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27 Dec 2017

Scramble's 2017 All-Rookie Team

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball, and boy, what an exciting slate of games we had on Christmas Eve, right? All those ... points and those ... touchdowns. And when the guy threw the ball to the other guy, and he did that move, and still managed to get into the end zone? Absolutely astounding. Although that one controversial call really made you wonder why we watch this sport sometimes…

... OK, you caught me. I'm writing the intro for this article on Thursday, December 21, sitting in an airport terminal. It's the holiday season! Don't judge me!

Andrew: I remain embedded in the frozen wastes of northern Scotland, where even getting to an airport terminal is a treacherous task. Though navigating the snowy back roads of the Black Isle is still considerably less treacherous than navigating the NFC playoffs, which might contain the best-ranked quintet of defenses in a single conference's postseason in years -- five of the NFL's top nine pass defenses, as of the Week 15 DVOA ratings, will participate in the NFC playoffs. Give us the Seahawks instead of the Falcons -- which would mean six of the conference's top eight defenses make the postseason -- and cry havoc!

Bryan: It's just too bad we don't have, say, a Seahawks-Falcons matchup in Week 17. Or Titans-Chargers. Or even Bills-Ravens. Just something where both teams have massive implications on the line. Ah well. I suppose it gives people more to do on New Year's Eve.

Anyway! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season and got all kinds of new toys and gadgets to play with and scream at. I know Christmas isn't all about the presents, but c'mon, when you're 5 years old and you see your new Nintendo (or, uh, when you're 35 years old and you see your new Nintendo -- some things never change), that's always a blast.

Football teams, on the other hand, get their presents at the end of April with the NFL Draft! While some teams do end up getting lumps of coal in their stockings -- has anyone heard from John Ross? -- other teams, like Andrew's beloved New Orleans Saints, end up with the sort of gifts that could define a generation.

For the second straight year, we're combing through the ranks of the NFL to find our All-Rookie team. From first-round picks who have been more than advertised to undrafted free agents who have been diamonds in the rough, here are our picks for the best of the best of the youngest of the young NFL stars.

All-Rookie Offense


Andrew: No draft present was ever so valuable as a potential superstar quarterback, and Deshaun Watson looked to be exactly that before a knee injury curtailed his debut season. After taking over from Tom Savage halfway through Houston's first game, Watson took the league by storm, racking up more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns to six interceptions in only six starts. He still ranks 15th among qualifying passers with 484 DYAR, despite missing all of November and December, while his 22.0% DVOA ranks sixth. Alas, Watson's knee injury deprived him of the chance to shatter the rookie passing records, as had looked all but guaranteed at the end of October. Even so, his presence on the roster gives Texans fans a lot of reason for optimism in 2018.

Bryan: This was obviously going to be Watson, but it's worth noting that Mitchell Trubisky has been improving on a weekly basis in Chicago. Health is a skill, and Trubisky's availability is an asset. It just turns out that skill is more of a skill, so we go with Watson.

Running Back

Bryan: Alright, prepare yourself for paragraphs of Andrew squeeing about the Saints in 3, 2, 1…

Andrew: The great thing is I don't need to. Our friendly editor Vince Verhei, via the medium of Quick Reads, has squee'd more than enough for both of us this year. I will remain professional, and simply point out that Alvin Kamara now officially leads all running backs in rushing DYAR this season, as he finally broke the 100-carry barrier to qualify for our main leaderboard after Week 15. Kamara also leads all running backs in receiving DYAR this season, marking him as the most dangerous dual-threat back in the league. (EDITOR'S NOTE: After Week 16, Kamara now ranks second in both categories behind the Rams' Todd Gurley.) While Kareem Hunt would have been the obvious pick if this article had been written in October, Kamara's performance since the Adrian Peterson trade decluttered the Saints backfield makes him the clear and undoubted winner for the season as a whole -- and the leading candidate for the league's official Offensive Rookie of the Year award unless something drastic changes over the next few weeks.

Wide Receivers

Bryan: No one here is quite as obvious as Michael Thomas was last year, but there are a pair of receivers who have been performing at a high level all season long. In Pittsburgh, JuJu Smith-Schuster clawed his way up the depth chart, opening as the fourth wideout on the roster but passing both Eli Rogers and Martavis Bryant on his way to being a real force. Smith-Schuster is only 11th in DYAR, but is second in DVOA at 33.6% -- that's a better DVOA than what Michael Thomas was able to put up last season, albeit on about half the targets. Smith-Schuster's 11.2 yards per target are second to only Ted Ginn this season -- he'll be our big-play machine.

Next to him, we'll take the Rams' Cooper Kupp, who leads all rookie receivers in receptions and yards, and is second in yards per game only to Smith-Schuster. He's stepped up as Robert Woods has been out, with multiple 100-yard games, and has become Jared Goff's most trusted target in the red zone, with more than twice as many targets as Sammy Watkins. He's the most productive rookie receiver in Rams' history -- not bad for a third-round pick.

