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On the fence with…Teddy Bridgewater

By Jake Linley-Brown (@JakeLB12)

Don’t call it a comeback!

Over the next few months on the Full 10 Yards, the British home of all things fantasy, I’m going to channel my inner 2011 Tom Brady and give all the spotlight pieces and semi-irrational opinions I can.

My first foray on the fantasy scene this summer begins now with my ‘On the Fence’ series.

For this series of articles, the focus will be on those players who divide opinion, those who offer good and bad (I know names are already firing up in your head). In other words, that player who makes you (metaphorically, I hope) sit on the fence.

First up? Teddy Two Gloves.


The Stats


YearAttemptsCompletionsCompletion %YardsTDINT
201919613367.9%1,38492
*These stats are from his 5 starts hence the smaller sample size. I doubt you care about the 1 pass attempt he made in Week 17.

Teddy Bridgewater has found a new home since we last saw him. He stayed in the division (the NFC South for those suffering with amnesia), but Carolina is now where he suits up on Sundays. Going into his 6th year in the league, the 27-year-old is about to get the keys to his own offense. But is he ready?


The Discussion


First, lets give credit where credit is due. The table above, albeit a small sample size, makes for decent reading. What’s even better is the fact that those 5 starts resulted in 5 wins; victories over the Cowboys (cheap dig) and the Seahawks are in there, too. Most of the stories and press at the time were mostly in agreement that Teddy was a more than capable QB and a worthy replacement for the injured Drew Brees. Fair assessment, I’d say.

Now for the caveat.

Were those numbers put up because the shackles were off? Was it because he knew this was only a short-term thing, and the pressure on him wasn’t the same? It’s hard to say. Since his injury plagued Viking years, one could argue if we’ve even seen the best of Bridgwater. A 2015 Pro Bowl vote seems like a long time ago.

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Fast forward to 2020 and here we are. Our boy Bridgwater is now following Matt Rhule’s orders, the new head coach of the Panthers who limped to 5-11 last season.

Joining Rhule is Joe Brady, the new Offensive Coordinator from LSU. Brady won the CFB last season when he was calling plays to a guy named Joe Burrow…the indication is that Teddy is in good hands. But are the new moving parts too much to handle? After all, these are 3 men effectively starting from scratch together. The preparation and practice will also be hindered this off season thanks to Covid-19, so it’s fair to say there’s a few hurdles to navigate.

Watch: Teddy Bridgewater's top plays from the 2019 season
Chuck Cook – USA Today Sports

However, if a QB ever needed a weapon to help with the settling in process, then you won’t get much better than Christian McCaffrey. The stalwart running back leads a cast of an offense with plenty of ability, which includes DJ Moore and newly signed Robby Anderson.

The biggest point to make here, and it’s vitally important in terms of fantasy production, is game script. I’m no mind reader but I don’t expect the woeful 2019 Panthers defence to make a giant leap forward. The strength of schedule is at .500, which is kind of fitting considering the name of this article, and no it wasn’t deliberate. But there’ll be opportunities here for Teddy to put some nice numbers up. Other times like going on the road to Kansas, Minnesota and Green Bay in the middle of winter, I don’t feel as good about.

What I’m trying to say is this defence, and that schedule, is going to put Teddy in certain spots where he’ll be throwing a lot. I can’t take the credit for this point, but I read an article online which called Teddy the perfect QB2 because the reality is some weeks, he’ll put up QB1 numbers. You just must be lucky enough to start him when he does.

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Let’s finish on some real fantasy figures.

Barring injury, Teddy will no doubt smash the 90.5 points (PPR) he recorded last year. According to FantasyFootballers.com, they have a projection of 228.7 points (PPR) this time round. For the number’s guys in the house, that’s an average of 14.2 a game. ESPN, FantasyPros.com and any blogger with their own rankings system I’ve found has Teddy at around 25-27, which to me sounds just about right.  


The Conclusion



With all these articles, I will shoot from the hip and give my honest take on the player from a fantasy standpoint.

In this instance, I think Teddy is just fine. I doubt he’ll be pulling up any trees (fence joke) and leading the charge to the fantasy playoffs. But you can do a lot worse at the QB position, especially for those of you in 2 QB leagues. Heck, I selected Sam Darnold as my first QB last year.

If he can somehow lift Carolina off the bottom of the division which now gets Tom Brady and his travelling circus twice a year, that’s got to be seen as heading in the right direction.

10 Day One picks from 2019 who need a better 2020

by Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

Some first-round NFL Draft choices are obviously destined for superstardom; they wouldn’t be selected that early otherwise. But the college draft process is an inexact science and whether it’s due to scheme fit, lack of opportunity or injury, that first NFL season doesn’t always go the way it would have done in the movies.

So which Round 1 rookies didn’t have the best of times in 2019 and need to take a step forward in the coming season if they’re to live up to their billing?


Clelin Ferrell – DE, Las Vegas Raiders (pick #4)

What he needs: To play in position more regularly

Ben Margot / AP Photo

If you pick a guy at #4 overall, you’re probably expecting him to be a difference maker from day one. However, the general consensus was that the Oakland Raiders (as they were at the time) had reached for Ferrell, even though the pass-rushing DE had won two championships with Clemson.

As Head Coach Jon Gruden was in the midst of a defensive rebuild, Ferrell played out of position (on the interior) quite a bit. And it showed in his production: he gained just 4.5 sacks and gave away seven penalties, the third-most among DEs. 

Last year, the Raiders’ defence went from dead last in scoring and sacks to 24th in both categories, which is at least a step in the right direction. However, some of that uptick should be attributed to fourth-round success story Maxx Crosby, who nabbed 10 sacks in his debut season.

It feels like Vegas can improve further with Ferrell anchoring the D-line and, if he gets to play more on the outside this year, we should see him post numbers more akin to a top-five draft pick.   


TJ Hockenson – TE, Detroit Lions (#8)

What he needs: An injury-free year

On paper, Hockenson looked a decent acquisition with good pass-catching and improving blocking skills. The Iowa product definitely showed flashes of promise early doors but his inaugural year in the NFL was limited to 12 games due to a concussion, a shoulder issue and then a season-ending ankle injury.     

In Week 1 against the Cardinals, it looked like Detroit had grabbed themselves a stud. Hockenson exploded for 131 yards and a TD on six receptions on his NFL debut. But that was as good as it got; he ended the year on 367 yards from 32 receptions and only got one more score to his name.

They say that the most valuable ability is availability and, for TJ to become the red-zone threat he was touted as coming into the league, he needs to stay on the field. If he does that – and QB Matt Stafford does the same this time around – Hockerson could become a vital cog in the Lions’ machine in 2020.


Rashan Gary – OLB, Green Bay Packers (#12)

What he needs: Better technique and more snaps

For the 12th overall pick, Gary had quite a limited role in 2019 but it was probably a deliberate ploy by Green Bay to ease him in gently. He was competing for snaps with Messrs Smith and Smith – Za’Darius and Preston – who totalled 25.5 sacks between them so it’s not surprise he didn’t really break through. On the flip side, those two stalwarts gave the Packers the luxury of not having to hurry Gary’s development.

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He only saw about 15 snaps a game, and totalled 21 tackles, three QB hits and two sacks. He relied on his size, speed and power at college in Michigan but needs to refine his technique as a pass rusher to become a more impactful player in the big league.

