A phenomenally visual but also intimate exploration into fatherhood buoyed by Brad Pitt’s best performance since Moneyball. Gray induces us into a sound coma before delivering flashes of acute sensitivity.
The Truth – Hirokazu Kore-eda
Shoplifters wowed critics last year but I found more enjoyment in the intricacies and twists in this lovable drama set in Paris, Kore-eda’s English-language debut. The three big hitters (Deneuve, Binoche, Hawke) are electric thanks to a mesmerizing chemistry, and a shout out to the wonderful cinematography of Éric Gautier.
Scheme Birds – Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin
Scheme Birds won the Best Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival for its intricate and devastating chronicle of a young girl’s life in place broken by the death of industry. The directors exquisitely paint a necessary panorama into the challenges the youth of Scotland endure today.
Beats – Brian Welsh
Brian Welsh’s astonishing featureis an intoxicating ode to the 90s rave revolution. Anchored by remarkable performances from the young leads, Welsh authentically evokes an age where the youth were trapped and discarded.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld – Mads Brügger
As always, Brügger goes out of his way (and risks his life) to tell us a story we had no idea we needed to know about. Dag Hammarskjöld was the second ever Secretary-General of the UN. He died mysteriously in a plane crash in (then) Rhodesia in 1961. The film implicates the CIA, MI6, a Belgian mining company, and a real (or fake) South African paramilitary unit. Fascinating.
Diego Maradona – Asif Kapadia
A glorious, revelatory expose into Diego’s time with Napoli in Italy. Kapadia has firmly established himself as the lead filmmaker in the biographical documentary field.
The Good Liar – Bill Condon
Bill Condon’s filmography is an odd fish, I can’t work him out. Saying that, this is probably his best film. Reuniting with Sir Ian McKellen, this entertaining caper (is it a comedy, or is it a thriller?) pits a con-artist with his ultimate match, the fabulous, show-stealing Dame Helen Mirren. An unexpected ending adds gravitas.
Sorry We Missed You – Ken Loach
Echoing I, Daniel Blake, the latest feature from Ken Loach is probably his most important. Tackling the cutthroat legacy that the gig economy is leaving on working-class Britain, it is a wake-up call nobody in government will listen to. What delivery apps do you have on your phone right now?
The King – David Michôd
I am a sucker for a well made historic epic, and Australian duo Joel Edgerton and David Michôd do not hold back in both grandeur and budget in this bold, visceral retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry plays. Timothée Chalamet continues his road to greatness but it was the under-sung performance of Sean Harris that really grabbed me.
“Jesus Saves!” It is a popular saying across the world, apparently. It may adorn the green and yellow signs of the Coliseum next season as the Oakland Athletics aim to break the postseason voodoo by finally winning a Wild Card game. Why? It has everything to with the A’s number 1 prospect: Jesús Luzardo.
Acquired in the deal that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Washington Nationals in 2017, the Peruvian Luzardo made his Major League debut this season. His stat-line was more than impressive: 16 strikeouts in just 12 innings including 2 saves and 2 holds with a 1.50 ERA and 0.67 WHIP. He also came on in relief in the A’s Wild Card loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, tossing a further 3 shutout innings with 4 strikeouts, the youngest pitcher to do so in a postseason game since Madison Bumgarner in 2010
The 22-year-old Luzardo is the epitome of pitchability. His 5-pitch armory made mouths water in his stint in the bigs, and his postseason cameo sent the hype train into overdrive. And rightly so, Luzardo threw four fastballs at a recorded velocity of 98.7 mph, his highest all season. His ability to mix in his wicked sinker with elite command not only generates groundballs for outs but has top hitters missing on both sides of the plate: a 12.0 K/9 ratio this season is backed up by 129 strikeouts with a 2.88 ERA over three levels of minor league ball in 2018.
What really gets the senses tingling is his devastating curveball, which generated a whiff on 68% of swings during the regular season. It is not even Luzardo’s best pitch behind his fastballs, that would be his sinking changeup: a pitch that is often delivered in hurry-up to jam the hitter. According to FanGraphs pitch values, his wCH/C (changeup) is 5.0 compared to a wCU/C (curveball) of 3.87. Expect these numbers to increase significantly when Luzardo establishes himself as a key piece of the rotation for the Athletics in 2020.