However, in the modern NFL, you need three receivers, which puts us in a little bit of a bind. At midseason, San Francisco's Trent Taylor was the only other rookie wideout with at least 20 receptions, which would have made him the choice rather by default. Fortunately, a couple more rookies have stepped to the forefront since then, giving us a bit more palatable options. Jacksonville's Keelan Cole has 715 yards on the season, with 668 of them coming since Week 7. He has taken every advantage of Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns' absences. He has easily passed Dede Westbrook on the depth chart -- and Westbrook was a fourth round pick. Cole's a UDFA out of Kentucky Wesleyan who didn't even warrant a mention in Football Outsiders Almanac 2017, which should remind people that draft position doesn't guarantee production. Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin has also flashed when he has been given targets, which has happened far too infrequently in the Buccaneers' offense.

Tight Ends

Bryan: We went back and forward on this one for a while, with Andrew arguing that two rookie tight ends deserved nods, and couldn't we just run a Kyle Shanahan-esque two-tight end system? In the end, we forced him to only select one, however.

Andrew: Bryan omits one small detail: he didn't seem to think that any of the rookie tight ends particularly deserved a spot. I suspect he was trying to free up a spot for Trent Taylor, hoping to operate a run-and-shoot offense with four wide receivers. Personally, I much prefer the flexibility of a two-tight end base package.

It is probably not apparent from our tight end DYAR table that Evan Engram in having a historic rookie season for the Giants -- and I do mean historic in a good way. Tight ends tend to be relatively unproductive as rookies regardless of how good they are later. Engram's rookie year has outproduced, in terms of sheer raw numbers, any and every rookie tight end of the past 15 years, whether Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen or, uh, Tim Wright. Since Jeremy Shockey finished his rookie season with 894 yards receiving in 2002, only one other rookie tight end has managed even 600 yards: John Carlson had 627 in 2008. Engram has 722 yards with one game left to play, which is by far the highest total since Shockey -- and in fact, only four yards short of John Mackey (of the 1963 Baltimore Colts) for fifth on the all-time list. His 64 receptions are also the third-most of all time for a rookie tight end, and his six touchdown catches tie for sixth.

And yet, we aren't going to give Engram our All-Rookie spot. His advanced statistics are very poor: at the time of writing, Engram ranks 37th at his position in DYAR and 31st in DVOA. His raw yardage totals are undoubtedly inflated by spending most of this season as the last man standing amid the wreckage of the Giants receiving corps. Eli Manning's passes have to go somewhere, and when that somewhere isn't the hands of NFC East defensive backs, at least one of his receivers has to benefit. This season, that just happens to be Engram.

Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard, on the other hand, had a legitimately good season as a dual-threat tight end in an offense where he struggled at times -- as expected -- to accumulate targets. Howard has a top-ten receiving DYAR, and the same number of touchdowns as his Giants counterpart. He adds much greater value as a blocker, more of a Jason Witten to Engram's Jimmy Graham. His conventional numbers are lower in part because he is competing with Cameron Brate for playing time in the Buccaneers offense, and of course he is now on injured reserve with an ankle injury he suffered while scoring his sixth receiving touchdown. Engram is the one you may notice in future years because of the raw numbers, but up until Week 15 Howard was having the superior year on the field.

Offensive Line

Andrew: This season treated us to a rare thing: a first-round offensive lineman drafted as a right tackle, intended to play as a right tackle, being put at right tackle and kept at right tackle regardless of injuries on the left end of the line.

Bryan: What an astonishing concept! Play players at their position, and they perform better. Shocking!

Andrew: Ryan Ramczyk's excellent year demonstrates the value of putting a player in his best position and keeping him there, even if injuries tempt the coaching staff to move him to a more traditionally important spot. Ramczyk had a borderline Pro Bowl campaign as a rookie, and looks to have locked up that spot for the Saints for the foreseeable future. It may have cost Brandin Cooks to get him, but that now looks like startlingly good value from a trade that was widely questioned at the time.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Some bad news for the guys; Ramczyk actually was forced to play left tackle in three of the first four games of the year. The Saints were able to move him back to the right side once Terron Armstead was healthy, though they also chose not to play him on the left side when Armstead missed a game later in the year.)

The left tackle spot is more of a contest. Bryan was impressed by Dion Dawkins of the Buffalo Bills, while Garett Bolles is one of the few Broncos offensive players to emerge from this season with much credit. Neither has made as much impact for a playoff team as Cam Robinson of the Jaguars, however. Remember when Jacksonville had a terrible line that made offensive production all but impossible, even when accounting for the quarterback? Quietly, the Jaguars have had one of the better units in the league this year: 11th by adjusted line yards, and fifth in adjusted sack rate. Robinson is a big part of that success, the second-round draft pick slotting in immediately and helping Jaguars fans and coaches forget all about the messy Branden Albert situation this past offseason. Like others on this list, he is now injured -- who isn't this year? -- but unlike most, he has a playoff game to look forward to when he gets back.

Bryan: Sadly, we're not nearly as spoiled for choice when it comes to interior linemen. At guard, our hands are very much tied -- only two rookies have started more than three games at the position this year. So congratulations to the Chargers' Dan Feeney and the Seahawks' Ethan Pocic; you're our All-Rookie guards by default!

