healthy for the first time in eons might help as well, and hopefully Gordon's sophomore season is a lot less miserable than 2015 has been.

Andrew: As for the Chargers' potential 2016 intra-city rival, the Raiders resolve to be a trendy pick to win the AFC West. I'm still not totally sold on Derek Carr, but that may be in part my biases formed by doubting him last season. What's beyond dispute is that, after years of misses, the Raiders hit gold with Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack. For the first time in more than a decade, serious optimism is justified with the silver and black. But beware. The upside is high given the young stars, but the depth for 2016 is highly questionable.

Another team with young skill-position talent may also see at least a little hype for the first time in quite some time. The Jaguars resolve to be a popular playoff pick in 2016. With the Colts likely improving at coach and general manager simply through change, I likely will be a skeptic of Jacksonville even moreso than of the Raiders. With the Titans also likely to improve, the AFC South will likely be much tougher around the Jaguars next season. For the Jags to make the leap to playoff contention despite the improved competition, they need Dante Fowler to return healthy and defy SackSEER's pessimism about his prospects. Without the third overall pick from the 2015 draft, the Jags currently rank 27th both in adjusted sack rate and defensive DVOA.

Sterling: If the Jags do get that pass rush going, it'll make life a lot harder on their division rivals in Tennessee. The Titans need to resolve to protect Marcus Mariota better in 2016. This is really a no-brainer, as Tennessee ranks 30th in adjusted sack rate, having allowed a league-high 50 sacks. Apart from Taylor Lewan and maybe Chance Warmack, there are no real NFL-caliber offensive linemen on this roster. The ideal draft-day scenario for the Titans might entail trading down from the first overall pick and still ending up with one of the two premium tackle prospects, Laremy Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley.

The Ravens don't need as much help if they get even a modicum of injury luck next season, but Baltimore must resolve to rebuild its secondary before next season. This area looked shaky before the season started, and the Ravens have predictably gotten replacement-level play from just about every defensive besides Jimmy Smith. Baltimore could save a little money by letting go of Lardarius Webb, Kyle Arrington, and Kendrick Lewis, and should be in position to take advantage of a draft class rich with defensive back talent. I think Vernon Hargreaves, Jalen Ramsey, or Mackensie Alexander would look nice in purple.

Andrew: Imagine if the Browns only had the problems of the franchise that used to call Cleveland home. Instead, they have the league's worst coach at strategic decision-making, one of the worst quarterbacking situations, and they rank 30th in defensive DVOA. But by bottoming out, they may get the first pick in the draft, which should guarantee them a prime building block -- unless, of course, they take Courtney Brown or Tim Couch. I really want good things to happen for the Browns. And they have smart analytics-minded people in their front office, so let's hope those voices play an important role in determining how the Browns make the pick that will help to shape their future. The Browns resolve to only take a quarterback if they can take one who was both accurate in college and succeeded correcting for the quality of his opposition. Following that resolution in 1999 could have averted the Tim Couch mistake and pushed the Browns towards a different player with a higher chance of succeeding in the NFL.

Since two Patriots fans write this column, we get to keep Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Co. out of our hypothetical playoffs. Mike Tomlin has been a very successful head coach who probably doesn't get enough credit overall, but there's no escaping his sometimes head-scratching strategic decisions. His horrendous clock management helped cost the Steelers their first game against the Bengals, a loss that may keep a potential Super Bowl contender out of the playoffs altogether. And Tomlin has been refreshingly creative with two-point conversions given the new rule, but his decisions generally defy logic, sometimes being aggressive at questionable times and other times passive (notably on fourth downs) when aggressiveness would be much better. For 2016, Mike Tomlin resolves to be easier to understand strategically.

The Scramble Fantasy Redraft Final Results

Sterling: I nearly lost my championship matchup this week because of DeAngelo Williams' ongoing Benjamin Button act, but you didn't actually need to play him or anyone else. My entire four-week point total still fell short of what you had compiled through three weeks. While Chris Ivory and Tyler Eifert saddled me for the past month here, I'm glad I didn't have to deal with them in my actual league, unlike the guy I went up against in said championship match.