The A’s have propped up their rotation the last couple of years by acquiring older free agents or cheap trade bits to scuttle their way to the postseason. These short term deals are for players who either suit their pitcher-friendly park or complement their elite defensive unit: starters such as Mike Fiers (38.8% flyball rate) and Brett Anderson (54.5% groundball rate) have delivered 28 wins while recent trade acquisitions Tanner Roark (4–3) and Homer Bailey (6–3) both finished with winning records adding another 10 wins in 23 starts. This has allowed the A’s to bring prospects like Luzardo, AJ Puk and Daulton Jefferies along with caution, particularly important given all three have had major injury issues.
The immediate truth, however, is that the A’s don’t have to do this anymore. Their young arms are ready, Frankie Montas showed that this season with his stellar 9–2 record with a 2.63 ERA before being hit with a suspension for PEDs. Puk flashed his 98mph arm out of the bullpen and looked comfortably at home. The biggest plus was probably the return of lefty Sean Manaea after his injury plagued 2018. He looked phenomenal in the regular season, going 4–0 in his five starts with an improved slider.
Luzardo is the jewel in the crown, however. His incredible poise on the mound is second-to-none among rookies expected to break into the starting rotation in 2020. Luzardo is calm in his demeanor, confident in his ability and disciplined in his delivery – think of Luzardo as the complete opposite of Rick Moranis realising his dream of becoming a Ghostbuster.
Luzardo is fascinatingly unpredictable, an invaluable asset in these days of uber-analytics especially when pitching through the batting order multiple times. Likely to slide into the back end of the rotation after Fiers, Manaea and Montas, Luzardo will provide the A’s with an almost perfect right-left rotation balance. The only red flag is the injury history: Luzardo tore his ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2016, just a few months before being drafted by the Nationals in the draft. He then strained his left rotator cuff late in spring training this season which curtailed his expectations of making the A’s rotation.
“But, where should I draft him in fantasy next season?” I hear you say. Pitcher List recently released their first mock draft for the 2020 fantasy season and the price for Luzardo was high, the 10th round. Luzardo was selected a round behind aces such as Jose Berrios, Brandon Woodruff and Sonny Gray; and ahead of this season’s stellar performers such Hyun-Jin Ryu, Mike Soroka and Max Fried. So, expect competition for the A’s young gun.
The beauty of the off-season is having the luxury to dive into analysis of the prospects and breakout candidates for 2020. Don’t be a fool, start with Jesús Luzardo.
During his 2019 Hall of Fame induction speech one of the greatest closers in baseball history, Lee Smith said “it wasn’t just my arm that got me here, it was the whole community.” Very apt, especially when this season was supposed to see the evolution of the opener and the fall of the starting rotation.
The truth is that baseball organisations need to rely on a solid starting rotation more than ever. Of all the teams that are participating in the postseason, only the Tampa Bay Rays regularly used an opener and carried less than 5 starting pitchers in their rotation through the regular season.
So, let’s look at this season’s perfect starting 5 (and look out for the ones to watch for next season):
Let’s start in Houston shall we? Why, well the Astros have not one but two surefire, genuine aces: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. I would not be surprised if members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decide to simply flip a coin on who takes out the American League Cy Young award. They have both been sensational.
Both stars have clocked over 200 innings pitched and 20 wins. Cole boasts a 2.50 ERA to Verlander’s 2.58 and also has a better K/9 (13.82 vs 12.11) and FIP (2.64 vs 3.27). Gerrit Cole, with a WAR exactly a point higher than Verlander’s (7.4 vs 6.4), just edges it for me – his elite fastball is valued at 36.2 wFB (total runs saved by a pitcher using that pitch), simply phenomenal. The closest starting pitcher to Cole is the St. Louis Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty at 31.8 wFB according to FanGraphs.