Feeney would have a fighting chance even in a more competitive year. Ben Muth, our offensive line expert, has regularly highlighted Feeney's impressive play ever since he replaced the injured Matt Slauson -- about as impressive as you could expect someone getting their first NFL action to be. Pocic, on the other hand, is very rarely trusted to handle his guy one-on-one, and generally gives up a lot of pass pressures when he is left alone. To be entirely fair to Pocic, he was a center in college, the Seahawks announced he'd be moving to tackle when they drafted him, and he was forced into guard when Luke Joeckel needed surgery. There's positional versatility and then there's being shunted around a line all willy-nilly.

Andrew: If there's one thing guaranteed to put an athlete off his game, it's a nilly willy.

Our final offensive lineman is a major part of the Vikings' offensive resurgence this campaign. Pat Elflein is far from the only addition the wannabe Norsefolk made this past offseason, but he is certainly one of the most important. A 14-game starter at center in his rookie season, Elflein has helped secure the interior of a line that somehow ranks third in adjusted sack rate after being completely retooled following last season's debacle. The rushing statistics are less impressive -- 27th on runs to the middle or guard spots -- but Elflein has drawn rave reviews for his work, particularly in the screen game. A mobile player who fits the philosophy of offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Elflein can be overpowered on interior runs but makes up for it elsewhere with his mobility. He may be relatively unheralded, but he has made a big impression in his debut season.

All-Rookie Defense

Interior Linemen

Bryan: It has mostly been a lost season for the Giants, but Dalvin Tomlinson is one of the few highlights the team can take away. If it's possible for a star at Alabama to slide under the draft radar, Tomlinson did just that, falling to the second round as the seventh member of the Crimson Tide to be selected. (So, Alabama's pretty good at that whole college football thing, huh?) Tomlinson has a 78 percent stop rate, which leads all rookie linemen, and has given up a tiny 1.7 yards per carry on his run tackles. Perhaps the highest praise we can give him is that he looks like he belongs next to Damon Harrison, one of the top interior linemen in the game today. He has been an upgrade over Johnathan Hankins, who isn't exactly a slouch himself.

For the other slot, we know that the Browns don't have any "real players," per new general manager John Dorsey, but as far as fictional players go, Larry Ogunjobi has been really good! Charles McDonald already raved about him, and the Browns' entire developing front line, in a great Film Room piece I highly recommend you read. Ogunjobi needs to be sat down this offseason with The Big Book Of Defensive Lineman Technique if he wants to go from good to great, but his athleticism; his ability to blow his man up, displacing him from his position; and his general explosiveness are all plus attributes that bode very well going forward. This spot might have gone to Jonathan Allen, who was having a great month-and-a-half in Washington before suffering a Lisfranc injury, but Ogunjobi has made more of an impact this season, just because he has been healthy. San Francisco's Solomon Thomas was another consideration -- from Andrew, for once! -- but while he has shown flashes of the player he can be, he is not on Ogunjobi's level quite yet.

Edge Rushers

Bryan: Again, apparently not a "real player," but Myles Garrett has been worth the first overall pick for the Browns to this point. A lot is made out of his low sack total -- just five in nine games -- but that's really missing the larger point. He is in the top 20 in the NFL in QB hits and his 27 pressures are a very solid number for a rookie, showing that he is generating pressure and affecting plays, even if he has not always managed to finish plays himself. More importantly, he is constantly impacting the game by holding down the edge in run defense. He is someone for whom opposing offenses have to game-plan -- how often have the Browns had that in the past 10 years? If some Browns fans are less than pleased with his performance, well, it's understandable that 0-13 isn't fun to suffer through. But Garrett and Ogunjobi provide a heck of a foundation to build on going forwards.

There are plenty of options to join Garrett in our quest to make quarterbacks' lives miserable. T.J. Watt may be playing the most significant role for any of the other rookie edge rushers; playing 76 percent of the snaps on Pittsburgh's playoff-bound defense, Watt is already outshining 2015's first-round pick, Bud Dupree. Derek Barnett has also looked like a dangerous player in Philadelphia. We're going to give the mark to Cincinnati's Carl Lawson, however, who has been a heck of a value for a fourth-round pick. He is leading all rookies in sacks and pressures, and showing impressive power and aggressiveness. The injury concerns that caused him to drop seem, so far, unfounded.


Bryan: San Francisco's Reuben Foster is an Alfa Romeo. Car enthusiasts will rave about how amazing Alfas are, how they're the ideal Italian car, how they epitomize everything they love about the driving experience -- and how they break down every 300 miles. Foster is much the same way. When he's on the field, Foster is already the best player on San Francisco's roster and a top-five interior linebacker in the league. He does everything you could possibly want a linebacker to do. He's a sideline-to-sideline thumper against the run who sniffs out lanes and destroys them. He's also a big part of the reason San Francisco's 31st-ranked pass defense ranks third against tight ends. On the other hand, he missed five games earlier in the season with an ankle sprain, has needed trainer attention in all but one other game, and had the injury concerns in college that allowed him to fall to the end of the first round. When healthy, Foster is a beast; 49ers fans just hope he can remain healthy going forward.