Andrew: First, nice job slyly slipping in your fantasy championship there. I had to read that twice to confirm that you are indeed the champ. We're all very impressed.

Sterling: I see the holiday spirit does not preclude Andrew from calling out overcompensation when he sees it.

Scramble’s Fantasy Playoffs Results: Week 16
Position Team Andrew Week 16 Pts Team Sterling Week 16 Pts
QB1 Cam Newton, CAR (Group 6) 14.28 Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (Group 4) 3.80
QB2 Russell Wilson, SEA (Group 3) 19.46 Matthew Stafford, DET (Group 8) 21.14
RB1 Thomas Rawls, SEA (Group 9) 0.00 Adrian Peterson, MIN (Group 1) 17.90
RB2 DeAngelo Williams, PIT (Group 8) 27.30 Chris Ivory, NYJ (Group 5) 4.20
WR1 Antonio Brown, PIT (Group 1) 6.10 DeAndre Hopkins, HOU (Group 3) 17.70
WR2 Calvin Johnson, DET (Group 2) 13.70 Odell Beckham Jr., NYG (Group 2) 0.00
TE Greg Olsen, CAR (Group 4) 4.00 Tyler Eifert, CIN (Group 7) 0.00
FLEX Brandon Marshall, NYJ (Group 5) 23.50 Allen Robinson, JAC (Group 6) 21.10
D/ST Patriots (Group 7) 6.00 Bengals (Group 9) 4.00
Week 16 Total
Final Total

G.O.A.T. of the Year

It's great when a high pick like Antonio Brown or Rob Gronkowski fulfills expectations, but while hitting on premium draft selections can prevent you from bottoming out, they won't necessarily help you win your fantasy league. Indeed, almost all of the players most commonly owned on ESPN fantasy finalist teams were waiver-wire adds or late-round draft picks who turned into fantasy superstars.
But while a David Johnson or Doug Baldwin type may have pushed you over the top in November and December, they weren't year-long studs. On the other hand, Cam Newton and Devonta Freeman were both the top scorers at their position, yet could have been had in the ninth round or later. Cam, who is the most surprising QB points leader since Michael Vick in 2010, had extra value because of the boost he provided down the stretch. In the second half of the season (Week 9 on), Newton compiled 218.84 fantasy points, third-most for any quarterback all time.

Goat of the Year

Pick a first-round running back not named Adrian Peterson. Of the top 15 running backs by ESPN ADP, only four -- Peterson, Matt Forte, Lamar Miller, and LeSean McCoy -- finished the season in that range. And the other three were still headaches to own; Forte and McCoy have missed a combined six games to injuries, and all three have seen rookies steal touches, with Miller's workload especially impossible to predict.

Players like Le'veon Bell and Jamaal Charles were still extremely productive before suffering season-ending injuries no one could foresee, but underachievement was more rampant than it has been in recent memory. While Peterson, Bell, and Todd Gurley will still be top-five picks next year, the bankable production of top wide receivers is becoming hard to ignore. Come next August, it will be intriguing to see how many owners have the stomach to invest in a first-round running back again.

Super-Huge Mega Lock of the Week

The niece again loved Washington last week -- and was befuddled that they were three-point dogs against the awful Eagles -- and got another easy win. This week is a tough one, but she and her brother are laying three points with the Jets in Buffalo. She doesn't like Mario Williams' effort level and is unafraid of Rex Ryan's motivation to knock his former team out of the playoffs.

Our Record: 9-7
The Nephews and Niece: 5-1

Cinemax Presents: Exotic Propositions

For the first time, we're not highlighting a bet we like, but just one that's interesting. The Arizona Cardinals are now the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl at 3/1. Have the Cardinals ever been the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl other than during Super Bowl XLIII immediately after Larry Fitzgerald's fourth-quarter touchdown?