With such a limited role and meagre production, Gary still has a lot to prove next year. However, if his last three games of 2019 are a sign of what’s to come – a sack, seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit in just 45 snaps – then Gary might be ready to take the next step after all.


Dwayne Haskins – QB, Washington Redskins (#15)

What he needs: Ron Rivera to work his magic

Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Haskins would’ve been a Day 2 pick this year but in 2019, with the Redskins in dire need of a quarterback, the Ohio State prospect was snaffled halfway through Round 1.

During his only full season as a starter in college, he threw for 4,831 passing yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions, completing 70% of his passes; he added 108 yards and four TDs on the ground. That’s quite a season and yet, he couldn’t usurp Case Keenum and Colt McCoy to start with. He only got his opportunity once head coach Jay Gruden was fired mid-season.

With four interceptions in his first two weeks when he came on mid-game, he looked like a rabbit in headlights but by the end of the season, he didn’t appear quite so lost. He finished up with seven TDs and seven interceptions from nine games, threw for 1,365 yards and had a completion rate of 58.6%.

The situation he found himself wasn’t ideal: not just Gruden’s departure but the Trent Williams sit-out, having three rookie wide receivers, missing both starting tight ends and being constantly under pressure thanks to a porous O-line (he got sacked 29 times). But maybe, with better personnel around him and a more stable coaching situation, Haskins could become the real deal.

I’m not holding my breath quite yet though: he still has plenty to prove as a potential franchise QB as he enters his second campaign. But at least Ron Rivera is steering the ship now, and he worked wonders with Cam Newton, so that’s a plus, right?


Andre Dillard – OT, Philadelphia Eagles (#22)

What he needs: To step out from Jason Peters’ shadow

Dillard was presumably selected as the eventual replacement for left tackle Jason Peters. He has the ability, for sure, and has been praised for his tenacity and athleticism, but the Washington State offensive tackle has some big shoes to fill.

Although he featured in all but one of Philly’s regular season games, he only started in four. Three of those were filling in for when Peters was injured, and one was an experiment, trying him out at right tackle against the Seahawks when Lane Johnson was unavailable (let’s just say he isn’t one).

To his credit, Dillard allowed only four sacks and had just one penalty so if the 24-year-old gets a strong off-season and training camp under his belt, he could quieten the dissenters. Replacing a nine-time Pro Bowler and 16-year veteran is quite an ask for a second-year pro but with Peters now a free agent, it could be Dillard’s time in the limelight.


Tytus Howard – OT, Houston Texans (#23)

What he needs: To stay healthy all year

Martin Leitch / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Immediately after the draft, pundits were saying that Howard was more of a Day 2 pick and that the Texans had snared him early.

Alas, we didn’t really get too find out quite what the Alabama State tackle has to offer over a whole campaign as his debut season was curtailed after starting eight games – seven as right tackle and one as left guard – with an MCL injury. He landed on IR at the end of November after playing 488 snaps, incurring five penalties and allowing two sacks by the end of Week 12. 

He’s a work in progress but with Laremy Tunsil further along the O-line, he should pick up a few top tips along the way. As long as injuries don’t hamper Howard’s second season, he should build on a promising start to his NFL career.


Jerry Tillery – DT, Los Angeles Chargers (#28)

What he needs: More playing time

Although Tillery featured in 15 games, he only started three so if the defensive tackle from Notre Dame is going to kick on in 2020, he’s going to need more time out on the field.

In his first 11 games, he recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks and, although he finished the season with just one more half-sack, he did get up to 17 tackles by the end of the campaign. The Chargers also removed him from passing situations so maybe that’s a weakness that needs addressing.

Tillery often found himself down the pecking order behind veterans like Justin Jones and Damion Square. Square signed for another season in March so Tillery still faces competition for snaps but now that he has that first year under his belt, he may enjoy a greater role next year.


LJ Collier – DE, Seattle Seahawks (#29)

What he needs: A full pre-season

Collier was a late bloomer in college, only becoming a starter in his senior year at TCU, which made him a bit of a risky first-round pick by Pete Carroll. Then the defensive end suffered a sprained ankle in training camp, which meant he also got off to a slow start in the NFL.

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Collier made the field in 11 games but only registered three tackles in his rookie campaign. He was also a healthy scratch a couple of times, which suggests he wasn’t quite on his game. Behind productive vets such as Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah in the depth chart, it shouldn’t be that surprising that Collier didn’t force his way into a playoff team.

With Ansah now a free agent and Quinton Jefferson leaving for Buffalo in March, maybe Collier will get more opportunities to shine. A healthy pre-season should help him take a step forward in 2020.


DeAndre Baker – CB, New York Giants (#30)

What he needs: To step up on all fronts

Vincent Carchietta / USA TODAY Sports

On reflection, Baker may well be the most disappointing first-rounder from the class of 2019, especially as the Giants traded with Seattle and moved up to secure his services. The former Georgia corner had a rocky start to his NFL career and needs a massive improvement in year 2.

Baker had a number of issues last year, both on and off the field. Behind the scenes, his work ethic was called into question by his teammates, and he was caught catching 40 winks in meetings. On the field, he gave away 10 penalties, coughed up seven TDs through the air (the fourth worst in the league) and secured no interceptions, resulting in a disappointing 48.4 grade from PFF.

No one wants their first-round picks to be busts so can Baker make the necessary adjustments and push on in 2020? That’s the big question… we await the answers.


N’Keal Harry – WR, New England Patriots (#32)

What he needs: To gel with Cam

Adam Glanzman / Getty Images

Bill Belichick selected Harry, a big-bodied pass-catcher, as the last Day 1 pick of the 2019 Draft. It was a bit of a gamble and it didn’t really pay off, although that wasn’t really Harry’s fault.

An ankle injury forced the former Arizona State wideout to miss the first 10 weeks, severely impacting the trajectory of his debut season. With the offence uncharacteristically misfiring (Gronk had retried, albeit temporarily, and Julian Edelman was the only receiver of note for TB12 to look for), N’Keal was rushed off injured reserve in Week 11 and dropped straight into the starting line-up. His production for the rest of the season was naturally underwhelming – 105 yards and two touchdowns from just 12 receptions – and Harry took some flak, somewhat unfairly.

With just Jason Stidham and Brian Hoyer in the QB room, the future wasn’t looking all that promising for the forthcoming year either. But things have taken a turn for the better recently, with former MVP Cam Newton now in the building (at least metaphorically in these COVID-constrained times).

Harry showed enough at the tail end of last year to suggest that things might pan out and, with Cam under centre, he should have a much better year.


Banner image credit: Sporting News / Getty

Fantasy: Late Round Rookie WRs You REALLY should Draft

by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller

It’s been a unique off-season thanks to the pandemic. Usually in the off-season process we would have seen rookie camp and OTA’s by now as we head into training camp before the pre-season starts in August.

We haven’t had the full compliment of processes since the draft in April therefore we haven’t had all the hype and fluff pieces from beat writers and backroom staff telling us how ‘rookie-X’ is the best thing since sliced bread.

In turn, that’s affected rookie’s stock in the fantasy market and ADP is probably at an all time low for most fantasy relevant rookies.

It will likely stay low too, because without training camp and potentially no pre-season games, where are we going to be able to judge these players and see what they have to offer?