The other linebacker slot is a little more competitive, but we're going with the Texans' Zach Cunningham. With Brian Cushing suspended for 10 games, Cunningham has stepped up and played some very solid football, especially in run defense; his eight rush defeats through Week 14 have him tied for 13th among inside linebackers this season, and he has a 94 percent stop rate against the run. Fifth-round pick Matt Milano has been exceeding expectations in Buffalo, but Cunningham has been the more important player, so he gets the nod.


Andrew: If our rookie defensive front seven looks solid, our secondary is outstanding. Marshon Lattimore, Tre'Davious White, and Desmond King would be one of the best defensive cornerback trios in the league regardless of experience. Lattimore in particular has not only stepped into a starting role for the Saints, but has had a borderline All-Pro season for what, lest we forget, was the worst defense in football over the previous three years. Though the Saints have upgraded at several spots on that defense, Lattimore has had by far the biggest impact and is already being spoken of as a true shutdown man-for-man cornerback. A Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season is testament to the remarkable impact he has made in a very short period of time.

Over in Buffalo, White is also having an excellent season: four interceptions, 18 pass deflections, 11 defeats (as of Week 14), and a stop rate of 53 percent. White has more than adequately replaced Stephon Gilmore as the No. 1 cornerback on the best defense in the AFC East, and would have been a deserving Pro Bowl selection but for some very tough competition in the AFC's deepest roster spot.

Desmond King would serve us, as he does the Chargers, in the slot. King allows a mere 6.1 yards per pass target, a rounding error behind Bradley Roby for the tenth-best figure in the league. His 15 defeats are tied for sixth-most among cornerbacks. Casey Hayward is still the top cornerback for the Chargers, but King has made a significant impact for DVOA's sixth-ranked pass defense in what remains the league's least-recognized starting role.


Andrew: If the top end of the rookie cornerback pool is relatively obvious, the safety spots are more hotly contested. Strong safety in particular sees a number of excellent candidates: John Johnson of the Los Angeles Rams and Eddie Jackson of the Chicago Bears both have persuasive cases for selection, while Buccaneers safety Justin Evans impressed more as he gained playing time throughout the year. The cream of the crop, however, is Jets first-round pick Jamal Adams. Adams not only leads this year's safety class in tackles and defeats; he actually leads this year's entire draft class in both statistics. He has the highest stop rate among rookie safeties, and in fact the third-highest stop rate among all safeties this season. He also had the second-most defeats among all safeties, as of Week 14. The one weakness in his game is ball skills -- Adams has missed a number of opportunities to haul in his first interception -- but he makes up for that with consistent tackling and a studied understanding of where to be and when to be there.

At free safety, we eventually settled on another first-round pick, this time in Indianapolis. Malik Hooker had the Colts fans excited from the moment he fell to them as the 15th overall selection, and made an instant impression with three interceptions in his first four games. As the deepest safety in a talent-deficient defense, Hooker was often tasked with covering for the mistakes of others in front of him -- his average tackle has come after a league-worst 15.8 yards allowed per play -- but he performed that task with distinction until he tore his ACL and MCL against the Jaguars in Week 7. Marcus Williams of the Saints has gained ground on Hooker since, but has never quite reached the heights of Hooker's performance from the opening two months of the season.

Special Teams

Bryan: Unlike last season's two-way race, we have a surprisingly robust collection of rookie kickers to choose from -- eight kickers made their NFL debut this season! Philadelphia's Jake Elliott has had the most impressive and longest-range kicks; his 16 field goals of 40 yards or longer are fourth-most in the league. By our numbers, however, Harrison Butker of the Chiefs has been more valuable on field goals and the league's absolute best on kickoffs. He also has been more accurate, was named as an AFC Pro Bowl alternate, and set a franchise record with 23 consecutive made field goals before his first miss. Plus, he has BY FAR the better Twitter handle. @Buttkicker7? Yeah, that puts you over the top.

We named Indianapolis' Rigoberto Sanchez as our AFC Pro Bowl punter, so we had better stick him on our All-Rookie team. The Colts have a fairly significant lead in our punting statistics. Some of that is due to an above-average coverage unit -- Sanchez has had 19 punts downed, two more than anyone else in the league, and opponents have just 83 return yards on 77 punts -- but a significant portion of that is due to Sanchez's leg and placement. He makes his coverage team's job a lot easier.

For returners, we're going with Ryan Switzer of Dallas and Jamal Agnew of Detroit. They're the rookie leaders in kick return and punt return yards, respectively. Switzer is also the rookie leader in total return yards, while Agnew's two punt return touchdowns leads the NFL. Two other rookies -- Tarik Cohen of Chicago and Adoree' Jackson of Tennessee -- deserve some acknowledgement as well, but on a per-touch basis, Switzer and Agnew have been the superior duo.

All-Rookie Coaching Staff

Andrew: As for the coaching staff, our head coach at least is obvious: Sean McVay is not only the pick of the rookie head coaches, he is the leading candidate for Coach of the Year for the work he has done with the Los Angeles Rams. Jared Goff is reborn under McVay, the defense is much improved by the shrewd hire of Wade Phillips, and the Rams are in the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade less than a year after a 4-12 finish.

