In this article, I will detail the impact of four recent developments in the NFL and examine how these changes altered my model and impacted opinions on the fantasy and betting markets. Events played out so that this article will hit one player at QB, RB, WR, and TE, with the QB discussion, focused on Teddy Bridgewater winning the starting job in Denver (all other NFL QB competitions were addressed in an earlier Professor article during camp). While quarterback is the game’s marquee position, this article will start with the disastrous injury to J.K. Dobbins in Baltimore.
J.K. Dobbins Goes on IR with Torn ACL
When I build a model, my target is the mean expected outcome, so controls are put in place to cap projected yards per carry for certain players coming off seasons with production numbers that are difficult to sustain. In general, this cap is at 5.0, though there have been special cases that convinced me to push to 5.2 or 5.3.
I left Dobbins at 5.5 coming off a rookie season that saw him finish at 6.0 yards per carry. In a perfect season for Baltimore, I believed there was a chance that the upgraded offensive line could pave the way for the explosive Dobbins to push the 7.0 yards per carry mark in an offense that continues to evolve with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Instead, Baltimore got the opposite of a perfect season for their ascending star at running back.
The clear impact is that fellow running back Gus Edwards gets a boost in his carry share, but Edwards was already slated to handle a significant percentage of carries, and while he excels at what he does as a straight-ahead runner who thrives inside the tackles, his running style is not versatile enough to handle all the concepts Baltimore wants to run. Edwards will get a boost, but is likely to split carries with another back, and has not filled a significant role as a receiver in past years, so his boost in draft position needs to be kept in check.
Baltimore offers a favorable situation for any running back between the offensive line and the attention Jackson attracts, and third-year back Justice Hill could fill that role, but the Ravens are likely to aggressively work the waiver wire to find other options who could bring burst to this attack. That player will be a target as a low-cost player in the first week of DFS, so monitoring news out of Baltimore about whether that will be Hill will be critical in the run-up to the season.
On the team-wide front, this loss drops the Ravens in the model’s offensive rankings. It narrows the gap between Cleveland and Baltimore in the division; in my division preview, I had Baltimore with a 45% chance and Cleveland with a 35% chance, but this closes the gap to perhaps 42% – 38%, or 41% – 39%, with the slight edge to Baltimore. Talk all you want about the value of running backs, but the Ravens just lost one of their three most dangerous offensive weapons. FanDuel has Baltimore at +115 (46.51% break-even) and Cleveland at +155 (39.22%), so while it’s not a huge value, I’ll put my money on Cleveland at these odds.
Teddy Bridgewater wins starting QB job in Denver
Teddy Bridgewater secured the starting job in Denver after he was traded by the Carolina team that signed him to a significant contract going into the 2020 season. After Bridgewater threw 15 touchdowns in 15 starts, the Panthers decided to move on.
The first tape I saw of Bridgewater came in his days at Louisville in a Bowl Game against Florida. Gators linebacker Jon Bostic took Bridgewater’s head off in the first few minutes on a hit that would likely get a player completely kicked out of the NFL under the current rules, but Bridgewater bounced right back. I was struck by how well he played the game from the neck up for a college player: he showed a great feel for moving through progressions, making subtle movements in the pocket to find clean throwing platforms, and was a sound decision-maker.
Bridgewater’s limitations started to show up at his Pro Day when he struggled to throw spirals without a glove on. Pro Days are typically irrelevant, but in a league with Josh Allens and Matthew Staffords, Bridgewater’s lack of easy arm talent always put a ceiling on his potential.
This decision indicates Broncos head coach Vic Fangio wants to put the team’s fortunes on the back of the defense while they minimize risk on offense. Bridgewater’s presence in the starting lineup makes all of Denver’s offensive weapons slightly less attractive options in fantasy. His accuracy in the short to intermediate areas will allow for catch and run opportunities, but don’t expect him to push the ball downfield consistently.
Denver’s outlook narrows, but isn’t affected in terms of average. The Broncos are at best the third team in the AFC West and are likely to finish between six and ten wins with Bridgewater at quarterback. That range might have opened up to five to eleven wins with the possibility that Drew Lock would take a step forward and maximize the talent Denver has at the skill positions, but this decision is evidence that Lock’s potential step forward didn’t happen during the offseason.
T.Y. Hilton Injures Neck
The Colts have recently had positive news on the injury front for quarterback Carson Wentz and left guard Quenton Nelson, but they suffered a blow when veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton went down with a neck injury.
Fortunately, this injury is only expected to keep Hilton out for the early portion of the season, and third-year receiver Parris Campbell is currently healthy. Campbell is a long, explosive receiver who can replace Hilton as the over-the-top threat in this offense. The Colts need Campbell to buck his injury history, but he may be a more dynamic receiver than Hilton at this point in their respective careers.
The short-term nature of the injury and Campbell’s presence means that this doesn’t affect Indy’s long-term outlook, but it creates a highly intriguing possibility for Week 1 of DFS. If Carson Wentz is ready to go against the Seahawks, I’m building a mini-value stack with Wentz and Campbell against a Seattle secondary that could be atrocious. This defense has posted putrid numbers when Jamal Adams blitzes, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wentz connect with Campbell behind the Seahawks defense on a third down.
Irv Smith Jr. Meniscus Injury
Irv Smith Jr. suffered a meniscus injury that will keep him out of the early portion of the season, a disappointing setback for a player set to take on an expanded role after the departure of fellow tight end Kyle Rudolph.
I haven’t been as high on Smith as others due to questions about whether he would fill Rudolph’s inline tight end role or cede those duties to Tyler Conklin, but this robs Minnesota of the fourth weapon in their offense and doesn’t make life easier for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
With Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen at his disposal, Cousins should be able to keep the Vikings offense on track while Smith is down, but there are fantasy owners who will have to adjust with Smith unavailable. The Vikings do not have another tight end with Smith’s route-running ability and would need a player to come out of nowhere to emerge as a fantasy threat, so I suggest owners look to the West Coast, where Chargers tight end Jared Cook and Rams tight end Tyler Higbee come in as draftable players in my projections but are often not selected. Cook, who quarterback Justin Herbert and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has raved about, would be my pick.
This article examined four recent NFL moves and their impact on the fantasy and gambling markets. Similar articles will be available next week as the preseason ends and final cuts give more clarity to roster construction across the NFL as we approach the opener. For more content from the Professor, check out the BeerLife Sports website.