Also, unfortunately, this will ring true and affect the UDFA’s and probably the later round draft picks from this years’ NFL draft. Where will they be able to showcase their potential to break into 53-man rosters?

Fortunately for fantasy fans, the higher rated skill players taken in the early and mid rounds of the draft should all be making the 53-man rosters and will still have a low ADP for your fantasy drafts. Let’s take a look at the potential bargain wide receiver rookies that may well contribute to winning your leagues. Keep your eyes peeled for the running backs in part 2 later in the week.


Laviska Shenault – WR, Jacksonville Jaguars


NFL Draft: 42nd (2.10) H: 6’1 W: 227lbs ADP: Undrafted (Std, Half & PPR)

40-Yard Dash: 4.58s 3-Cone: N/A Vert: N/A Broad: N/A Bench: 17reps

The more I watch tape and the more I look at the Jags roster and how Doug Marrone wants to move the ball, the more I fall in love with ‘Viska’. For those that haven’t seen any highlights from his time in college with Colorado, Shenault has elite-level ball skills and outstanding physical traits.

One of the biggest draws to Shenault in fantasy terms is the fact he can be used as a dual threat with his rushing ability seconding his main receiving role. Over his last 2 seasons for the Buffaloes he recorded 40 rushes for 276 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and 7 TD’s, lining up in the backfield and as the wildcat.

With Leonard Fournette skating on thin ice with the current staff, newly acquired Chris Thompson constantly carrying a sick note and Ryquell Armstead coming off a measly 3.1 yard per carry last season – Shenault will more than likely get a few carries and an opportunity to notch fantasy points on the ground as well as through the air.

As a receiver, Viska wooed the Colorado fans with 1,775 receiving yards in his sophomore and junior years along with 10 scores. He possesses a natural catching ability with pro-ready hands which can rival the very best in the league – I’m talking Deandre Hopkins’ level of hands here by the way.

As a receiver, “Viska” wooed the Colorado fans with 1,775 receiving yards in his sophomore and junior years along with 10 scores. He possesses a natural catching ability with pro-ready hands which can rival the very best in the league – i’m talking Deandre Hopkins’ level of hands here by the way.

His route running ability is flexible having seen success with screen passes, slants and out-wide as an X receiver. He’s explosive, shifty and is able to bully coverage down field which makes him a great target anywhere down the field – something Gardner Minshew would likely use as his go-to target.

I particularly like the situation he is in within the roster. Dede Westbrook has been fine during his time in Jacksonville, but has never broke out to be an outstanding cast member. He’s never surpassed 720 yards despite having back to back 100 target seasons and averages just 3 touchdowns per season. Chris Conley had his best season since being drafted by Kansas City in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft, but still only managed 775 receiving yards and is replaceable considering he’s in his final year of the 2 year contract he signed last off-season.

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D.J Chark is likely going to continue impressing as the WR1 in Jacksonville as he comes off a breakout 1,008 yard season in 2019, but there is definitely a productive WR2 role available for Viska to make his own.

A player as naturally gifted as Shenault offers the Jags a new dimension to their offense. Considering Jacksonville will likely be playing from behind a fair amount this season, Laviska could find himself highly productive for fantasy owners.

Stat Projection: WR34 (Standard), WR34 (Half PPR), WR35 (PPR)

AttYdsTDY/GTgtsRecYdsTDY/GSTD.5PPRPPR
1512617.89359779548.6126.5156185.5

Brandon Aiyuk – WR, San Francisco 49ers


NFL Draft:25th (1.25) H: 6’1 W: 195lbs ADP: U/D Std – 14.11 Half – 12.09 PPR

40-Yard Dash: 4.50s 3-Cone: N/A Vert: 40in Broad: 128in Bench: 11reps

I must admit to not being a massive Aiyuk fan before the draft. It wasn’t necessarily because I thought he was a bad player, because I don’t – it was more the fact I preferred others to him in his range such as Shenault, Jalen Reagor, Justin Jefferson and even Tee Higgins.

It probably boils down to the fact he only had a short college career at Arizona State where he only played for 2 years. In the first year he only had 33 receptions for 474 yards and 3 touchdowns so his draft value is only really judged on 1 year in college.

That year was very good however (65 receptions for 1192 yards and 8 TDs) which gave him the 1st round price that the 49ers were willing to pay in arguably their biggest area of need.

There is where his fantasy value becomes interesting to me. Jimmy Garoppolo was 22 yards short of throwing for 4,000 yards last year, which surprised me a little if i’m honest, but does show that the 49ers are a passing team despite having around 478 usable running backs on the roster it seems.

Obviously George Kittle demands around 1,000 of those yards across the middle, but other than that, the targets are largely up for grabs in that offense. Especially when Emmanuel Sanders, Marquise Goodwin and Matt Breida are now out of town leaving combined 96 targets and 808 yards up for grabs.

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This ties in with the likely absence of Deebo Samuel who recently suffered a Jones fracture in his foot which could keep him out for up to half of the season too.

All of a sudden, the 49ers are well over 100 targets/70 receptions missing from last year with only Aiyuk and 7th round Jauan Jennings added in the skill positions over the off-season.

Aiyuk measures out in the 92nd percentile for burst score (a mix of broad jump and vertical jump results) and 82nd percentile in college dominator rating (a reflection on the players productivity at college) according to playerprofiler.com

All of this points to Brandon Aiyuk potentially becoming Jimmy G’s favourite go-to target for the 49ers in 2020 and could well translate to fantasy success in the process. Not bad for a 14th round dart throw in half PPR scoring leagues.

Stat Projection: WR38 (Standard), WR38 (Half PPR), WR39 (PPR)

TargetsRecYardsTDY/RY/GSTD.5PPRPPR
9255815614.8250.94117.5145172.5

Michael Pittman Jr. – WR, Indianapolis Colts


NFL Draft: 34th (2.02) H: 6’4 W: 225lbs ADP: 14.08 Std – 14.04 Half –12.01PPR

40-Yard Dash: 4.52s 3-Cone: 6.96s Vert: 36.5in Broad: 121in Bench: 13reps

As an Indy fan, I am absolutely buzzing to see the second coming of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Michael Pittman and Parris Campbell bring a bright looking future to Lucas Oil and it starts this year.

Before the draft I was looking forward to seeing where Pittman landed. He’d just come off two impressive years at USC where he finished his collegiate career with 171 receptions for 2,519 yards and 19 TDs. 1,275 of which came in his final season with the Trojans which was 9th best in all of college football in 2019.

You can only imagine my feelings after day 2 of the NFL draft after the Colts had managed to land not just my highest rated RB Jonathan Taylor, but Michael Pittman too.

I’d also like to take this moment to quash any “Pip Rivers has a noodle arm” truthers. That’s a weird thing to call a QB who has thrown under 4,000 yards just once in 12 seasons with both yards per attempt and yards per game above his career average over the last 3 years. All of this, of course, happened behind a sub-par Chargers offensive line which barely gave him any time in the pocket.

That’s all going to change for Rivers in 2020. He’s now behind an elite o-line that will be able to provide him ample time in the pocket to find targets down field.

Pip typically manages to produce multiple fantasy relevant receivers over the course of a season. Whether it be Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin like in 2017, or Allen, Mike Williams and Hunter Henry in 2019.

My point being, Pittman is likely going to have fantasy relevance despite having to compete with the likes of T.Y Hilton, Parris Campbell and Jack Doyle this season.

