In Week 4 of this season, I wrote a “Love/Hate” column with this premise:
I sent a text to a bunch of my friends and colleagues here at ESPN and here’s what the text said:
Doing a goofy thing for my column tomorrow where I am asking various colleagues to ask me one question — a self-made interview, if you will — and I will answer them in my column with attribution.
So, if you have a moment, can you ask me one question? Ask anything you want … about me, about fantasy, about you, about literally anything you might be slightly curious about me or anything else. I’ll print under your name and answer. That cool?
I got so many amazing questions that, well, we had to cut some of them for length back in Week 4. But the column was well received and I wanted to do something light this week after the past few weeks. (Thank you again for all the messages that keep coming in. I will get to all of them eventually, I swear. It means so very much to me.)
Anyway, here are some more of the unedited questions I got back and my responses.
Eric Karabell (ESPN Senior Writer, Fantasy Hall of Famer): If your child said he or she wanted to follow your footsteps into the fantasy life as writer and personality, what would you say?
TMR: Great question. The boys all play fantasy, though none seem obsessed with it the way I was when I was 14 (and playing in my first game). Obviously, I would support them as much as possible and tell them I would help however I could. But you want your kids to be happy and I have to believe entering this field, where people have such a strong opinion of me (both positive and negative), would be tough on anyone with my last name. So I’d warn them about that, I’d tell them they need to be great, because there is certainly a lot more competition, and analysis has gotten far more advanced than when I was starting out (and while my name might get them in the door, if they aren’t any good they won’t last long). And finally, I would tell them to read this column I wrote a few years ago about how to break into the industry.
Trey Wingo (NFL Live host, upcoming Golic & Wingo radio show, voice of a robot on an ESPN2 show I like a lot): What was your favorite line that you ever wrote for any of the shows that you worked on?
TMR: Another tough one. I spent 15 years in Hollywood and wrote on more than 100 episodes of sitcoms, plus a lot of movies that never got made (and, ahem, one that did). A lot of it runs together. The two things I co-wrote overall that I loved the most was a pilot for a reboot of “The Muppet Show” — I am a Muppet freak. Maybe you’ve seen a show recently that seems to be inspired by it. I wrote about that here — and a screenplay called “Undercover Elvis,” which was an action comedy with the following premise: “What if all the crazy insane stuff you know about Elvis actually makes sense once you realize he’s actually the world’s greatest secret agent?” We wrote it more than 15 years ago, before similar ideas came about and we got universal praise for the script at the time.
But my favorite line that I can remember is a dumb one. We were in the writer’s room for “Married … With Children” and we were doing a scene between Al and Griff (who worked at the show store with him). It was an insult-off, each of them going back and forth with each other, each insult more outrageous than the last. And we couldn’t get out of it, because the lines were so good it led to this point where you couldn’t go past and we couldn’t just end it. We were so stumped, especially since there are only so many insults you can use. We must have been on that joke for an hour, the whole room pitching different insults to end this scene. Eventually, I pitched, after Griff and Al deliver a string of amazing insults back and forth, this happens:
Griff (stumped): Oh yeah? Well … your mama.
Al: My wife!
So, so dumb and yet, cracks me up to this day. Brought the house down on show night, too.
Tedy Bruschi (ESPN NFL Analyst, legend): In all the fantasy leagues you’ve been a part of, what victory gave you the best feeling?
TMR: There were some “expert” leagues while I was trying to establish myself and there have been some nice big-money wins before I got to ESPN (I don’t really play for money these days), including one that helped me buy my first wife an engagement ring, but probably the best feeling was winning the “ESPN War Room” league that we play here internally. Many of the faces you watch every day (Trey, Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Field Yates, Stephania Bell and so on), along with NFL producers and former NFL players. It’s a 16-team league and almost everyone in the league talks to players and coaches every day as part of their job. So it’s super competitive, it’s 16 teams and I’m just the guy with some nerdy stats. Because I’m the fantasy guy, I’m always the big target in every league I play in, so to win that league, against super-smart people who are great, plugged-in players that I have so much respect for? That was awesome.
Wendi Nix (NFL Live host): What would do for a living if you weren’t a fantasy analyst?
TMR: Well, I was a screenwriter in a previous life and I enjoyed aspects of that, but if it all went away today I would probably be an entrepreneur. I love the challenge of building something. I had a blast building my old Talented Mr. Roto site and I do it a bit on the side now with the Fantasy Life website and app. I really enjoy the challenges of that, so I’d probably do that. Also, weird, but I have this idea of one day writing a Broadway musical. Just a weird thing I’m sort of fascinated by, despite the fact I don’t write music. It would be a twist on the musical, of course, because my mind is wired weird, but yeah, that would be fun to try one day. Basically, I enjoy being creative and solving problems.