Our rookie offensive coordinator is John Morton, who has overseen a career year for Josh McCown to drag a talent-starved New York Jets offense to the low end of the middle of the pack. Despite having to make chicken salad from the castoffs of better rosters, Morton's Jets had outperformed playoff contenders such as the Ravens, Titans, and Bills before the inevitable McCown injury forced Bryce Petty into the starting lineup.

On the defensive side, Texans coordinator Mike Vrabel is already drawing attention as a potential head coaching candidate for the job he has done in Houston. Despite losing his best cornerback during the offseason, a starting linebacker to suspension, then two of his best three players to injury in the opening weeks of the season, Vrabel has kept the Texans defense together just enough to rank 20th in overall DVOA and a very solid sixth against the run. So high has his stock risen, it would be something of a surprise not to see Vrabel offered a head coaching job in what is expected to be a very busy offseason of coaching changes.

* * * * *

Bryan: So there you have it! An All-Rookie team from a very solid rookie class. If push came to shove, I do think I'd take last year's team in a head-to-head battle. This year, however, has the superior defense, especially in the secondary. I don't know! It would be a good matchup. The future of the league is in good hands.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: A pair of hop-a-long boots and a pistol that shoots would almost certainly make you more accurate than DeShone Kizer, who appears to be destined to be just another in the long list of Browns quarterbacks to fade into the woodwork as they continue their never-ending quest to find a franchise passer. Kizer is the first quarterback in NFL history to lose his first 14 starts, and while he doesn't have much offensive talent around him, he's not exactly free from blame. The latest exhibit? A 182-yard, two-interception day against the Chicago Bears. That's 5 loser league points.

Running Back: The Chargers-Jets game demonstrated multiple ways to earn Loser League "success." You could get stuffed all day, like Branden Oliver and his eight-carry, 9-yard day. Or, you could fumble in the red zone, just like Matt Forte! EIther way will get you 0 points.

Wide Receiver: On the 11th day of Christmas, my Loser gave to me 11 goose egg-layers: Corey Coleman, Torrey Smith, Bennie Fowler, Brandon LaFell, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Michael Crabtree, Rashard Higgins, Geronimo Allison, Eli Rogers, Willie Snead and a partridge in a pear tree.

Kicker: Make your extra points, kickers! We're looking at YOU, Mike Nugent -- you missed one extra point and didn't even get the chance to kick a field goal to make up for it. Fortunately, the Bears were playing the Browns, so none of that mattered. -3 points.

Check your team's score and the Part II leaderboard here!


Keep Choppin' Wood: It is not overstating the case to suggest that Dak Prescott may have thrown the single worst interception of the season against the Seattle Seahawks this past weekend. Facing second-and-7 at his own 29-yard line, Prescott took the snap, felt pressure, turned to his left, then bounced up off his feet to loop a pass attempt over the lineman in his way -- and, less fortunately, way over the head of Ezekiel Elliott. The pass flew straight to Justin Coleman, who returned it 30 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and a lead the Seahawks would never relinquish.

John Fox Todd Bowles Award for Conservatism: Everybody knows that you don't beat the Patriots in Foxborough with field goals. It has passed beyond insight into the realms of cliche. You certainly do not beat the Patriots in Foxborough by attempting 50-yard field goals in December, on fourth-and-1, while trailing by seven points in the fourth quarter. The Bills tried exactly that, the field goal attempt never had a chance -- it missed both short and wide -- and the Patriots added another 14 points anyway.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: Atlanta's visit to New Orleans was ultimately not much of a contest, as the Falcons fell behind big in part due to fumbles and interceptions. At the start, though, the game looked set to be much tighter, and the coaches played their hands accordingly. Dan Quinn even had his Falcons go for a fourth down in their own territory in the first half, but the conversion was undone by a false start against fullback Derrick Coleman. Later in the quarter, the Saints also went for a fourth down, this time in field goal range, and converted despite a botched handoff. Both teams were aggressive early, though a player mistake meant it only worked out for one of them.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: Um, Jason Garrett. Were you, uh, unaware that Ezekiel Elliott was coming back from his suspension in Week 16? Or did you think that the suspension still held in the red zone? Midway through the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had a first-and-goal from the Seattle 3-yard line, trailing 21-12. Elliott had been running strong up to that point in the game, gaining at least two yards on 22 of his first 24 carries. You would think giving him the ball at least once at the goal line would have been a wise strategy. Garrett and Scott Linehan thought otherwise, dialing up a read-option, a rollout that drew an offensive holding call, a sack, a short pass, and a missed field goal. The Cowboys never scored again.

'Christmas Miracle' Fantasy Player of the Week: Entering play in Week 16, Jakeem Grant had six receptions and 70 yards on his career. He's a special teamer, a gadget-play guy primarily, not a fantasy option. If you were gutsy enough to put him in your starting lineup in your championship game, we can just call you Nostradamus. Grant nabbed four passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, with most of his value coming on a wide receiver screen which, courtesy of a couple missed tackles, turned into a 65-yard scamper. That made him WR2 on the day, frustrating those of us who started someone like Brandin Cooks or Michael Thomas instead. Fantasy football is dumb, you guys!