Pittman carries an elite speed score (a relative score which takes a players height and weight into consideration) which comes in at 93rd percentile, and adds to his 112.1 Sparq score (5th highest among rookie wide receivers) and top-10 breakout rating according to the Breakout Finder app.

He’s the perfect candidate to be drafted late in drafts as a bench player with a ton of upside. Make sure you own Pittman, i’m confident the upside will shine through in 2020.

Stat Projection: WR32 (Standard), WR32 (Half PPR), WR30 (PPR)

TargetsRecYdsTDY/RY/GSTD.5PPRPPR
10168928613.6558.00128.8162.8196.8

CFB: College Football Breakdown Pt 2

By Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90)

Welcome back to the second part of the series. If you are here, either you enjoyed the first one and are REALLY keen to learn more, or you want to know more about the topics we’ll be covering in this piece.

In the this second part of the series, we’ll be covering the ranking system, the playoffs and the “Bowl” games and also the different slant on the rules in the College game compared to those that you see in the NFL.

Don’t forget if you have any questions and want to ask something, please get in touch with us on social media @Full10YardsCFB or @Wakefield90.

Let’s get down to business.


Rankings


Rankings are a very important aspect of the college football system and it is how the hierarchy is established throughout the season, how we compare and contrast teams and records across 10 conferences and ultimately how the top 4 teams are decided – The top 4 teams being the programmes that go forward to the college football playoffs at the end of the season.

The top 25 teams are ranked out of the 130 programmes that make up FBS D-I and these 25 team are ranked by performance by a Coaches Poll and by the Associated Press (AP) and then as the season draws towards its conclusion, from around November the College Football Playoff Rankings are released each week and then these rankings become the official rankings and ultimately the 4 at the top at the end of the regular season become the college football playoffs semi-finalists, but more on the playoffs later.

How does the Coaches and AP polls work?

A number of randomly selected current college football head coaches are selected and each week they give their top 25 team and subsequently, these teams are allocated points for each selection they receive – 25 points for a #1 nomination, 24 points for a #2 nomination and so on, and so forth.

The AP poll works with the same points system but this (obviously) is members of the press who report on college football.

Rankings are updated each week and prior to the season a pre-season top 25 poll is released as a starting point for the year.

In the early weeks teams can be in and out of the rankings fairly readily, especially if the pre-season polls aren’t shown to be correct.

The factors taken into consideration by all voting parties are wins, strength of that win or strength of the loss, the conference that the team plays in, their strength of schedule and generally how big of a programme a team is.

So for example, when a blue-blood programme such as Alabama schedules a smaller team, such as Southern Mississippi, as they did last year, beating the Eagles 49-7 in Alabama, it didn’t count for much more than just a win. This is because it was a heavy win, which was expected and the favourite was at home.

However, in week 3 of the 2019 season, LSU travelled to play Texas. The teams were ranked at the time as #6 and #9 in the country respectively, and LSU came out on top as 45-38 winners, as the Tigers came through a litmus test on the way to becoming national champions. That would have counted for much more than Alabama’s cupcake win a couple of weeks later and conversely, Texas wouldn’t have been penalised much for losing to the #6 team in the country at that time.

Obviously this leads to big programme bias, and also big conference bias which isn’t ideal and does lead to controversy. As it did in 2017 when the University of Central Florida (UCF) went unbeaten and was the only unbeaten in the whole of college football  but were not invited to the college football playoffs. The Knights even went on to win the AAC Championship against Memphis and also the Peach Bowl vs. Auburn. UCF were only ranked #6 in the nation because they played in a Group of 5 conference.

It is an imperfect system that relies on the opinions of a committee and it does cause disagreements amongst fans, teams, coaches and media at times.


Bowls & Conference Championships


You will have noticed that when talking about teams and scheduling, that I mentioned that schools play 12 regular season games, however, successful teams can play 13 or even 14 games in a season.

The 13th game will come in the form of a bowl game.

Bowl games are a series of games played between teams from different conferences as an end of season reward for the teams that missed out on the college football playoffs. The college football playoffs are technically part of the bowl games series but are essentially a mini tournament between 4 teams with the ultimate prize being the College Football National Championship.

There are 40 bowl games in total from the college football playoffs at the top to some lesser bowls which are played earlier in the postseason schedule by lesser programmes within Division I FBS rankings, (usually) from late December.

How do teams qualify for bowl season?

Well it’s actually pretty easy since the NCAA relaxed the rules and created more bowls from the 2006-2007 season (more bowls meaning, more tv games, meaning more sponsorship etc, etc.)

A team must have a record above .500 to be bowl eligible, so have a 6-6 regular season record or better although wins against non-division I teams don’t count – So you cannot schedule a bunch of easy games as your non-conference opponents each year and expect to be rewarded with a bowl game at the end of the season. This also doesn’t guarantee that a 6-6 team will get in, but it does mean they have a chance. Obviously, the best teams get placed in bowls first and then it whittles down to those who have just scraped eligibility.

Despite there being 40 bowl games, there are some that are more important than others, these are known as the “New Year’s Six” bowls.

College Football Playoff: 2019 New Year's Six bowls set
The NY6 Bowls are as follows; Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl.

Two of these games will be designated as the college football playoff semifinals and these serve on a rotational basis. However, when not designated as a playoff game, three of the bowls are aligned to certain conferences.

The bowl/conference alignments are as follows;

Rose Bowl: #1 team in the Big 10 vs. #1 team in the Pac-12

Sugar Bowl: #1 team in the Big XII vs. #1 team in the SEC

Orange Bowl: #1 team in the ACC vs. #2 team in the SEC, the #2 team in the Big 10 or Notre Dame

On to conference championships then and this one is a bit more simple to explain – As you would expect, the conference championship is contested in all 10 FBS D-I divisions and, as you would also expect these games are contested between the best two teams in the conference.

Although, this is sometimes a little imperfect again in everywhere but the Big XII. Since all other conferences aside from the Big XII are split into two regionalised divisions, these conference championships are between the top team in each division, rather than necessarily the best two teams.

The Big XII championship is just between the top two teams in the conference since the conference isn’t split.

The conference championship would make up the 14th game of the season for these teams, as they are almost certain to be bowl eligible and as Power 5 schools, they are almost certain to be awarded some kind of bowl game.


Playoffs


Speaking of 14th and then 15th games… It’s time to talk Playoffs.

So as above, around November the AP and Coaches Polls are set aside and replaced with the College Football Playoff Rankings and we get to the end of the regular season and the playoffs are set.

We know who the teams are and the bowls are set out and a mini tournament is played to decide the National Championship – the #1 ranked team plays the #4 ranked team with the #2 and #3 teams facing off in the other semi final. Winners progress, losers go home. Simple as that.

As an example, the top 4 ranked teams at the end of the 2019 season, the rankings were as follows; #1 LSU, #2 Ohio State, #3 Clemson, #4 Oklahoma.

LSU and Clemson won their semifinals and subsequently played their 15th and final game of the year – LSU won to become 15-0 National Champions. Prior to the playoff series, LSU won the SEC championship against Georgia.

College football national championship: Burrow, LSU beat Clemson ...
Gerald Herbert /AP

The Championship does have bearing on the CFB Playoff rankings,but losing it doesn’t automatically disqualify a team – It depends on how the rankings committee see it. So it is possible to lose your conference championship but go to the college football playoff and win the National Championship.

