2021 Dynasty/Fantasy Game Analysis Week 18: Browns 21, Bengals 16
The Browns sat some starters, while others played part of the game…and they went with Case Keenum at QB (as they should). They were playing like a team ready to get to their vacations.
The big question was – what would the Bengals do in this game with their starters? Most playoff teams in a position to sit starters Week 18, didn’t. Whether that was teams long since out of the race or even teams only playing for a minor seed change ran the risk of putting their guys out there in harm’s way and (for the playoff bound teams) not giving them a week of extra healing. I really applaud the Bengals for not getting caught up in that and them just sitting key players…in fact, they sat almost every starter.
I’m becoming a bigger and bigger Bengals fan by the day. I think they are the best team in the AFC playoffs, but it’s probably not their time yet due to a lack of experience even being in the playoffs. They should be the AFC favorites in 2022, even if they get bounced from the playoffs 1st-round this year. I can already tell you, my Super Bowl pick for the 2022 season is the Bengals…and we’ll see if free agency and/or the draft changes that thinking.
This game was not taken seriously by either team, but we did get a lot of fresh RBs getting extra work, especially for the Bengals. I was hoping Chris Evans would get more work and he did.
I’ve got five player notes below from this game, four of them concerning RBs.
One quick 2021 season ending team/coaching note – I should’ve known better on the Browns. I didn’t love them as much as everyone else did going into this season, but I still gave them respect…too much respect. I wasn’t a big Kevin Stefanski fan when he got the job, but then they had a sweet 2020 season and I thought maybe I was wrong…but 2021 has me back to ‘same old Browns’ thinking. With the Browns and Ravens and Steelers all fading away, it’s even more extra juice for the Bengals to dominate in 2022.
Fantasy Player Notes…
-- With this rewatch, I mostly wanted to see Chris Evans (7-35-0, 4-24-1/5) at work. He’s been hurt/out for a while as Mixon-Perine ran the show. Week 18 was an excellent time to let Evans get work. And again, I point out, this is what Week 18 is supposed to be for…for teams who have little/nothing to play for. Not ‘finishing strong’ B.S., which is the single most ridiculous thing in a league inundated with ridiculous things. You should be letting younger players who haven’t played as much during the season get extended work, to evaluate them when you can AND keep your stars out of games with nothing to play for to keep them safe.
By contrast, the first example off the top of my head…the Atlanta Falcons. Nothing to play for Week 18. Yet, Matt Ryan plays the entire game…the young backup QBs don’t see one snap. #3 RB Qadree Ollison gets ONE CARRY…and he takes it for a 19-yard TD run…and never sees another carry after. I mean, you have to have a mental deficiency as a coach to play a Week 18 that way – but it’s Arthur Smith, the mental deficiency has been on display all season, as well as the lack of any business or common sense being present. He just has a giant silver spoon sticking out of his ass from the opportunity he’s afforded (from birth to college to the NFL) by being a product of a wealthy family.
So, you might think I’m over-applauding something so nonsensical like ‘sitting starters’ and ‘playing backups’ – but that’s because you have a functioning brain. It’s so simple to us…but it’s not obvious to them. The NFL coaching staffs, and management live in a different world (and, thus, they all get fired every 2-3 years for their failures). NFL organizations want to ‘finish strong’ over managing assets.
Darrell Bevell, who has no chance of ever getting hired as an NFL head coach, he rolls out Trevor Lawrence (the supposed franchise) in Week 18 in hopes of getting a win and impressing management to get the Jacksonville job (which I can't blame him, what else does he got?)…so he puts players at risk in a meaningless game and then, even worse, he wins the game and almost costs his franchise the #1 pick – but what does Bevell care? He won’t be there next year or his only chance, to him, is if he wins this game), so everything is currently disposable to him. So, if Lawrence tore his ACL, Bevell doesn’t really care. Why wouldn’t the GM or management step in ahead of that? Why…because they want to ‘finish strong’, that’s why.
Where was I? Oh, Chris Evans looks really really good. I didn’t see much in him studying his Michigan tape pre-Draft 2021, and he had the career output to warrant that skepticism of him in college…but then he had a great Pro Day to at least open the door back up with me from an analytics/metrics scouting standpoint (hey, maybe Michigan was the problem…not Evans?)…and then he looked really good in the 2021 preseason…and then looked good in his 2021 regular season spots of work. I’m very impressed with what I see from Chris Evans. He is looking legit…looking like a guy who if Joe Mixon got hurt, Evans would step in and about put up the same kind of output. Evans kinda even looks and moves and plays like a slightly smaller Mixon.
When will Evans get a real chance to work in the NFL…who knows? Mixon is obviously not going anywhere soon…but if an RB injury arises…but top 5-10 pick RBs never get hurt in Fantasy Football, so who am I kidding?
-- But the best back, currently, in this game was D’Ernest Johnson (25-123-1, 1-10-0/1). He is so ready to be a lead back somewhere, but he will likely never get that chance on purpose. His instincts running the ball…his toughness, breaking tackles…in this game, excellent. He’s ready. But he’s an undrafted free agent, so he doesn’t get chances like the major conference duds who were drafted will get in the NFL.