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: Oh, you didn't watch the Denver-Washington barnburner? I can't imagine why that wouldn't be on top of your viewing queue, or that you'd have anything better to do on December 24. If you found yourself slightly too busy to catch this one, Denver had roughly no offense all day long. About the closest thing they had to an offense was C.J. Anderson, who continues to chip away towards his first career thousand-yard season. This included a touchdown and a two-point conversion deep into garbage time, down 27-3 with less than two minutes left in the game, pushing him over 20 fantasy points in a game that was never, ever competitive. Great for your fantasy championship, though!

'Comfort in Sadness' Stat of the Week: The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants were both shut out in Week 16, bringing this season's total number of shutouts into double figures. A few fun statistics from those ten shutout losses:

  • Eli Manning has the most passing yards, with 263. Josh McCown and Bryce Petty combined for the fewest, with 60.
  • Brett Hundley's six sacks against the Ravens were the most allowed in a shutout, followed by Trevor Siemian's five against the Chargers
  • Jamaal Williams had both the highest (58) and second-highest (57) rushing yardage totals, in losses to the Vikings and Ravens, respectively.
  • Davante Adams had 126 receiving yards when the Packers were shut out by the Ravens. No other player had more than 74 receiving yards (A.J. Green, also against Baltimore) in a shutout loss.
  • Seven of those shutout losses saw the losing team fail to even attempt a field goal.
  • The Indianapolis Colts somehow lost 27-0 to the Jaguars despite not committing a single turnover or attempting a single field goal. They became only the seventh team to achieve that feat since 1979, but all seven have occurred in the past 12 seasons.

I'm not sure any of that is particularly comforting, but we found it interesting.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: K.J. Wright had been held without an interception since 2012. He was coming off of a nasty concussion that cost him a game. He was bedridden in his hotel on Saturday thanks to a nasty bout of food poisoning. And then he just goes ahead and saves Seattle's season. No big deal.

We could have gone with nearly any of Dallas' struggles in Seattle territory here, up to and including Dan Bailey's missed 34-yard field goal. But hats off to Wright for fighting through everything and keeping the Seahawks alive.

Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Andrew: Picking Week 17 games is a fool's errand, even more than picking games in any normal week. The Cowboys are favorites in Philadelphia, because the Eagles have nothing to play for. The Broncos are favored over the Chiefs for similar reasons. The Titans should beat the Jaguars, as the Titans need the win and the Jaguars don't. The Patriots are massive 16-point favorites over the Jets, and the line does not look at all unreasonable. Pittsburgh's game against Cleveland probably comes down to what's happening in New England at halftime. That leaves me looking at the L.A. Rams (minus-4) against San Francisco, when Jimmy Garoppolo falls back to Earth. But I wouldn't be putting real money on anything that might happen in Week 17.

Bryan: Gosh darn it, Andrew, I was going to make the same pick. Well, I'm trailing and need to get some results to go my way in order to catch you, so I'd better go elsewhere on the board. I know Philadelphia doesn't have anything to play for, but they certainly want to go into the playoffs with a little bit of extra mojo. So I'm expecting a full start from Nick Foles and key offensive pieces as they try to bounce back from a rather disappointing win over Oakland. I wouldn't be surprised to see LeGarrette Blount and Malcolm Jenkins on limited snap counts, but you might see everyone else with a full runout. And if that's so, Philadelphia (plus-2.5) against Dallas would be a bit too heavily weighted towards a team that couldn't win with everything on the line.

Records to date:
Andrew: 9-6
Bryan: 7-8


We're getting down to the wire here, with just three slots left to claim. The paucity of spots available means Week 17 is lacking a lot of individual game drama, but we'll squeeze every drop of pathos out of this stone anyway.

Elimination #14: Detroit (eliminated when they lost to Cincinnati): It turns out falling behind by three scores and hoping that Matthew Stafford can rocket you back to victory week in and week out may not be the most sustainable strategy ever created.

Elimination #15: Miami (eliminated when they lost to Kansas City): There was a time when the Dolphins were 4-2 and their fans were insisting that DVOA had it all wrong; that they had a special sauce in Miami that would make their collection of last-second and fluky wins sustainable throughout the season. Oddly, we didn't hear much from them in the second half of the season.

Elimination #16: Oakland (eliminated when Kansas City beat Miami): No mtaer. No way Raiders shiusk be 16fh. Good chance team will win supre bowl LIII. we all will see soon. (We love you, RaiderJoe).

Elimination #17: Dallas (eliminated when they lost to Seattle): So, the Packers stay alive until Aaron Rodgers returns, only to get eliminated in his first game back. And the Cowboys stay alive until Ezekiel Elliott returns, only to get eliminated in his first game back. Football is weird, man.

