My impending departure from the NFL has pushed me into a period of profound reflection. From having my work read by millions to appearing on NFL Network to attending two Super Bowls with my dad, this has been an unbelievable opportunity that I'll forever look back on fondly.
However, I'm not writing this article as a retrospective on my "glory" days with the NFL. Who would want to read that? (Answer: No one.) No, I figured one of my final columns for NFL Fantasy should be something special.
That's why this is not a "look at my cool job" or "thanks for the memories" self-aggrandizing post. Rather, it's a chance to celebrate our shared pain, misery, and some "oh my word I'd forgotten about him" memories.
To the archives!
Throwing coal in the Toby Gerhart hype train fire
For many analysts, the writing was on the wall for Adrian Peterson's longtime backup, Toby Gerhart, to fulfill this prophecy and bring balance to the fantasy force once he signed a $10.5 million-dollar deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, Gerhart was a Heisman Trophy runner-up who flashed in limited opportunities with the Vikings. He was athletic, had fresh legs, and the Jaguars coaches were salivating over Gerhart in the offseason press:
» "He's a horse ... I talked to one of his former (position) coaches, and he was saying Toby had the strongest legs he's been around in terms of his leg drive and leg power." -- running backs coach Terry Richardson.
» "Toby has the ability to do it all. He can catch it well. He can pass protect well, and he's going to be in the game a lot -- third down, base downs, short-yardage, passing downs." -- offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
» "He'll get the bulk of the carries and he'll be a great asset." -- GM Dave Caldwell.
» "He has the ability to play all three downs. If he's a guy that is carrying it 15-16 times and with third-down reps, 18 times. That's feasible. A strong possibility." -- head coach Gus Bradley.
"He's not going to be the sexiest pick in fantasy drafts, but at the end of the year, who cares how a running back racked up 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns? As long as those points are heading to your fantasy bank, it doesn't matter if they came spectacularly or on a barrage of four-yard face plants."
Yikes. As you may remember, Gerhart suffered from a combo of nagging injuries and general ineffectiveness. He averaged a paltry 3.2 yards per carry in 2014, amassing 326 rushing yards and just two rushing touchdowns. He was out-rushed by both Blake Bortles and DENARD ROBINSON. Woof. The team drafted T.J. Yeldon next spring while more ailments eventually forced Gerhart to injured reserve. He was cut the following offseason and hasn't returned to the field since.
34-yeard old Andre Johnson with the Colts will be fantasy gold
I'm still mad at myself or this one. All offseason I told myself that I wasn't going to buy into the Andre Johnson fantasy hype. His receptions, yards, and catch percentage had decreased in three consecutive years. He was 34 years old. The Colts had other options (T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Frank Gore). Why should we expect this aging superstar to suddenly turn back the clock in the literal twilight of his career?
However, the NFL offseason is a long and unrelenting beast. Slowly over the subsequent months, I was beaten into submission. By fall I finally opened my arms and let the Johnson bounce-back narrative wash over me. It was warm. It was familiar. Visions of No. 80 (now No. 81 with the Colts) pushing for 1,000-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns danced through my head. I mean, look at the trash I published on this website:
"Too old. Washed up. Past his prime. Yada yada yada. The narratives surrounding Andre Johnson have gone on far too long -- longer than a George R.R. Martin book."
Flip-flopping like a politician thirsty for a new voter demographic. My word. Somehow it got worse:
"Johnson is currently being drafted as the 20th wide receiver in NFL.com leagues (sixth round ADP), behind DeSean Jackson and Julian Edelman. I like Johnson more than both of them this year. He's motivated, wants a ring, and is playing with the best quarterback he's ever seen in his 12-year career. What's not to like?"
STUPID IDIOT! I should have trusted my initial assessment of the situation. Johnson put together a largely forgettable campaign (41 catches, 503 yards, four touchdowns). He did, however, exact some epic revenge on his former team by hauling in six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans. But that meant little to the fantasy players who drafted Dre with a likely sixth-round or earlier pick. Sigh.
Endless and unwarranted Ameer Abdullah hype
Metric-busting athleticism and eye-popping preseason/training camp highlights are a combo most fantasy analysts can't ignore, much like a 2-for-1 drink special at a local tavern. Back in the summer of 2015, Ameer Abdullah gave plenty of analysts, myself included, the equivalent of fantasy beer goggles. Abdullah blew up the NFL Scouting Combine and then dropped the "juke heard round the world" on us in the preseason. If you don't remember, refresh your memory with the video below. His ADP climbed several rounds as August inched closer to September and caused me to write this rubbish:
"All hail Ameer Abdullah, savior of the fantasy running backs! I jest, but seriously, we've loved Abdullah all offseason over here, so it was rewarding to see him embarrass the Jets defenders on several runs ... if you want Abdullah in drafts you're going to have to pay a high price for him (fourth-ish round, is my guess)."