Five things about D’Ernest come to mind here…
1) While many are patting me on the back for getting onto Rashaad Penny and D’Onta Foreman ahead of crowd this FF season, a.k.a. the two main RBs who helped take people to FF titles in 2021, there are some who keep saying/thinking that they only won their FF titles because of luck (in the form of Penny and/or Foreman). Some people are looking back on the season trying to figure out how they won their division/got a bye/won a title when their redraft early pick group got hurt/blew up (bad)…and they see Penny and Foreman as unplanned luck.
None of these ‘luck’ moves are luck. They were on purpose. Many of them came from years of watching preseason NFL and college scouting tape and not forgetting who they were, keeping tabs on them after everyone wrote them off…all the hours and hours and days and months of watching, noting, studying…you don’t know when or what player in what week it will pay-off on.
No greater example than D’Ernest Johnson. How many of you used him that Thursday night game midseason where he broke out with 100+ yard rushing and scored 20+ PPR points? I promoted/pushed him as a top 13-18 RB for the week. I knew from having watched him play the prior couple preseasons and reporting out/bellyaching that he deserved more of a chance and that some other team should grab him while he was on the Browns practice squad, as he was free to take by any NFL team years ago. I knew D’Ernest from scouting. I pushed D’Ernest that week he was getting a clear start without Chubb-Hunt. Everyone said, “Are you sure about this?” Many FF twitter analysts made fun of D’Ernest as a possible ‘start’ that week and/or they told people not to consider him as a start.
Many of your runs to a #1 seed/title this season were not just ‘lucky’ grabs of Penny and Foreman before everyone else, but you already forgot we used D’Ernest at just the right time ahead of everyone else too. It’s one thing to grab/roster the RB forced to play because all the ‘real’ RBs got hurt, so you take a chance on adding them…it’s another to go get them with a passion and then USE them at the right time.
Such a brilliant scouting call of the moment…and then I immediately said to turn on him/trade him after (unless you owned Chubb) because I also know NFL teams don’t give these guys opportunities when the ‘real’ starters are back, and now that all the pundits had ‘discovered’ D’Ernest AFTER his big game on cable television they were hot to trot on their new discovery…one you already had and used in their face ahead of them. And then trading him (if you could) during his media heat moment also ended up being the right call. We played it like a fiddle, from knowing the D’Ernest scouting/capabilities going in to knowing what the media reactions meant we should do after – and you may have already forgotten about it.
And those who dismissed the pickup/didn’t get to use the D’Ernest call that one week…you don’t know what I’m talking about because you didn’t feel it firsthand, so it’s not even a credit in my scouting account. So, I sound like an ass for beating my own chest over it – but these things matter. All the scouring of tape and data…when it pays off for such a time as this, it’s my favorite moment(s) of the season. Those that did use him…I don’t want us to forget that moment mattered in the tapestry that was the construct of a FF title this season.
People who didn’t win a title, and some who did, are doing an autopsy of the season and are fixated on all the things that went wrong that if only they drafted ____ in round one, and ____ in round two, etc., and making proclamations on letdown players like ‘I’ll never draft ____ again’. What you won’t likely remember in your 2021 season autopsy are all the little opportunities you had…little moves you made correctly, with urgency, to help fix the problems from a key injury or player disappointment, etc. You’ll ignore them or dismiss them as luck – which is a slap in the face to both of us. Finding opportunity isn’t contained to just the preseason draft. You draft 15-20+ players before the season starts…you then make 2-3-4x that in player transactions throughout the actual season. In-season adjustments and scouting matter as much/more than the preseason (re)draft.
Your support allows me to find and study and consider the D’Ernest Johnson’s and D’Onta Foreman’s way ahead of your competition. It’s easy to pick/debate between Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson…anyone can make a case for or against all the top names. The person who knows the least in your league can print off a free draft ranking off a website and land ‘names’, and then those names might go on to do great that season and don’t get hurt or COVID…while you studied for a billion hours and took Christian McCaffrey or J.K. Dobbins or Saquon Barkley or Calvin Ridley, etc. and it wasn’t so hot. But what those ‘free advice off the internet’ FF players don’t know/aren't reading about to consider is D’Ernest Johnson’s history and capabilities…until it’s too late, you already got them. You adjusted to fix mistakes, replace injuries, build depth…while everyone else usually goes as far as their original roster will take them.
Enjoy the Penny-Foreman run of 2021…but don’t forget about D’Ernest. These guys symbolize all that we’re about. All the work and study we put in. You had to consider the info and act upon it…that’s you job, you did that…it’s not ‘luck’. Gold miners process tons of square footage of dirt just to find little gold flecks. Same with football scouting. You have to process a lot of empty/useless dirt to find the little payoffs. I’m just the guy for the job. It’s your land…your gold mine…let me help you in the dirty work of digging up the earth looking for that treasure.
2) D’Ernest Johnson is the poster child for scouting analytics being worthless. Anyone who says that the Pro Day and Combine data is the best way to scout…would never find or know or believe in D’Ernest. I know, my computer scouting models didn’t like him at all coming out of college.