The most recent example of this is Alabama’s National Championship win in 2011 – The Crimson Tide lost the SEC championship to LSU before facing LSU again, a few weeks later in the National Championship game but then winning the game be National but not Conference Champions.


Rule Differences


So hopefully by now you have a pretty decent understanding of how the college football system works and you’re ready to watch some football!

I am going to assume that most readers know the rules of football from watching the NFL so I am going to compare the two because there are some impactful differences in the way plays are called and also the game looks, but I am not going to explain the rules of football in full.

Number of feet a receiver must have in bounds for a completed pass?

In the NFL you must get both feet down, in bounds with control of the football, in college, you only have to get one down. This makes a big difference when it comes to those toe-tapping plays for touchdowns or along the sideline.

Down by contact rule

In the NFL you have to be tackled to be ruled as down, but when it comes to the college game, if you fall down then you’re down.

Penalty for defensive pass interference

This isn’t as strict in college, instead of just being an automatic first down at the spot of the foul it’s an automatic first down but with penalty being the lesser of 15 yards from the previous spot or the spot of the foul

Clock temporarily stops after the offense completes a first down so the chain crew can reset the chains

This always happens in college football whereas this only happens if needed in the NFL.

Defensive Holding

In college this is a 10 yard penalty and repeat the down unless 1st down gained by penalty yardage, rather than just a 5 yard penalty and an automatic first down as it is in the NFL.

Spot where an opposing team takes possession after a missed field goal

The greater of the previous line of scrimmage or opposing team’s 20-yard line

Two-minute warning

The two-minute warning is not used at all in college football.

Starting point of a one- or two-point conversion

Three-yard line for both, as opposed to using the 15-yard line for a 1-try in the NFL.

Overtime

WARNING: this is completely different (and in my opinion, way better in college) – Each team is given one possession from its opponent’s twenty-five yard line with no game clock. The team leading after both possessions is declared the winner. If the teams remain tied, overtime periods continue; games cannot end in a tie. Teams that possesses the ball first in each period alternates. Starting with the third overtime, teams are only allowed to attempt two-point conversions after a touchdown

Instant replay

All plays are subject to booth reviews. Coaches only have one challenge per game – Much simpler in college football!

Hash marks

Way Wider! The hash marks in college ball are 40 feet wide, rather than 18 feet, 6 inches (the width of the goal posts) in the pros.

Jersey Numbers

This is way less rigid than the NFL numbering system. Offensive linemen have to wear between 50 and 79 but aside from that, anything goes! Two players from the same team can even wear the same number in the same game, so long as one plays offense and one players defense and the two players aren’t on the field at the same time

Plus, a new rule for the 2020 season – Players will be allowed to wear the number 0.

CFB – College Football Breakdown Pt.1

By Lee Wakefield (@Wakefield90)

I’d class myself as a bit of a college football veteran, having watched the college game for a number of years, however, one thing I have noticed, and notice every year is posts on social media asking questions about college football;

How does it work? How is it all organised? Where can I get more information about it?

So, in light of these questions, I thought it might be an idea to put together a little bit of an explanation for some of the most common questions that I see. There are multiple parts to this series covering everything from the rule differences, conference and divisional setup to rankings, the playoffs and the “Bowl” games.

These questions are understandable, the NFL off season is long, college football supplies the NFL, it’s where the new stars of the NFL come from and the college game is superb as both an on and off field spectacle!

This year is going to be different and the situation surrounding COVD-19 is concerning. However, the excitement is still real and I am still hopeful of football on Saturdays from this autumn. But either way, let’s get down to business…


Conferences, Divisions and Games


So college football is a pretty big deal. From Maine to San Diego and Seattle to Miami, college football stretches from all four corners of the continental United States. The highest level of college football is the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) Division I, there are also NCAA Division II and Division III programmes and also the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision – So yeah, there’s a lot going on!

All of the various levels have their own national champions and national championships and all players, after a certain period are eligible to declare for the NFL Draft (more on that very soon). However for the purposes of this piece, I am going to concentrate on the highest level of college football – FBS Division I – Otherwise, this article could go on for longer than anyone would care to read.

FBS Division I is made up of 10 conferences, plus 6 colleges that operate as independents, whose football programmes aren’t aligned with any conference, which total 130 programmes altogether.

Of the 10 conferences at this level there are 5 which are regarded as the “Power 5” conferences and then the remaining 5 are regarded as the “Group of 5”.

The split is as follows:


All of the 10 conferences are split into 2 geographical divisions, aside from the Big XII which is just one division. The conferences themselves are set grouped by geography, which you may have gathered from some of the names of the conferences, and there are only one of two anomalies that are fairly out of the way in relation to the rest of their conference. Here at Full 10 Yards College Football, we will previewing the conferences over the coming weeks before the season kicks off again, so keep your eyes peeled for those!

In terms of the conferences and the teams within them, each team plays 12 regular season games. For a number of teams who win a certain number of games through the year the regular seasons games are followed by “bowl games” and conference championships, as well as the college football playoffs. These will be covered in the next part of the series.

Back to regular season games, which are made up mainly of divisional games but then teams also schedule some out of conference games, usually towards the beginning of the season.

Some programmes take some heat from fans and media because these out of conference games are sometimes against much less teams and are either to open the season or the week before a big rivalry game. These are often referred to as “cupcakes”.

These so-called cupcakes are often chances for depth players and younger guys to get some game time. The starters usually play until the game is out of sight and then they get to enjoy some time off before the bigger games roll around.

Speaking of which, these bigger games are what makes college football so special. The rivalries, the traditions, the bands, the electricity… The fact that college football covers areas of the country that the NFL doesn’t and also the fans are made up of the local community and students, the crowds are more vociferous and some of the spectacles on show are truly breathtaking moments, some of the more breathtaking moments that you could see in sport.

Again, that will be something we cover later down the line with another article.

Most of these rivalries revolve around traditional games between two schools and are often played for a sacred item, as well as the bragging rights. Trophies such as Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Wisconsin vs. Minnesota), The Platypus Trophy (Oregon vs. Oregon State) and the Illibuck (which is a wooden turtle, that is contested by Illinois and Ohio State, and actually used to be an actual turtle) – and this is just a tiny selection!


Players, Scholarships and Draft Eligibility


The players that make up each of the 130 rosters of FBS Division I teams are mainly made up of student athletes who are on a football scholarship which they have been awarded by the college that they chose to attend.

The cream of the crop of high school football are highly sought after and receive many offers from the best colleges in the land. Recruiting is fierce and colleges and universities pour a lot of resources into persuading the best players to join their programme. Programmes can recruit from all over the country and boils down to the national “signing day” in February each year. High school players can commit to schools from an early stage, as soon as they get an offer from a programme at the college level, however, players do decommit and change their minds, so until signing day, nothing is official!

National signing day: Local sports stars make collegiate dreams ...
Tom Fox – Dallas Morning News

The colleges and universities allocate scholarships as they see fit and have their own rules and eligibility for them, but what is standardised is the number of scholarships that each programme is allowed to award 85 fully funded scholarships at any one time, and each year coaches can award 25 scholarships. These are “full rides” where the players themselves and their families don’t have to pay anything towards the player attending the school and the education that they will receive throughout the duration of their time at the school.

