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Back to School

The Hard Bargain: Getting Back

by Dave Stewart

We made it.

The Hall of Fame Game has been played, kicking off the NFL Preseason. Football is back now that we have seen players in full uniform on the field again. Football returning also means fall is coming. For kids and parents, that means one thing: summer vacation is ending.

This year, we’ve had a fun one filled with barbecues, swimming pools and fireworks. However, the trips to the library or the ice cream shop will soon be replaced by teachers to meet, lunches to be packed and school buses to catch. This busy changing of seasons is all too familiar for many parents, and I am not referring merely to the shopping trips to collect pencils, notebooks and new outfits for school.

The return to school brings a major change in daily routines and schedules. Pickups and drop-offs must be arranged if not on that bus, and how to occupy post-school hours must be planned. It truly is a major shift.

Back to School

In my house, the start of the upcoming school year is particularly unique. Having begun their formal education during the COVID-19 Pandemic, my twin daughters, “the Sneaky Girls,” have yet to experience in-person learning.

Nearly 93 percent of children completed some form of distance learning during the pandemic.

They’ve completed both their kindergarten and first-grade years via online virtual classrooms. Now, as they prepare to set foot on campus for the first time, we are coming to grips with the emotional nature of the moment. I have been a stay-at-home dad for the last six years and spent nearly every day with these two kids.

Now that they are going to be out of the house for a significant portion of the day, I expect to feel lonely without them. Honestly, I have not had much time to myself in the last six years. I have essentially forgotten what that is like. After a talk about what school will be like, one of the girls told me she would miss me. They have no idea how much I will miss them too.

My kids are scared yet excited. I understand what it’s like to be frightened and nervous about a new experience. Crazy thoughts keep running through my head about how this is going to be the first step in them living their own lives. I feel like they have been a bit sheltered, and now they are little birds leaving the nest.

I know how smart they are. My confidence is high that they will succeed in the classroom. I worry about their emotional state; Will they get along with the other kids? Are they going to like being at school? Honestly, I think I worry about it more than they do. That is probably for the best, though. I wouldn’t want to send them to school fraught with anxiety.

I am honestly jealous of the parents who have done this enough that it’s become an old hat. I am something of a frazzled knot over here. I wish there were some comfort in returning to normal. But that’s my issue. This has never been our normal.

Returning to Previous Form

Speaking of returning to normal, or at least returning to a previous form for fantasy purposes, I have identified a few players eager for a bit more comfort this year. These players may have slipped last season from their 2020 finish and are looking to climb back closer to the prior year’s results. If you believe in their ability to do so, most of these players may prove a bargain for you.

Matt Ryan (QB, Indianapolis Colts)

Matt Ryan was a top-12 quarterback in 2020 and slid to QB20 last season. Both years he was under center for the Atlanta Falcons, and this year things have changed, as Ryan is suiting up for the Indianapolis Colts.

Matt Ryan has thrown 30+ TDs in three different seasons.

One thing that has not changed is that he will be playing home games indoors, keeping him out of the elements for half the season. A lack of wind and rain never hurt any quarterback. The Colts have some exciting weapons in the passing game, with emerging star Michael Pittman and running back Nyheim Hines as their most reliable options. But players like Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin and Mo Alie-Cox all have impressive physical profiles and could certainly add some punch to the air attack. 

We do know Indianapolis plans to be a run-heavy unit, with now third-year man Jonathan Taylor proving to be a dominant force in the running game. Ryan will need to make the most of his efficiency this season to have a chance to return to top-12 territory.

Last season, Ryan’s 3.6 percent touchdown rate was one of the worst of his career. Should he regress closer to his 4.2 percent rate in 2020, or better yet, his career rate of 4.6 percent, his fantasy prospects improve immediately. Ryan did improve his completion percentage (67.1) last season over 2020 (64.1.) He will need to surpass 4,000 yards and have more than the 20 touchdowns he put up in 2021 to regain his fantasy form. Still, his current Average Draft Position (ADP) is 167 per ESPN or the 22nd quarterback off the board.

Chase Claypool (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers)

Chase Claypool raised eyebrows this offseason by claiming he viewed himself as a top-three receiver in the NFL. While it may have been a lofty evaluation, it may have been better received if he had said it following his rookie campaign in 2020. He did not finish in the top three then. However, he did find himself filling a WR2 role for fantasy managers, ending his year as WR23 in (Points Per Reception) PPR scoring.

2021 had him backsliding to a WR41 finish. Claypool is another candidate for positive touchdown regression after scoring only twice last season. His overall numbers were pretty similar from year one to year two except for the end zone trips. As a rookie, he caught nine touchdown passes and added a pair of scores on the ground. While nobody seriously expects him to return to an 8.3 percent touchdown rate like in 2020, his 1.9 percent rate from last year is equally unsustainable. It was one of the lowest in the league among players with 100+ targets.

I understand the Steelers’ quarterback situation appears to be a mess. In fairness, it has been pretty messy since Claypool entered the league. Only Jared Goff had a lower Average Depth of Target (ADoT) among starting quarterbacks than Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger also had one of the lowest touchdown rates among quarterbacks. There is much room for improvement from the Steelers’ quarterbacks. Claypool is a good value in drafts, taken as the 46th wide receiver with an ESPN ADP of 121.

James Robinson (RB, Jacksonville Jaguars)

James Robinson was a breakout star as a rookie in 2020. He finished that season as PPR RB7. Last season, he dropped in scoring to RB25. This dip was largely due to inconsistent usage from a coaching staff that struggled mightily throughout the season. But he was an efficient runner, earning 4.7 Yards Per Carry (YPC) and gaining 70.3 percent of his yards after contact. Unlike the previous players mentioned, Robinson had a solid touchdown rate; his 4.9 percent rate was among the league’s best.  

Although James Robinson’s usage went down from 2020 to 2021, his efficiency increased slightly from 4.5 to 4.7 YPC.

The real concern for Robinson coming into the 2022 season is recovering from injury. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon in December. While it is uncertain when he will be at full strength, Robinson did not begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List. This is an encouraging sign that he will be ready for some level of participation from the beginning of the season.

Travis Etienne will be making his NFL debut, providing more competition in the backfield than Robinson has previously seen. However, Robinson is an excellent value in drafts. His ESPN ADP is 123. He is going in the 10th round of a 12-team league. It is hard to think that he will not return value from that spot.

No matter what you are getting back to in the coming weeks, be it school or just football, I hope it all goes well for you. Even if it does come with tears and fears, know that you will make it through even difficult adjustments and come out fine on the other side. I know I am fearful and a bit sad about seeing my girls off to school, but I am very proud of them and eager to see them take flight.

Life is hard, but it gets a little easier when we learn to lean on each other. Find me on Twitter @DaveFantasy for more life and fantasy sports content.

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