When Abdullah spun All-Pro safety Eric Weddle out of his shoes in Week 1, it seemed as if all was going according to plan. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. That Week 1 game was the highlight of Abdullah's career. He's surpassed the 94 total yards he posted in his first NFL game just once (Week 4, 2017) and has scored eight touchdowns in the 31 games since he made a perennial Pro Bowler look foolish.
The worst part of this take for me was I just couldn't quit Abdullah. Despite diminishing touches, mounting injuries, and repeated proof that the coaching staff didn't trust him, I held onto my belief in Abdullah as if it was the only thing keeping me from falling to an untimely death.
"Abdullah is too talented to only see seven touches in a game, and the Lions will soon realize this. Hopefully, you can have him safely nestled on your bench before they do, so you can enjoy the breakout games that are sure to be coming for the talented Nebraska product."
My white whale: David Cobb
After a few tours of duty through NFL seasons as an analyst you become more comfortable and confident in your ability. As a result, the idea of finding "your guys" emerges as an exciting offseason prospect. Never was my confidence more misplaced than in a young running back from the University of Minnesota named David Cobb.
I was drawn to Cobb's size, style of running, and physical play from the Big Ten conference. He seemed like an underrated prospect who could find success at the next level, and I was more than willing to hitch my wagon to him early. The Titans backfield was lacking a true workhorse. Why couldn't Cobb be the answer?
I hyped him all offseason. Believed in him when he barely saw the field. Stayed committed to him through injuries. I even used one of my first TELEVISION appearances to pump up my guy. Cobb would reward my faith with two rushes for one yard that week. He finished his career with 146 yards, one touchdown and a 2.8-yards per carry average. So ... yeah.
My "Mark Wahlberg leaves the Super Bowl before the Pats comeback" moment: Trade away Devonta Freeman before his 2015 breakout
Before diving into this, one brief preface. Writing a weekly trade column forces you to put yourself out on a limb a bit. I can't sit in my cubicle and tell you to trade away third-tier fantasy players and expect you to take me seriously. I need to recommend big moves with potentially huge rewards via a convincing argument. However, I ran too far out onto this particular limb and went against my own prior analysis/judgment. (And for the record, yes I know Wahlberg claims he left the Super Bowl because his kid was upset, but color me skeptical. Also, I guess this is a second preface. Oh, well. Moving on!)
Devonta Freeman looked set to become the lead man in the Atlanta backfield in 2015 following the departure of Steven Jackson ... until newly minted offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan went and drafted Tevin Coleman in the third round. This was "his" guy, and he made that clear by giving Coleman the lion's share of the carries in the first two weeks before a rib injury sidelined the rookie. The following week, Freeman went out and dropped 193 total yards and three touchdowns on the unsuspecting Dallas Cowboys for a whopping 37.3 standard fantasy points.
After showering Freeman with praise in my trade column that week, I whipped up a whiff of truly epic proportions:
"If there were ever a time to parlay a massive game like Freeman's into trade bait, it's now. This is very likely the highest-scoring game Freeman will have this year (if not in his career). Use this heat/momentum to try and trade Freeman for a couple pieces to bolster your roster at positions of need while he's one of the hottest names in fantasy football."
The reasoning here was sound, and for the record that was the highest scoring fantasy game of his career, but man, did Freeman make me look like a fool the rest of the season. As you may remember, Freeman went on to be the highest scoring back in fantasy football, edging out second-place Adrian Peterson by a staggering 56-point margin in PPR formats. The worst part about this was I'd actually dropped Freeman briefly in my most important league after Week 1 to find an injury replacement and he was immediately scooped up. I had to watch helplessly all season as a player I loved wrecked the league from afar. Like most well-tempered adults, I used Twitter to express my feelings ... via the official NFL Fantasy handle.
Trade Wars Part Deux: A DangeRuss suggestion with dire consequences
Heading into the 2015 season, Russell Wilson was a top target for many fantasy analysts. He'd had three-straight top-12 finishes and was coming off a Super Bowl appearance. He was leading a talented team and offered dual-threat ability -- a huge advantage in fantasy. Despite all that, Wilson started off 2015 slowly, only finishing as a QB1 three times in his first 10 games. He'd put together consecutive solid efforts, so here's what I wrote with the fantasy trade deadline looming:
"With the offensive line in shambles and the passing game struggling, Wilson is a matchup-based starter for the rest of the season, and he has a few tougher matchups coming up (Pittsburgh, Minnesota). If you've been holding onto him this long, try to ship him off based on his recent hot streak and name value to get something back in return. You'll be more than able to survive the rest of the season streaming quarterbacks, starting with Brian Hoyer this week."