The competition behind Cole is elite but in the end they only serve as honourable mentions here. Jacob deGrom followed up his Cy Young year in 2018 with a few wobbles but came through to record the second best WAR in the league for starting pitchers (behind Cole) with 7.0. The Los Angeles Dodgers were finally graced with a full season from Hyun-Jin Ryu for the first time since 2014. Ryu finished with a Major League Baseball-leading 2.32 ERA for qualifying starting pitchers.
Ones to watch: aforementioned Cardinals young buck Jack Flaherty had a second half to remember allowing an ERA of just 0.93 in his last 16 starts. He will be the ace for this exciting Cardinals organisation for the foreseeable future. Luis Castillo also impressed earning his first All Star appearance. The Dominican recorded career-best marks in innings pitched (178 2/3), FIP (3.63), HR/9 (1.01) and placed 8th in strikeout rate among NL starters with 28.9%.
Dancing in the Moonlight
Slotting in second in the rotation, behind Mike Clevinger, has suited Indians young gun Shane Bieber very nicely indeed. In only his second year in the majors, Bieber led the American League with number of starts with 7 innings plus pitched and less than 2 earned runs allowed (15). His curveball is a monster, boasting a 48% whiff rate; and his 6.48 K/BB is the best for a starting pitcher aged 24 and under since 1871…wow! His strikeout number (259) trails only Cole and Verlander. What’s not to love, lock him in as your big game guy!
Ideally, a rotation’s number 2 guy throws with the opposite arm as your ace. So, let’s give some lefty love to Clayton Kershaw. Abandoned by the fantasy baseball world at the start of the year due to a shoulder injury, the Dodgers star finished 16-5 with a 3.05 ERA over 177 innings and 28 starts (his most since 2015). Contributing to a rotation that gave the Dodgers a combined 19.7 WAR, second to only the Astros, Kershaw once again proved he is not to be excluded from the conversation about the top arms in the game today,
You could call it an insult, giving a guy you just handed a 6 year, $140m contract to the number 3 spot in the rotation. It clearly didn’t bother Patrick Corbin, the Washington Nationals’ newest pitching gem, however. To be fair when you pitch behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg the insult turns into a compliment. Corbin also proved to be the perfect complement to the Scherzer, Strasburg 1-2 punch as the crafty lefty finished with a 16-7 record.
Increased use of his devastating sinker (34.7 % of pitches thrown) along with his equally effective slider (37.0 %) proved to be the catalyst that propelled the Nationals back to the playoffs. Shrewd business in DC!
Another lefty deserves special mention after he racked up 17 wins (2nd in the National League) for the Atlanta Braves, who went on to win the NL East. Max Fried was dominant in the middle of the rotation in his second year, mainly thanks to a much improved overall command. His BB/9 dropping from 5.35 to 2.55 whilst delivering 176 strikeouts. He also threw a complete game in 76 pitches (thanks to a rain shortened contest).
Zach Wheeler was really fun to watch in New York this season. He set career highs in innings pitched (195) and strikeouts (195), his fastball ranking 4th in all Major League Baseball in vFA (average velocity) at 97.1 mph.
It was no surprise that Wheeler was in demand when rumours started to fly as the trade deadline approached. The Mets refused to trade him and Wheeler went 4-2 with a 2.66 ERA over his final 11 outings working behind deGrom, Thor and newly acquired Marcus Stroman. Boom!
He improved his BB/9 to a career best 2.30 in the majors, and finished the season with a 3.48 FIP, ranked 21st in the league and just behind Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty. Impressive.
To round out our perfect 2019 rotation we are looking for that diamond in the rough: a durable vet or breakout rookie that delivered in quality starts and delivered when his team needed him the most. I can think of a few off the top of my head: veterans such as Brett Anderson for the A’s and Gio Gonzalez for the Brewers were important in their teams making the post-season; Frankie Montas also an Oakland A was a young gun dealing fire before a suspension for PEDs.
I dug a bit deeper looking for a guy who provided something a bit different, something that consistently made him successful and set him apart from other back-end-of-the-rotation guys. Rising to the top was second year Cardinal arm, Dakota Hudson.