Kevin Neghandhi (SportsCenter anchor): What was your most satisfying sleeper pick of all time? (The one that you took a big gamble on and it turned out to be right.)
TMR: Tough one. Lots come to mind, including two recent ones that I’m particularly fond of. I was all-in on Kareem Hunt this year, even before Spencer Ware‘s injury, and last year I was hyping Terrelle Pryor in Cleveland (a QB-turned-WR? For the Browns?) and people thought I was nuts, but he wound up as a top-20 WR. But I’ve made a zillion calls, good and bad. So if I have to pick one, probably my favorite would be Week 5 of 2009. It is Sunday morning, we are on Fantasy Football Now and we get word that Cowboys WR Roy Williams was a surprise inactive. And I said people needed to pick up and start a young wideout they’d never heard of named Miles Austin. Talented kid, all he needed was a chance and today, against Kansas City, was his chance. All morning long, I’m out on a limb for him and this is fairly early in my ESPN career, so I am still trying to establish credibility. That day, Austin goes for 10 receptions, 250 yards and two touchdowns. Giddy up.
Dianna Russini (NFL reporter): Have you ever had an NFL athlete give you a hard time about your “predictions”?
TMR: Not that much, actually. Maybe it’s because I’m not around that many players or maybe they just don’t care (or understand) fantasy in a way to get upset. I’ve actually gotten more thanks from players who weren’t well known on the national stage and I would mention them or give them some pub. I can tell you that at different ESPN parties, both Steven Jackson (when he was with the Rams) and Matthew Stafford (early in his career) both have given me good-natured crap multiple times over the years about comments I made about them early in their careers. Both are great guys to meet in person.
Michael Smith (The Six): What’s your favorite thing to do with your kids?
TMR: Great question. I love doing anything with them … and it’s tough, because I have five. The 19-year-old is in college now, and now that’s he’s an adult, my wife and I actually love going to dinner with him and his longtime girlfriend. It’s nice to have more of a normal conversation rather than parent-to-kid type talk. The 17-year-old likes a lot of the same shows my wife and I do, so we often watch “Big Brother” (during the summer — Paul got jobbed!) together. The three of us now have another drama show we watch and love together, though I am not going to say which one, because we are two episodes behind and I don’t want you guys spoiling anything. Any time I can take the 13-year-old fishing or to a game is great. He’s an avid fisherman and sports freak, so whether it’s picking out a fishing rod or bait (I know nothing, he teaches me) or just seeing a game, that’s always fun. And with my twin daughters, who just turned 6, well, anything. They are still excited when I come home, you know? Happy to have me push them on a swing. Anything. Seeing the world through their eyes is always magical.
Michele Steele (ESPN reporter): I got my 23andMe results back recently. Do I have the musculature of an elite power athlete yes or no?
Michele: I have a genetic muscle composition common in ELITE POWER ATHLETES. I just want everyone to know.
TMR: This made me laugh. I love Michele Steele. I love all my friends, actually. Thank you to all who participated! And I still had some left over, so who knows … there may be a Part III at some point!
Let’s get to it. As always, thank you to Jacob Nitzberg of ESPN Stats & Information, and “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of ESPN Fantasy for their help. My weekly reminder that this column is written in the middle of the week, often before all the injury news and other mitigating factors are in, so please, always check my rankings on Sunday morning, as those are my definitive answers about who I would start over whom. This column is geared toward PPR leagues (ESPN’s default format) and is about players I believe will exceed or fall short of weekly expectations, whatever those may be. Here we go:
Quarterbacks I love in Week 8
Cam Newton, Panthers: In the very small sample size of Cam Newton after a 2017 news conference issue, he’s elite that weekend. Maybe he’s extra motivated, maybe he’s just a really good quarterback or maybe, just maybe, it’s one game we are cherry-picking. Real talk, however, is I like Cam this week against a Bucs squad that allows 20 points per game to opposing QBs. They’ve allowed top-four fantasy QB finishes to Eli Manning, Case Keenum and Carson Palmer this season, and part of their issue is getting to the QB. The Bucs are dead last in the NFL in pressure percentage, a number that is unlikely to get better after facing the mobile Newton. Not for nothing, but Cam is completing 66.5 percent of his passes this season when not under pressure. He’s coming off back-to-back games with 50-plus rushing yards, which makes him an easy top-six play for me this week.