Loser League Update

Quarterback: The corpse formerly known as Matt Hasselbeck put up 4 points in his shortest outing of an injury-plagued season, and if you were bold enough to pick Hasselbeck at the start of the second half, you probably enjoyed a big advantage over the rest of the field. The other single-digit scorers were Ben Roethlisberger (7 points), Aaron Rodgers (7 points), and Eli Manning (9 points). Every other quarterback posted at least 13 points this week.

Running Back: Jay Ajayi finally received enough carries to avoid the 15-point penalty ... and ended up with a league-low 2 Loser League points. Five other backs -- Giovani Bernard, Chris Ivory, Ameer Abdullah, Chris Polk, and Duke Johnson -- followed behind with 3 points. Popular lineup picks Alfred Blue and Alfred Morris had 4 points apiece, so there's a solid chance you got nice production from at least one running back this week.

Wide Receiver: Ted Ginn Jr. was hobbled for most of Carolina's first loss of the season, but an incomplete pass on the Panthers' final drive got him to the minimum three-target threshold, making him one of three receivers this week to post 0 points. Josh Huff and Dorial Green-Beckham were the other two members of the goose egg club. Surprisingly, Green-Beckham was the only player not to catch a pass while receiving at least three targets, which explains the low number of 0-point outings from the position. However, 10 receivers did follow close behind with 1 point.

Kicker: After not missing a point-after for five seasons, Adam Vinatieri has now missed three this year. Obviously the extra point is different this year, but the miss made Vinatieri one of two kickers to end up in the red this year. Along with Dan Carpenter, who missed his fifth point-after this year, Vinatieri ended up with minus-1 Loser League points this week. Mason Crosby and Ryan Succop posted 0 points, after not attempting a single kick all game, while Greg Zuerlein matched that feat with his second missed PAT this year.

You can see full Week 16 results and Part II standings here.

John Fox Award

Did Mike Smith come back to Atlanta to coach the last two minutes against the Panthers? The Falcons could have essentially run out the clock with the ball on the Panthers' 40-yard line on second-and-13, up 17-13 with 1:44 left and Carolina out of timeouts. They almost unbelievably managed to pick up two offensive penalties (an illegal formation followed by a hold) that stopped the clock on each of the next two plays. Heck, Dan Quinn could have had the Falcons take two knees and called for a punt into the end zone that would have ended the game. The members of the John Fox Award Committee look at process, not results, and these meltdowns have only escaped greater notoriety because the Falcons got away with them when Cam Newton fumbled on the next possession.

Keep Choppin' Wood

Maybe Kirk Cousins just really needed the halftime bathroom break and couldn't bother waiting around for the field goal attempt.

This has to go to Cousins for doing the most Redskins thing ever, but in the spirit of the season, we'll cut Washington a bit of a break here. No, they're not getting completely off scot-free, but given how both Cousins and Washington have shed their perpetual loser label this season, we'll at least let them share KCW with Brandon McManus:

There's a beautiful piece of art out there waiting to be constructed, putting McManus' left shank and Mike Vanderjagt's infamous right shank together in some type of mirror image collage. The unintentional comedy here is also underrated, as Mike Tirico sounds as though he has suffered physical anguish while calling the miss. Considering how much physical anguish Washington has caused for its fans, it's only fitting that McManus must share this week's KCW with them.

Posted by: Andrew Healy and Sterling Xie on 31 Dec 2015

4 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2016, 6:47pm by apek


by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 12/31/2015 - 4:38pm

Thanks for a nice series of articles this year guys. Happy New Year to you both and the rest of The Outsiders

by Sixknots :: Fri, 01/01/2016 - 1:25am

Those New Year's Resolutions are pure gold. Good job!

by Sixknots :: Fri, 01/01/2016 - 1:34am

Someone needs to put together a gif of Cousins in that kneel down with a puff of blueish-brown stink coming out of the earhole of his helmet.

by apek :: Tue, 10/04/2016 - 6:47pm

There's a beautiful piece of art out there waiting to be constructed, putting McManus' left shank and Mike Vanderjagt's infamous right shank together in some https://apkdom.com of mirror image collage. The unintentional comedy here is also underrated, as Mike Tirico sounds as though he has suffered physical anguish while calling the miss.