What I will note at this point is that 85 is the number for FBS D-I programmes and this isn’t the case lower down the ranks of college athletics.

The roster of each team is more than 85 players, so not everyone on the team is a scholarship athlete – the schools use scholarships to attract the best players that they can and the rest of the team is made up of what are called “walk-ons”. These are players who are attending the college or university but are a fee-paying student who tries out for the team and is successful in being picked. Players who are walk-ons, can be awarded scholarships later down the line but only usually via exceptional play on the field.

Usually each player will attend their school and enroll on a 4-year degree programme, which they can finish quicker but the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) gives each player 5 years of eligibility to complete 4 seasons of football. These years, from one to four as; Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior.

The 5th year can be used for what is called a “redshirt” year. This redshirt year can be used to recover from injury, or if the player is going to struggle for playing time and doesn’t want to use a valuable year of eligibility – Coaches can use these strategically when roster building and managing.

However, players aren’t required to stay in college for 4 or 5 years and become “draft eligible” once they are 3 years removed from high school, whether they have used a redshirt year in the past or not. With that, a player can choose to declare for the NFL Draft anytime from the end of their Redshirt Sophomore season to the end of their Redshirt Senior season. It is important to note that once a player declares for the NFL Draft, then their NCAA eligibility is over, if they go undrafted, there’s no going back to college football, so it’s a big consideration point for every player. 

Another worthwhile note is that a 6th year can be granted to a player in some circumstances, but this requires dispensation from the NCAA, an example of this would be for a player who has suffered from multiple season ending injuries. 

Finally on players and eligibility – Players aren’t bound to the programme that they chose out of high school.

There is a facility whereby players can transfer between programmes in the correct circumstances.

This can be used because the player isn’t getting the playing time that they desired or deserve, the player can enter what is known as the “transfer portal”.

Washington QB Jacob Eason declares for NFL Draft | NBC Sports ...

A recent example of this would be now Indianapolis Colts QB, Jacob Eason. Eason was the #5 overall player in the 2016 recruiting class and went to the University of Georgia as a 5-star rated Quarterback out of Lake Stevens High School in the state of Washington. Eason played in 13 games, starting 12 and performing admirably as a Freshman, however in 2017 Georgia recruited now Bills QB, Jake Fromm and Fromm won that starting job. Eason appeared in 3 games for Georgia in 2017 and decided to transfer back to his home state and enrolled at the University of Washington. Photo credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the catch – If a player transfers prior to the completion of their academic studies, the NCAA rules that the player must sit out a season of play. So with that Eason sat out the 2018 season and then started playing for Washington last year, in the 2019 season where he started and again, played 13 games.


There is a slightly different rule for players who have finished their academic studies – In the event of a player graduating prior to the end of their 5 year eligibility period, a player can transfer to another programme elsewhere as a “Graduate Transfer” and play out their remaining time in college. This doesn’t come with the penalty of having to sit out a year and the player can play for their new school immediately and is usually just for a single season, meaning that a player plays for and studies at one school for 4 years, graduates there and then transfers. However, if a player completes their degree early, then they can play for more than one year for their second programme.

All transfers must be signed off by the NCAA who will rule on each case and pass judgement on it.

Finally, let me tackle the issue of players earning money.

I am not going to delve deeply into this subject as it is the subject of much debate in college football circles and would probably double the length of this article 

At the time of writing players playing under the NCAA banner cannot earn money for their; likenesses, image rights, sponsorships, merchandise or receive compensation (financial or otherwise) in any other way as a reward for playing college football – College football is an amatuer game and players can only earn money for these sorts of activities once they reach the NFL and turn professional.

The controversy stems from a few avenues on this topic.

Firstly, college football is a multi-billion dollar industry where coaches and programmes earn millions of dollars each season, there are TV and sponsorship deals that are multi-year and multi-million dollar deals… Essentially, everyone earns money, apart from those providing the entertainment.

Second, there’s the counter-argument that the top athletes get to attend institutions that had it not been for their football skills, they would not have been invited to attend and that some young boys between ages of 18 and 23 would be negatively impacted by being able to access large sums of money at such a young age.

Not my argument but I am just laying out both sides of it.

Lastly on this subject and perhaps the most controversial of them all is we all know this goes on anyway.

We know that schools reward parents and players (via third parties) to attend their schools. There are several documentaries on this subject and also schools have been reprimanded for getting caught in the act!

All these rules do is safeguard the cash flow to those at the top of the food chain, minimise the earning potential of very marketable players and personalities and stop any video game developer from being able to produce and release a college football game.

Which is almost the biggest crime of them all.

So that’s a look at the setup of the College game. Hopefully you have learned a thing or two! If you do have any questions or want to know more, hit us up on social media @Full10YardsCFB or @Wakefiled90 and I’ll be more than happy to answer them. Watch out for the next part in the series where we’ll talk about the ranking system, playoffs and rule differences.

NFL innovations we owe to the Cincinnati Bengals

by Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

Picture if you will: having just failed to make the full 10 yards (other websites are available), the hurry-up offence goes straight back into formation. The ball is snapped and the quarterback takes three steps back before making a short pass to his tight end. Meanwhile, the defence tries a zone blitz, sending linebackers forward to hunt down the QB while a defensive lineman drops back to cover the throw.

This play features three well-known elements of the game: the short-pass focus of the West Coast offense popularised by the 49ers, the no-huddle offence that took the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls and the zone blitz, a foundation of the successful Pittsburgh teams of the 1990s.

But did you know that they all owe their existence to the Cincinnati Bengals?


THE WEST COAST OFFENCE


If you know your US geography, you’ll be aware that Ohio isn’t on the west coast, or anywhere near it. The scheme is so named because it came to prominence when Bill Walsh was the Head Coach at San Francisco – about as far west as you can go without getting your feet wet – in the 1980s. He made the system famous in red and gold, for sure, but it all started when Walsh was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator under HC Paul Brown (more of him later).

The West Coast offence is a high-percentage passing game. The system uses swing passes, slants, crossing routes and flat passes, close to the line of scrimmage, to spread a defence, before occasionally letting rip with longer passes into the gaps created by the defensive shifts. With the QB dropping back three or five steps and using his running backs and tight ends as additional receivers for short throws, it offers less chance of a “take it to the house” play but, on the other hand, completion percentages are higher and turnovers lower.

So how did Walsh come up with the idea? Well, they say that necessity is the mother of invention and the Bengals needed a solution when rookie QB Greg Cook injured his shoulder in Week 3 of 1969, having thrown five TDs in his first two games. In response, Walsh completely redesigned his offence to compensate for Cook’s limited arm movement. The approach also suited his successor, Virgil Carter, a more mobile and accurate QB who led the league in passing percentage in 1971. Then his replacement, the legendary Ken Anderson, faired even better, steering the Bengals to a division title in his first year.

AP Photo

Alas, in 1975, when Paul Brown retired, Walsh was passed over for the HC job so he headed west, to Stanford University and the San Diego Chargers, before his legendary 10-year stint with the Niners. This is where he turned the “Cincinnati offence”, as he dubbed it, into an institution. The West Coast offence turned Joe Montana into one of the game’s GOATs and helped the 49ers to win three Super Bowls. That trio of victories included two over the Bengals in 1981 and 1988. Oh, the irony!