Others receiving votes: You already were starting Carson Wentz in season-long leagues, but against a 49ers team that has given up the second-most yards per attempt the past five weeks, he’s worth paying for in DFS, too. … Jameis Winston is averaging more than 344 passing yards per game over his past four full games, and he should have another nice game against a Panthers squad that is blitzing at the second-highest rate in the league. Since the start of last season, Winston leads the NFL in touchdown passes against the blitz. … Tyrod Taylor certainly does not have the most talented receiving corps around, but that should be OK against a Raiders squad that is the only team in the NFL without an interception on defense, that has allowed 10 passing TDs and a 68.9 percent completion rate, fourth highest in the league. … Those going streaming this week should consider Andy Dalton, who has multiple touchdown passes in three of four games under Bill Lazor and gets a struggling Indy team that is allowing the second-most passing yards a game and sixth-most points to opposing quarterbacks during the same time frame (since Week 3). … If you’re still searching after Dalton, Case Keenum gets Cleveland, potentially Stefon Diggs back and the chance to impress London. You could do worse and probably have.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 8
It’s hard to hate anyone this week with so many guys banged up and six teams on a bye, but I will say, I am less enthused about …
Matt Ryan, Falcons: Disappointing is probably the kindest thing I could say about Ryan’s fantasy season so far, especially since he was drafted fourth among quarterbacks. Unfortunately, I don’t love his chances at a big game on Sunday. The game is on the road, where Ryan has traditionally played worse and while Josh McCown has been surprising everyone, you’ll never guess who else is not nearly as terrible as you think. Did you guess the Jets’ defense? You looked ahead, didn’t you? It’s the Jets’ defense that has the third-most interceptions this season and is allowing opponents to complete passes at the ninth-lowest rate in the NFL. Ryan has five (of six) games this season without multiple touchdown passes, so it’s hard to generate much excitement for him here. He’s merely a midtier QB2, even in a tough bye week.
Others receiving votes: Ben Roethlisberger certainly looked better last week than he has, but he’s not out of the woods yet. The Steelers hit the road to face the Lions (#RoadBen alert!), a team that has played pretty well at home this year (other than getting lit up by Cam Newton). The Lions are in the top 10 in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for this game. Big Ben is merely a QB2 until we see it with more consistency. … Even in a desperate week, I feel you’ll have better streaming options than Jacoby Brissett, who goes on the road to face a Bengals squad that is getting pressure on opposing QBs at the second-highest rate. Behind a shaky offensive line, that’s, what’s the phrase … not ideal.
Running backs I love in Week 8
Jay Ajayi, Dolphins: The always dangerous Thursday night guy, but I am putting him here because I am the only one of our rankers with Ajayi in the top five this week. So, by Friday morning I have a chance to be more wrong than others. During the past three weeks, Ajayi is tied with Melvin Gordon for the second-most touches in the league (behind Le’Veon Bell) and that volume should continue against a Ravens defense that has allowed a RB to reach double-digit fantasy points in each of the past six games, and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of the past four games.
Others receiving votes: You had me at San Francisco. I expect the Eagles to be up big in this game and running in the second half against a Niners squad that has allowed a running back to reach double-digit fantasy points in all seven games this season. In fact, the 10 total RBs to score double-digit fantasy points vs. San Francisco is the most in the league this season. So I expect both Wendell Smallwood — the 49ers have given up the most receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns to opposing running backs this year, too — and LeGarrette Blount (I think he scores) to be top-20 plays this week. … Speaking of bad defenses, the Colts have given up the most rushing touchdowns in the league this season, so, you know, Joe Mixon, if ever there were a week … Game flow should work in Mixon’s favor here as well. … With the passing game for Baltimore close to nonexistent and the Dolphins’ line playing well and getting pressure, expect even more quick dump-offs for Javorius Allen, who now has 31 catches in the past six weeks. The only running backs with more during that stretch: Christian McCaffrey and James White. … It’s always a little dangerous to trust a Patriots running back, but with 25 touches during the past two weeks, I’ll roll the dice with Dion Lewis as a flex play against a Chargers team allowing 4.9 yards per carry this season, second most in the NFL.
Running backs I hate in Week 8
Doug Martin, Buccaneers: Just like quarterbacks (or any position for that matter), it’s hard to really “hate” any running back matchup this week. It’s very ugly out there, so this week especially, anyone with a pulse, you know? But I have Martin just outside of my top 20 for the same reason I like Jameis Winston this week. I believe Tampa throws here, not runs, as the most rushing yards by a player vs. Carolina this season is 67 (LeGarrette Blount in Week 6). The Panthers have allowed the 10th-fewest yards per rush to opposing RBs this season (3.6) and the second-fewest yards before contact per carry to opposing RBs (1.32). Obviously there’s always a chance he scores, but Martin is merely a flex for me this week.