With a solid 16-7 record in his first season as a starter, Hudson pitched 174 innings across 32 starts. His low .275 BABIP is thanks to his elite ability to generate groundballs. Hudson led Major League Baseball with a 57.3% groundball rate among qualified starters, a valuable asset especially when you see today’s hitters love of the longball.
The 2019 Perfect Rotation
There you have it, ladies and gentleman, please applaud this season’s perfect starting rotation:
Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals Zach Wheeler, New York Mets Dakota Hudson, St. Louis Cardinals
*All stats above taken from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference
As the draft clock ticks down towards zero, fantasy owners scramble to make the “right pick” for their team. Here are my surefire picks in every round to keep you competitive.
NOTE: based up on 12 team, 15 round PPR redraft league using Fantasy Football Calculator for ADP and The Fantasy Footballers projections for the 2019 season
Let’s not kid ourselves, if you have a top 4 pick then take your preference: Barkley, Elliot, Kamara or CMC. Personally, I prefer Christian McCaffrey. Not only did he lead the Panthers in receptions last year with 107, his 300 yards after contact was second only behind George Kittle in all positions.
The later half of the draft order is where is gets interesting. No.1 wide receivers in a pass-heavy offense is where it is at. Both the Texans and Falcons gave WRs over 65% of target shares last season. That won’t change. DeAndre Hopkins over Julio Jones for me but you can’t go wrong with either.
The Reach: Travis Kelce is outside the top 12 ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator. Don’t sleep on him!
Your first pick skews your thinking on your second far too much, they say! “I took an RB so I have to take a WR in PRR next, right?” Well, maybe. Maybe not. But it is no surprise the current 13-24 ADP spots are made up of 6 RBs, 5 WRs and Travis Kelce. The key to this round is solid, consistent production. For me, that’s JuJu Smith-Schuster
Antonio Brown is gone and Big Ben is still slinging. JuJu had 29 Red Zone targets last season, which was second only to Davante Adams. AB leaves 24 red zone targets up for grabs, Big Ben is sure to throw at least half of those JuJu’s way!
If it is RB you are targeting then James Conner or Joe Mixon are safe bets. Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook have huge upside, especially the latter with Gary Kubiak’s presence in Minnesota.
The Reach: TY Hilton has a current ADP of 27, that is too good value. Nab him at the end of Round 2 and sit back as he produces Top 5 WR numbers this year
In the modern fantasy world waiting to grab your TE until after Round 5 is just not a thing anymore. The reality is that if you do not pick one of Kelce, Kittle or Ertz within the first few rounds, you are short on production at the position. Kelce will be off the board so my guy in this round is Zach Ertz.
Not only did the Philadelphia Eagle set a single season record for catches by a TE (116) but Pro Football Focus stats tell us he averages 16.1 fantasy points per game, second only to Kelce, and over 4 PPG more than Kittle.
There is plenty of value at WR here too: Adam Thielen, Amari Cooper and AJ Green are all solid picks with big seasons in front of them.
The Reach: Easy one here – Stefon Diggs! Sitting just outside a Round 3 ADP, the Minneapolis Miracle man is projected to outscore Amari Cooper and Keenan Allen according to The Fantasy Footballers.
It is highly possible one of these productive RB1s falls to you early in Round 4: Devonta Freeman, Leonard Fournette or Marlon Mack. Do not hesitate, pick them up!
Devonta Freeman in particular looks set for a huge bounce-back season as long as he can stay healthy. The Falcons lost Tevin Coleman in free agency and did little to replace him, using a late round draft pick on rookie Qadree Ollison out of Pittsburgh. Not only is Freeman a “Matty Ice” security blanket, he is also a good bet for Red Zone targets. If he can replicate his 7 Red Zone touchdowns from 2017, he will tear it up in 2019.
Later round value comes in the form of oft-undervlaued Ram Robert Woods, Matthew Stafford’s favourite target Kenny Golladay, and the explosive Calvin Ridley.
The Reach: I spend hours figuring out the how Bill Belichick will use the Patriots backfield. Yes, I know I am an idiot. Despite this, James White is someone you should absolutely be thinking about late in Round 4. White finished 7th in points scored for RBs in PPR leagues last season, ahead of Melvin Gordon, David Johnson and Joe Mixon. Believe it!