So ... about that. Starting in Week 12, against the aforementioned Steelers defense (which had been shutting down quarterbacks all season), Wilson started a three-week stretch of 30-plus point fantasy outings. He "came back to Earth" in Week 15 with a meager 26.6 fantasy points, and completely faceplanted with just 19.4 in Week 16 (the sixth-most by a quarterback that week). As for Brian Hoyer ... you know what, I've suffered enough in this section. Let's move along.
Small school. Big expectations. Monumental regrets: The Kenneth Dixon story
The 2016 running back rookie draft class was heralded as a "deep" group, headlined by Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry, but loaded with potential starters in the later rounds. For some reason, no back transfixed the fantasy community more than Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon. I fell head over heels for Dixon the prospect. When he landed with the Baltimore Ravens I jumped for joy. Justin Forsett was the starter, but he was aging and returning from a broken arm. Furthermore, there was little competition for touches in the rest of the backfield. Dixon's ascension seemed as sure as the sun setting in the West. He was the top deep sleeper I listed in my column that summer:
"At worst, I think (Dixon) mixes in on passing downs and the occasional series here or there. At best, Dixon is the most productive back in this offense and emerges as a nice fantasy option. I'm all about that type of upside when it comes to finding deep sleepers in fantasy drafts."
However, the football gods had other ideas. Dixon tore his MCL in the preseason, setting up Terrance West as the eventual lead back in Baltimore once Forsett was released after Week 3 (for the second time in roughly a month, but that's a different story). Despite West's performance, much of the fantasy world foolishly believed that Dixon would become the starter once he returned to action, ignoring constant signals otherwise. Remember, Dixon was a fourth-round pick from a small school coming off a preseason MCL injury. That doesn't exactly spell out "FANTASY STUD" in neon lights.
As the season wore on, the Dixon love turned into a unique form of self-parody, with each take rendered in support of the runner becoming more and more ludicrous. The madness got so out of control that Matt Harmon wrote an entire column about how the fantasy community basically ruined any fun left in supporting Dixon. I apologize to all of you, and Kenneth Dixon, for the role I played in that.
Boy oh boy were people MAD about this strange moment in NFL history. The rapture hit the Packers backfield in 2016 with injuries sidelining pretty much their entire running back corps in the blink of an eye. That forced the team, playing two games in five days, to play wide receiver Ty Montgomery at running back. Montgomery performed well, but mostly as a pass-catcher. In those two games, he caught 20 of 25 targets for 164 yards (while adding 66 rushing yards). He played nearly 75 percent of his snaps from the backfield as well, causing ESPN to give him RB/WR flexibility on their platform. Thousands of angry fantasy users wanted the same utility on our site. Unfortunately, our platform doesn't allow for a dual-position player like that. Plus, NFL.com has long stood by what the teams list on their official websites/rosters to decide positional disparities. This is not a perfect method, but it is one that's consistent and doesn't open up Pandora's Box in terms of player roles, positions and so on.
This uproar forced me to write this piece, explaining why Montgomery would remain a wide receiver on our site for now. People seemed to miss that last part. I was pummeled with comments for weeks on end by people claiming they'd never come back to NFL Fantasy because of this unforgivable transgression. Here's the rub though, Montgomery did nothing as a running back for the next several weeks. He missed Week 8 while suffering from his sickle cell trait, and then over the next five weeks (once some of the other backs returned to health), played a complementary role. Yes, that role was largely from the backfield (80.6 percent, to be exact), but he scraped together 225 total yards and no touchdowns in that span. Eventually, the team switched him to running back and so did we, just in time for his big game against the Bears (16 carries, 162 yards, two touchdowns). It was a Christmas miracle!
In the end, could we have made the switch immediately? Sure. We could have made him strictly a running back, which he is now, and none of this nonsense would have happened. But we didn't, and since I became the public face of this reasoning I'll forever be trolled about positional eligibility from here to eternity. I don't really think this was a mistake or whiff along the lines of the rest of this piece, but it wouldn't have felt right to exclude this wild portion of my fantasy career. Feel free to ask me about a defensive end's tight end eligibility the next time he scores on a trick play. It'll warm my cold, bitter heart.
Wow, what a journey. Re-living seven of the biggest whiffs, gaffes, and mistakes of my four-year run as a full-time fantasy analyst was quite the experience. Hopefully, this serves as a fitting end to my time at NFL Fantasy, as well as a pseudo-good-bye to all of you. Through all the ups and downs it's been an honor and a pleasure creating fantasy content for our loyal readers and listeners. I wish you all the best in your leagues this year. In return, I have two favors to ask all of you:
1) HAVE FUN
2) NEVER ANGRILY TWEET AT PLAYERS
And with that, I bid you all adieu.
*-- Alex Gelhar was the fantasy football editor for NFL Fantasy. You can still follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar where he'll continue to tweet too much about football, among other things. He thanks all of you from the bottom of his heart for reading his work and supporting him these last several years. *