THE NO-HUDDLE OFFENCE


Midway through his debut campaign as HC of the Bengals in 1984, Sam Wyche had a “Eureka!” moment with his team facing a third down and long. Why should the opposing defence be able to switch personnel to cover the throw that was bound to be coming their way?

At this time, “hurry-up” offences were commonly used when the game clock was running down but Wyche, along with offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, started using it regardless of how much time was left. Wyche began by boiling the huddle time down to about five seconds, despite being allowed 45 seconds between plays. He called this his “sugar huddle” because it was short and sweet.

George Rose / Getty Images

The concept involved having 12 or more players huddled up near the line of scrimmage, then those not involved skidaddled at the last second so as to not give their intended line-up away. If the defence then tried to switch personnel, the Bengals would quickly snap the ball and their opponents would be flagged for having too many players on the field. It also stopped the defence from regrouping for tactical purposes or for a breather. (As a result, the NFL changed in the rules, allowing defences to match an offence’s personnel changes before the snap.)

This soon evolved into the no-huddle offence and became the standard for the Bengals’ fast-paced play for several years. With QB Boomer Esiason at the epicentre, Wyche had three winning seasons, then bombed in ’87, but was given one more chance by (then owner) Paul Brown. It paid off: he led the Bengals to a 12-4 record and a run to the Super Bowl, where they only lost to (Bill Walsh’s) Niners in the final minute.

Bizarrely, because most coaches were convinced it wasn’t the secret behind the Bengals’ success, no one copied it. Well, no one other than Marv Levy, the coach of AFC rivals the Buffalo Bills. He turned the system, which he constantly tried to neutralise, into his own Jim Kelly-led “K-Gun”, going to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s on the back of it.


THE ZONE BLITZ DEFENCE


As a defensive coordinator with Pittsburgh, Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz system helped the Steelers triumph in Super Bowls XL and XLIII. And as the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, LeBeau used it as recently as 2017. But again, it all began in Cincinnati.

LeBeau, the Bengals’ defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator throughout the 1980s, devised a scheme that has become one of the most well-known in the NFL. To be totally fair, its inventor was actually Dolphins defensive coach Bill Arnsparger in 1971 but it didn’t gain traction until Lebeau refined and popularised it in the Eighties.

In essence, the zone blitz employs pass rushes and pass coverage from unexpected personnel. Five or more players are assigned to rush the quarterback, while players initially lined up to rush are dropped back into pass coverage. So for example, two linebackers and three linemen rush forward while a fourth lineman drops back. This misdirection is designed to confuse the offence about who will rush the passer, and from what angle, and who will retreat into the spaces left behind.

Shortly after Wyche became HC, LeBeau was promoted to defensive coordinator. Initially, he struggled against the West Coast offense (as did every other team at the time) but in 1987, he began doodling on a napkin on a flight back from a game. Safeties blitzing? Old hat. But linemen dropping back into pass coverage to nullify the big play if the blitz failed? That was new.

CincyJungle.com

By 1988, the Bengals were using a defence no one had ever seen, as well as running the aforementioned no-huddle offence. The combination took them all the way to Super Bowl XXIII, where they were 36 seconds from glory.

LeBeau left to become the defensive backs coach and later defensive coordinator with Pittsburgh. Sadly for Bengals fans, that’s where he perfected the system and turned the Steelers’ defensive unit into “Blitzburgh” as they stormed to five AFC Central titles from 1992 to 1997.


A WORD ON PAUL BROWN


If you look up Walter Camp, you’ll discover he’s known as the Father of American Football. He was the fella who coined the term “line of scrimmage”, decided on 11 players per team, and came up with the scoring system and the idea of downs. But Paul Brown – who hasn’t coached a football game for almost five decades and died in 1991 – remains the most influential figure in the NFL to this day.

That may sound like hyperbole but I kid you not, almost every facet of the game we know and love was introduced, improved or otherwise shaped by the co-founder and first coach of both Cleveland and Cincinnati. He is honoured in a team name (the Browns), a team’s home field (Cincy’s Paul Brown Stadium) and the NFL Coach of the Year award.

AP Photo

After coaching in high school, college and the military, Brown turned the way pro football teams operate on its head. He introduced such strange concepts as “strategy” and “preparation”. He hired a staff of full-time positional coaches. And he started scouting to improve the drafting process, all ideas that were eventually copied by every other franchise.

Brown is also credited with bringing in game plans, classroom study and testing players on their knowledge of a playbook; analysing game film of opponents; coaches and coordinators calling plays; and radio transmitters inside the quarterback’s helmet. And that’s barely scraping the surface.

The “pocket”, where offensive tackles turn outwards and create a horseshoe shape to buy a quarterback extra time? Brown’s idea.

Practice squads? Brown too.

The helmet facemask? Yep, you got it.

The 40-yard dash for evaluating player speed? Right again.

Despite his many accomplishments, Brown was not universally liked, as his Draconian, controlling ways often led to conflict. Nonetheless, his concepts can be traced like DNA through those who came after him, including Don Shula, Mike Tomlin, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Jon Gruden and Andy Reid. Not a bad lineage. 


Banner image credit: Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images

NFL Droughts

By Richard O’Brien (@richard_obs)

In the wake of Liverpool winning their first Premier League since it’s conception and 30 years, 58 days since their last league title, sporting droughts have been a hot topic as of late.

Whether you are looking to forget Liverpool’s title or a fan looking for some optimism in what seems like the dark age of your favourite franchise, we’ll take a look at the longest droughts which are set to be broken in the upcoming season.


The Cleveland Browns


19 Year Playoff Drought


Let’s get the obvious one out of the way, the Cleveland Browns.

As is reminiscent with the aforementioned Liverpool side, the Browns found themselves turn from a historic franchise winning a combined 4 NFL championships under the likes of legendary Jim Brown and co, to frequently finding themselves as the butt of the joke for verging on the past two decades.

As every NFL fan knows all too well, the drought of the Browns has been characterised not only by its length, but the extraordinary and spectacular failings of the team.

Baker Mayfield and post-hype Browns: Why big improvement should be ...
Mark J. Rebilas 

Whether that be the winless season or last season in which the Browns were hyped up by many to be Superbowl contenders, only to put themselves out of playoff contention by winning only 2 games in the first half of the season.

Whilst the Ohio based organisation does have a reasonably difficult schedule, being in a tough division and having to play at Dallas and Tennessee, now seems as good a time as any to make their first playoff appearance since the 2002 AFC Wildcard game.


The Dallas Cowboys


26 Year Championship Drought


Replacing the Browns as the most hyped up team heading into the new season, the Cowboys’ fans look to be rewarded for their wait with an NFL championship come February.

Although there are still question marks over the contract dispute between the organisation and their franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, everything else appears to be in order for America’s team to reclaim their perch. Much to the relief of Dallas fans worldwide, Jason Garrett has left the helm after a decade in the role of Head Coach. Garrett was replaced in the offseason by Mike McCarthy who coincidentally won his only Superbowl ring with the Green Bay Packers the same season that Garrett took over the role as Head Coach of Dallas.

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Aside from coaching, although this was often the focal point of Dallas’ fans frustrations over recent years, the initial eye test is that the organisation has drafted well securing Ceedee Lamb as the heir apparent to Michael Irvin to join an already stellar offense.