There's really no sense listing elimination scenarios this week -- clinching scenarios are everywhere, and Week 17 clinching scenarios are too mainstream. Instead, here's a look at each seed, as well as our Scramble For The Ball Interestometer (patent pending)


No. 1 and No. 2 Seeds: New England or Pittsburgh

While the Patriots and Steelers have wrapped these up, the exact order -- and potential home-field advantage in an AFC Championship Game -- is still up in the air thanks to New England's surprise loss to Miami in Week 14. The Patriots will wrap up the top seed if they can handle the Jets at home, which seems like about as safe a bet as you can get. If they do slip up, however, the Steelers could pip them at the line with a win, at home, against Cleveland -- another fairly safe outcome. Both teams will have to go all out, but expecting a sudden change might be too much. Interestometer: 2/10

No. 3 and No. 4 Seeds: Jacksonville and Kansas City

These seeds are already in the can, meaning we might get to see Patrick Mahomes' NFL debut. Jacksonville's game is slightly more interesting -- they play the Titans, who are still in the playoff hunt. That means they could, theoretically, help pick their opponent with a strategic win or loss. Kansas City is just trying to avoid injury against Denver. Interestometer: 0/10.

No. 5 Seed: Baltimore, Tennessee, or Buffalo:

Even though Jacksonville is one of the least consistent (good) teams in the NFL, we think we'd rather face off against the Chiefs than that terrific Jacksonville defense, making the 5 seed a juicy prize. This is a fairly easy race to get your head around, too, with a clear hierarchy. If the Ravens beat the Bengals at home, they win the fifth seed. If they lose and the Titans beat the Jaguars at home, then Tennessee earns the spot. If the Titans lose but the Bills beat the Dolphins on the road, then Buffalo will get the fifth seed. If all three teams lose, it reverts back to Baltimore. We saw Cincinnati knock off Detroit so anything is possible, but Baltimore is the better team and should hold on here. Interestometer: 3/10

No. 6 Seed: Baltimore, Tennessee, L.A. Chargers, or Buffalo

Now we're talking! Permutations, contests and the like, let's do this. One of these three teams will win the 5 seed, so they'll be taken out of this race entirely. If Baltimore fails to get the fifth seed, they'll almost certainly pick this one up -- they would just need either the Titans or Bills to lose, so even a loss to the Bengals probably doesn't knock them out. The Titans control their own fate here, so they're in if they can beat Jacksonville. That means they're very, very thankful that Pittsburgh handled their business on Christmas Day; Jacksonville has nothing to play for, making them an easier opponent.

After that it gets tricky. The Bills are in if they beat the Dolphins and the Ravens lose to the Bengals -- unless that means Baltimore gets the fifth seed instead when coupled with a Titans loss.. The Chargers are in if they beat the Raiders while the Titans and either the Bills or Ravens lose. The Titans hold on if both the Bills and Chargers fall.

You know, hold on a sec. This is the sort of thing that calls for … A CHART.

If I were a betting man, I'd say the Ravens and Chargers grab the last two slots, but this is wild enough with enough permutations that nearly anything can happen in that 4:25 Eastern window. The only way this would be better is if there was even one game between these four teams. Alas. Interestometer: 9/10


No. 1 Seed: Philadelphia

The Eagles' last-minute win over the Raiders means they locked up home-field advantage with a week to spare. The only drama now is how much they'll play their starters -- do they give Nick Foles another game to ease into action, or see what Nate Sudfeld could do in an emergency? This is not a particularly interesting dilemma. Interestometer: 0/10

No. 2 Seed: Minnesota or Carolina

This is locked up in all but the most wild scenarios. For the Panthers to pass the Vikings, they would need first to beat the Falcons, who are still fighting to get into the playoffs. Then, they would need the Vikings to lose to the Bears, which would put both teams at 12-4 and give Carolina the head-to-head tiebreaker. Perfect right? Well, no. The Panthers still need to win the NFC South, which would require the Saints to lose to the Buccaneers. Then, they would also need the Rams to lose to the 49ers to avoid a three-way tie at 12-4, which would negate their head-to-head victory and give Minnesota the bye based on their superior conference record. So, what I'm saying is, there's a chance!. Interestometer: 1/10

No. 3 Seed: Minnesota, L.A. Rams, New Orleans, or Carolina

The larger number of teams involved makes this seem exciting, but it's really going to be the Rams, barring one major surprise or another. They clinch it with a win over San Francisco or losses by both the Panthers and the Saints. Otherwise, it's a bit more hazy. Carolina stealing the bye week would knock Minnesota down to the 3 seed. A Panthers win coupled with losses by the Rams and Saints (but not the Vikings) would give Carolina the 3 seed. A Saints win with a Rams loss would give the Saints the 3 seed. A lot of this is academic; no one's likely to go all out to try to get the difference between the three or the four. Interestometer: 2/10

No. 4 Seed: L.A. Rams, New Orleans, or Carolina

This, and the fifth seed, really comes down to who wins the NFC South. Yes, the Rams could fall here with a loss and a win by either the Panthers or Buccaneers, but what we really have here is a good old-fashioned divisional title race. If the Saints can handle the Buccaneers, they're the NFC South champs. If they falter, however, and the Panthers can beat a desperate Falcons team, then it'll be the Panthers getting crowned. Fairly interesting that it's last year's third- and fourth-place teams battling it out for a slot. It would be more interesting, though, if the loser was going home. Interestometer: 3/10