Others receiving votes: The most rushing yards by any player in a game against Cleveland this season is 66 (Javorius Allen in Week 2) and the Browns have allowed only two rushing touchdowns to running backs this season and none since Week 3, so I’m not sold on Latavius Murray‘s chances at a repeat performance this Sunday. Remember, Murray was averaging just 2.37 yards per carry prior to last week. … Even in a bye-week situation, I can’t see using any Seattle running back until we get some sign of success, so I’m trying to look elsewhere if I have Eddie Lacy or Thomas Rawls. … After being out-snapped last week by Marlon Mack, Frank Gore has expected game flow and a tough matchup with Cincy’s eighth-ranked run defense the past four weeks to contend with. … Man, it is brutal out there. Sorry I don’t have more names for you, but honestly … anyone with a pulse this week.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 8
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos: I know it’s been an up-and-down season for Thomas, but I like him quite a bit on Monday night. The Chiefs defense has allowed a league-high 13 wide receiver touchdowns this season, including 11 in just the past four weeks. With Emmanuel Sanders not playing or limited with injury, I expect an even heavier target share for Thomas, and, as Mike Clay points out in his excellent WR/CB matchup column, Thomas should run about half his routes against Terrance Mitchell, at least based on Thomas’ 2017 usage. Well, as Mike points out, players who have lined up against Mitchell have been targeted 69 times (second most), racked up 613 receiving yards (most), scored five touchdowns (second most) and have 127 fantasy points (most).
Others receiving votes: It’s been an inconsistent year for Alshon Jeffery as well, especially considering how well Wentz and the Eagles’ offense is playing. But Jeffery is worth the price in daily, as well against a Niners squad that has given up a receiving score to a wide receiver in six of seven games this season and has allowed four receivers to reach 100 yards. I’d say on Sunday, Jeffery has a good shot at making it five. … Speaking of good matchups, the Patriots have allowed a touchdown to an opposing tight end in five of seven games this season. With his snaps continuing to increase, I like the Chargers’ Hunter Henry this week as a top-10 play. … Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph is the latest winner of “who gets to play tight end against the Browns.”… Carolina’s Devin Funchess has cooled off a bit, but with at least eight targets in five straight games in a matchup you know I like Cam Newton in, I’m back on Funchess. … So far, Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t thrown that much, but against the Saints he’s probably gonna have to. Enter TE Zach Miller, who has received 12 of 42 targeted passes from Trubisky (28.6 percent), and when lining up in the slot this season, Miller has received 22 out of 54 targets. Small sample size and all, but that’s still a 40.7 percent target share against a Saints team that allows the third-most yards and touchdowns to the slot this season. Miller is firmly on the TE2 radar this week. … Assuming he plays, JuJu Smith-Schuster will see an increased target and snap share with Martavis Bryant not expected to play for Pittsburgh, and with CB Darius Slay having his hands full with Antonio Brown, JuJu should see some favorable coverage.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 8
For the last time, also slim pickings here with six teams off this week and, of the teams that are playing, many have bad quarterbacks, but:
Will Fuller V, Texans: Fuller has been red-hot since making his return to the field, but the scoring rate is unsustainable, considering the lack of targets he gets. Because he’s expected to play a lot of his snaps against Richard Sherman on Sunday, it doesn’t appear likely Fuller gets into the end zone against a Seahawks team that has allowed just four wide receiver scores in its past nine games, dating back to last year (ding!). In the past four weeks, Seattle is the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL, making Fuller merely a WR4 for me this week.
Others receiving votes: As you can tell, I’m down on the Colts this week, meaning it should be another long Sunday for T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, as the Bengals, among many other impressive stats, allow the lowest overall completion percentage to wide receivers this season. … The Bucs allow the seventh-fewest receptions per game to opposing tight ends this season. In fact, only two tight ends have more than two receptions in a game against them this season. The matchup, along with his recent quiet production, makes Ed Dickson a tough play as anything other than a touchdown-dependent TE2. … One of the Redskins’ pass-catchers will have a good game. I just don’t know who it will be, as Kirk Cousins spreads the ball around. So other than Jordan Reed, it’s hard to trust Terrelle Pryor Sr. or Jamison Crowder. I do like Josh Doctson, but until we see it, he’s hard to trust blindly. … What can I say? Very bleak week.
Defenses to consider streaming in Week 8
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is all Q&A’d out. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.