Although I’m still sceptical about the Cowboys chances to win it all, primarily because of the hype and lingering taste of the failure to meet expectations in the past, the aspirations are certainly still there from many.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers


14 Year Playoff Drought


Likewise, the Bucs have been an exciting and intriguing prospect for many fans heading into the 2020 season. The Buccaneers previous season was as much reminiscent of a roller coaster as any regular season can be.

From defensive highs like franchise record and league leading sacks from Shaq Barrett’s 19.5 sacks to the lows ranking 29th in overall defense. And of course, the offense. The rollercoaster effect was usually the cause of former first overall pick Jameis Winston who threw for over 5,000 yards and over 30 touchdowns, a feat many Hall of Fame QBs failed to achieve, but also threw 30 interceptions and set the record for 7 interceptions returned for touchdowns.

NFL: Tom Brady gets fresh start, Bruce Arians vies for legacy
Carmen Mandato / Getty

However, there were signs of life under new head coach Bruce Arians and with the high profile additions of former Patriots duo Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs look set to make their first playoff appearance since 2007.

Whilst some of the more optimistic fans have pointed to experienced, serial winners in Brady, Gronk and Arians as evidence of a possible title, whether that be divisional or a Superbowl ring, playoffs are certainly within reaching distance.


Buffalo Bills


26 Year Divisional Title Drought


On the face of it, the New England Patriots’ stranglehold on the AFC East appears to be over. Although the Patriots are still making attempts to hold their title as the top dogs in the division, with the addition of Quarterback Cam Newton to a 1 year deal, the Bills are looking to claim their first divisional title since 1995.

The Bills ended the 1995 regular season with a record of 10 wins and 6 losses, a record they will be looking to match at the very least in the upcoming season. The team’s defense ranked 3rd overall in 2019, and whilst the 2019 pro bowler and interception leader Tre’Davious White grabs the spotlight, the Bills have consistent quality throughout their defense.

Jordan Poyer: Buffalo Bills' defense is 'the best I've ever been on'
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Where the team has looked to improve the most this offseason is the other side of the ball, by adding wide receiver Stefon Diggs this past offseason in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings which cost them their 2020 1st round pick among some other deal sweeteners.

The signs of the Patriots dynasty finally meeting its death, whilst historically have been greatly exaggerated, seem as comprehensive as they will ever be. Now, the position is there for the Bills to take the mantle as the top team in the AFC East for the first time in 25 years.

For me, the only question that remains is whether Josh Allen will continue improving and making the necessary leap required heading into his third season to make the Bills the new beast from the East.

Super Cam to the Rescue?

By Andy Goddard (@Godsy1985)

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t surprise you anymore, Cam Newton is a Patriot! The news broke early Monday morning that the Patriots and Newton had agreed on an incentive-laden 1 year deal which has led to a rather large split in the fan base.

Image taken from ESPN

Newton, 31, had been without a team since his release from the Carolina Panthers in March 2020 and questions will still be asked regarding his recent injuries and ability to perform. The former league MVP only managed to play 2 games in the 2019 season due to a Lisfranc fracture and he also required surgery for a shoulder injury in March 2017.

Regardless of the injury concerns, this deal just makes too much sense for both parties. In a league where every other starting quarterback job is occupied, the Patriots give Newton the most realistic opportunity to compete for a starting job. The Patriots may still believe in Jarrett Stidham as a starting QB but the chance to sign someone of Newton’s calibre was always going to be of interest to head coach, Bill Belichick.

The self proclaimed ‘Super-Cam’ has a resume that speaks for itself. In 2015, Newton lead the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl and was awarded the league MVP after a 15-1 season. He has been selected to three pro bowls, was the 2011 rookie of the year and holds numerous Panthers and NFL records.

Bill Belichick will be happy to have Cam on the Patriots roster. Newton has a 2-0 record against the Patriots throwing for 6 touchdowns and just 1 interception with a 72% completion rate! Furthermore, Newton has a great record against all of the AFC East teams boasting a 7-1 record with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

This is a typical Belichick move. Heading into the 2020 season, the Patriots have no cap space and appeared to be ready to roll with Jarrett Stidham as their starter at quarterback but they have managed to work a deal that will cost the league minimum for a former league MVP! Newton can reportedly earn up to $7.5m with incentives.

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The Patriots could have just come away with the bargain of the off-season, the risk versus reward just makes this a no-brainer. If Newton can return to anywhere near his 2015 form, both parties will be able to work out a longer deal. If Cam plays well and is picked up as a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, then the Patriots could get a 3rd round compensatory pick in the 2022 draft, and If Cam is cut then there isn’t a big hit to the salary cap.

So why is there such a split in the fanbase? To say Cam Newton is eccentric is an understatement. He is very outspoken to the point of arrogance and some people cannot get over the fact he didn’t try to recover a fumble in Super Bowl 50, where he appeared to shy away from taking a hit. Unfortunately for Cam, he is following Tom Brady who was always seen as a ‘team player’ restructuring contracts and making decisions to give the team the best chance for success.

Then we have the injury concerns.

A fit and healthy Cam Newton would not have been available for the league minimum and he hasn’t been healthy since the first half of 2018! With the current corona virus outbreak, teams haven’t been able to get Newton in for a workout so it was always going to be hard to get a team to commit to him as a starter on significant money.

Before the injuries in 2018, Cam Newton had started the season very well leading the Panthers to a 6-2 start. Newton had a passer rating of 100.8 (10th in the league) after Norv Turner adapted the offense and gave Cam shorter passes to throw. This led to his completion percentage rising to 67.3 percent and averaging 4 touchdowns to every interception. Newton then suffered the shoulder injury that would later lead to surgery.

Image credit: Jason E. Miczek – AP

However, one distinction that needs to be made is that Newton had fully healed from the shoulder surgery and during the pre season camp (following surgery) it was reported that Newton had rediscovered the deep ball and looked to be back in primary position to lead the Panthers offense. In fact, at the start of the 2019 season he was overthrowing receivers as he appeared to be struggling when planting his foot, not struggling to get velocity on the ball.

Cam Newton will head into camp to battle it out with Jarrett Stidham to be the starter come week 1 and right now it’s difficult to know which quarterback the Patriots will go with. Is it possible for Newton to fit into the current Pats offence or is Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick formulating a new playbook to maximise Newtons assets? Josh McDaniels managed to get to the playoffs with Tim Tebow playing quarterback, and actually win one game. Cam’s skillset is much higher than Tebow so the thought of a McDaniels offense with Newton under center is an exciting proposition, especially with a solid offensive line. The Patriots offence morphs from game to game, highlighting other teams weaknesses and putting their players in the best position to succeed so a new scheme wouldn’t be a big surprise.

One major advantage is that the Patriots had already been planning around a run heavy offense by investing in their offensive line, David Andrews returning from IR, signing fullback Danny Vitale and drafting two tight ends who can both block. The Patriots will surely utilise zone read option plays and may even look at what Baltimore did in the 2019 season as a blueprint.

Belichick is a coaching genius but he has never had a player with the skillset of Cam Newton. The 9 year vet has a great chance of starting week 1 and succeeding in the 2020 season. The former number 1 overall pick in 2011 may see this as his last chance and that may be bad news for the rest of the league.

Have the Patriots just become real contenders again or is ‘Super Cam’ now just ‘backup Cam’? If he is fit and healthy, the Patriots have their new man under Center!