No. 5 Seed: New Orleans or Carolina

Again, this is Carolina unless they win and the Saints lose. Either way, we're probably seeing a Saints-Panthers game in the wild-card round; the only thing really at stake is who gets to host it. Interestometer: 2/10

No. 6 Seed: Atlanta or Seattle

This is more like it, and it's too bad the two teams can't be playing head-to-head. Both teams are sitting at 9-6, but the Falcons hold the tiebreaker thanks to their Week 11 victory on Monday Night Football . You remember; it was a high-scoring game that just missed going to overtime when the Seahawks settled for a long field goal attempt which Blair Walsh ended up kicking well short. As a result of that, the Falcons are in as the sixth seed as long as they can beat Carolina. That's far from a gimme putt, however, with the Panthers still playing for the division -- meaning that the Seahawks have a real chance if they can beat the dead and buried Cardinals at home. It's not quite as exciting as the AFC wild-card race because fewer teams are involved, but the quality of play is going to be higher here. Oddly, this is also happening in the late game-window, meaning the most interesting thing going on in the early games is the race for home field in the AFC. Exciting. Interestometer: 8/10

Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, rookie snubs, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 27 Dec 2017

19 comments, Last at 30 Dec 2017, 6:14pm by mehllageman56


by SFC B :: Wed, 12/27/2017 - 4:05pm

I'm sorry, even with playoff implications on the line I cannot muster any excitement for Russel Wilson's Scrambling Show vs. the Cardinals.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 12/27/2017 - 9:32pm

That's still better than trying to get excited for the second best Brett in Packers history every week

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 9:49am


Brett Goode has been the Packers long snapper since 2008.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 12/29/2017 - 12:33pm

I'm going to assume there have probably been multiple beer or sausage concession vendors named "Brett", all of whom have been undoubtedly better at their jobs than Mr. Hundley.

by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 12/29/2017 - 2:21pm

I have to admit I wanted the Jets to draft Hundley when they picked Bryce Petty. Given how both of them have played this year, I don't know why I cared.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Fri, 12/29/2017 - 2:45pm

I really, really want to see Christian Hackenberg play...if only out of morbid curiosity. We live in a world in which Nathan Peterman got a start!

by mehllageman56 :: Sat, 12/30/2017 - 6:14pm

I thought Nathan Peterman was a decent prospect. What do I know?

by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 12/27/2017 - 10:32pm

The excitement comes from having that on, picture-in-picture with the Falcons/Panthers game!

by Jerry :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 4:15am

Isn't Cleveland's quest for perfection the most exciting game this weekend?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 9:47am

Once again, Cleveland is just copying an earlier, better Detroit failure.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 10:51am

But they do have the opportunity to go for three years in a row of unmatched futility which keeping Hue Jackson seems to assist.

Believe the 2007-09 Rams held the modern (16-game) record for fewest wins in three years with six. Even if the Browns win against Pittsburgh they'll still only have since 2015.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 1:51pm

Did the Rams beat Detroit's 5-43 stretch from 2007-2010?

They never should have won that head-to-head game.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 2:17pm

Setting arbitrary beginning and end points in the middle of seasons is cheating.

Speaking of cheating, this years Browns, with the FO "tanking", kind of cheated when it comes to chasing 0-16. Matt Millen, on the other hand, truly thought his team could be a contender in 2008, and was actively trying to field a good team!

by Bryan Knowles :: Thu, 12/28/2017 - 3:06pm

Possibly! Wasn't really enough room in the column to get to them, though, and we've smacked the Browns around enough this year :)

by rich006 :: Fri, 12/29/2017 - 9:09am

Lock of the week: Saints over Bucs. Saints are playing for the right to host a playoff game in the Superdome, and Bucs are playing for...Dirk Koetter's right to remain employed? Here the better team also has more to play for.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 12/29/2017 - 12:35pm

Agreed. The Bucs against the Saints in Tampa is often more of a toss-up, but in the Superdome, it's usually ugly. The Saints have a reason to play, and the Bucs are down a whole bunch of starters. Their problem isn't starting-quality talent in most positions (DE, and, well, almost the entire secondary being genuinely bad), but they're still a team greatly lacking depth. They're going to get stomped by the Saints.

by BJR :: Fri, 12/29/2017 - 1:34pm

The Saints are indeed heavily favored, but the situation is no different to several others over recent weeks with a good team with lots to play for facing a losing team out of contention. The Bucs have actually been much more competitive than I expected recently, playing Atlanta and Carolina right down to the final play of the game, covering the spread on both occasions. I generally don't like the 'mailing it in' angle for teams out of contention, and see no reason the Bucs will be doing so in in front of their own fans on Sunday.

by Bryan Knowles :: Fri, 12/29/2017 - 1:42pm

Plus, if you're looking for narrative, "costing a division rival a plum playoff spot" is a pretty good motivation!

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Sat, 12/30/2017 - 2:15pm

To steal a joke: Welcome Back, Koetter!