Is it better to scout via analytics/metrics or tape studying?
‘Neither’ is the answer. Both together is the answer…and you need time served doing both to understand how they are different and how they do work together. Random fan running a plot chart on air yards of WRs correlated to Fantasy performance for some website is nice…but it’s a small cog of a giant machine that needs experienced interpretation.
Ten+ years of learning…and learning something new every year within an ever changing NFL landscape – you can’t run a basic datapoint and go ‘see!’ on players/prospects. Sometimes it is that easy, but most times it is not. I knew D’Ernest because my computer data said he sucked as a NFL Draft prospect, but my trained/experienced eyes that watched EVERY preseason game saw something different to make me go back and reconsider.
Years of tilling soil paid off for just one week in 2021…and that may have been the difference of a midseason win or a loss, and eventually maybe the difference of a BYE or not a BYE, etc.
3) D’Ernest Johnson is a restricted free agent now, which means the Browns have to pay him really well to keep him another year…but NFL teams can make him offers as well, which if he is signed by another team the receiving team might have to cough up a draft pick in exchange. Depends upon how much of a tender Cleveland puts on him.
Cleveland will probably be forced to either put a ‘right of first refusal’ tender on him, which gives Cleveland the chance to match (and thus keep the player) any offer – but if they don’t match it, they lose the player with no compensation.
Cleveland could put a 2nd-round tender on DJ, and that comes with a big raise (for an RB) and if someone else signs him the Browns would get a 2nd-round pick. No team is paying D’Ernest AND giving up a 2nd-round pick to do it. Thus, the Browns just retained a running back for one more year at a very high cost…and they don’t need more RBs on their roster/payroll.
Johnson should refuse any contract extension offer from Cleveland outside of that because they will try to #3 RB lowball him. He should just wait it out, and he’ll probably get expensively (for an RB) buried on the Browns in some way for 2022…then goes to a true free agency in 2023. Guys like him usually take the bigger bump money now vs. betting on themselves in a year. A lot can happen in a year.
4) The situation might be such that the Browns pay Johnson decently, and then trade Kareem Hunt instead. Thus, D’Ernest is the new Hunt for the Browns working with Chubb.
One of D’Ernest or Hunt needs to go…and probably will. The Browns would have too much payroll into their backfield if they retain D’Ernest…like $15M+ worth of RB payroll. The Patriots will have less than $3M in their backfield and they had the better running game in 2021.
5) The final note…yes, Nick Chubb, who was not 100%, started for the Browns in this meaningless game and he played about 25% of it. Why? I have no idea, except to reiterate how stupid NFL head coaches are.
-- The Browns could have gotten Demetric Felton (1-6-0, 2-18-1/2) more touches out of the backfield in a game like this, but why let promising young players have more time when you can push banged up, expensive franchise backs in meaningless games instead?
I wanna say Felton will be the #3 back if needed in 2022, if/when one of Hunt or D’Ernest is gone…but that would be using logic. Felton looked like a real playmaker right off the bat for the Browns in 2021, and then he was barely used the rest of the season. Felton’s best game was Week 2 where he played 3 snaps, caught 2 passes, one of them a short pass where he ran through several defenders to score a long TD. That moment warranted no extra touches after that and no extra time in Week 18. Felton played 5 snaps this game…and scored another TD. Unbelievable.
Felton can play.
Kevin Stefanski is another typical ‘no business sense’ coach, classically/institutionally trained within the NFL system, with an Ivy League degree. He’s just like all the other coaches in the NFL. 2020 season was a blip.
-- Trayveon Williams (9-29-0, 1-4-0/2) got extra work here…the #4 RB getting way more work than Felton. I thought Williams had some hopes when I scouted him out of Texas A&M years ago, but he’s only clung on to a fringe roster spot for years with rare opportunity at touches. He missed his window. He’s not as good as Evans or D’Ernest or Felton (comparing the RBs in this game).
-- I watched every play Browns LB Clay Johnston (11 tackles) worked in this game, because I thought Johnston might have some NFL/IDP hope as a solid tackling, decent college prospect a couple years ago…but he is bouncing around the league every year.
I watched all his plays here, and I’ve watched him some in-season and his preseasons the past two years – he just doesn’t have ‘it’. I’m not watching anymore until he makes me somehow.
Snap Counts of Interest:
47 = D’Ernest
30 = Chris Evans
24 = Trayveon Williams
16 = Chubb
06 = Andy Janovich
05 = Felton
**College Football Metrics 2022…new season sign ups have begun**
The new season of CFM will be starting up in January, as always. A little different schedule this year as the NFL extended their season by a week and the Senior Bowl was bumped back a week as well. We should have a Senior Bowl, NFL Combine…it looks like it will be a normal scouting year!
The NFL Draft, Dynasty Rookie Draft, and regular season ahead rookie analysis all gets started through CFM in January with our usual season starter -- the past two years/2020-2021 Mock Rookie Draft re-do, along with in-depth Senior Bowl analysis, and full QB scouting reports and much more as we build towards the NFL Combine and all the other positional scouting reports. Football study never ends…
Thank you for your support of CFM for the past decade now…wow, time flies.