Yes, I haven’t even talked about taking a QB yet. And if you have by now in a PPR league then good luck to you, however you have probably overpaid. In Round 5, however, there are a few stellar picks you could cash in on.
I really love Andrew Luck at this point. The Stanford phenom set career highs in pass attempts (639) and completions (430), finishing top 12 in PPR scoring overall last season. Frank Reich will let him loose once again. Jack Doyle will hopefully be healthy for a full season, and improvements in the receiving core come in the form of Devin Funchess and talented Ohio State wideout (and 2nd round draft pick) Parris Campbell. Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson are incredible consolation prizes if Luck is taken.
Cooper Kupp and Jarvis Landry offer safe, sensible value. RB starts to thin out at this point and after PPR favourites like James White, Tarik Cohen and Phillip Lindsay are gone, Chris Carson and Tevin Coleman don’t sound too appealing.
The Reach: Give me all the Mike Williams I can carry late in Round 5. Likely to steal targets from Keenan Allen, the Clemson product earned the most fantasy points per touch (3.56) among qualifying WRs last year according to Pro Football Focus.
There is some serious breakout potential for players with an ADP in Round 6. Matt Nagy’s offense only went through its warm up last year, and with more creativity for Mitch Trubisky to play with, Allen Robinson stands to benefit. The Bears Head Coach recently made the following comment to the media about Robinson: “He’s one of the top players I’ve ever coached.”
Coming off an ACL, Robinson’s 13-game first season in Chicago was certainly encouraging. But the Wild Card loss to the Eagles flashed a future that allows fantasy owners to drool. Robinson went off for 143 yards and a TD on 10 catches from 13 targets. He will enter the 2019 campaign as the clear WR1 on an offense that needs to allow Trubisky to throw more to take the next step.
Robby Anderson, Dante Pettis and Tyler Boyd are on the cusp of a breakout in offenses that will benefit from QB or scheme upgrades – you should be seriously be looking at drafting these guys here.
The Reach: I generally avoid the RB position in these key rounds to add solid production as you are generally dealing with guys who don’t really have pass-catching in their locker, or solely guys who pass-catch out of the backfield. However, Austin Ekeler does both and with Melvin Gordon holding out, it’s a no-brainer to snap him up ahead of the competition.
You have reached the “stop, take a breath and analyse” stage of your draft. It is likely you will have filled 6 out of 7 of your key position slots (QB, 2 x RB, 2 x WR, TE, FLEX). So, you have a few options:
1. A smart moved would be to fill that last spot with the best available player determined by ADP 2. Bulk up on a position you like because of who is left (take note of bye weeks to maximise value). 3. Get ahead of the league on a back up QB 4. Reach for that rookie you think is going to tear it up
Most people will be looking at QB or TE which is reflected in the ADP options available. Matty Ice, Drew Brees and Carson Wentz all appear as do Eric Ebron, Jared Cook and Vance McDonald. I would go QB in PPR with Matt Ryan being the perfect option. Ryan produced 3 top 30 WRs last season: WR2 Julio Jones (329.8 pts), WR20 Calvin Ridley (208.8) and WR30 Mohamed Sanu (178.2). With Devonta Freeman back also (see Round 4), Matty Ice is the extreme value QB in PPR leagues for 2019.
The Reach: Option 4 is the most exciting of the bunch so let’s take a punt! Miles Sanders has a late Round 7 ADP and stands to benefit from an uncertain backfield in a team who loves to run the ball, the Philadelphia Eagles. Send in the ticket!
All the TEs above hold far too high a price, so if any of them drop I would still say stay away! Instead look to grab some value at RB or WR for your bye weeks. Essentially it is a choice between the consistent tried and tested veterans or the low floor, high ceiling upstarts.
Larry Fitzgerald stands out like a sore thumb here at WR. Kyler Murray is going to lean on the Hall of Fame legend heavily in his rookie campaign, and with Fitz lining up in the slot 70% of the time, he should be pushing WR2 numbers most weeks. Marvin Jones and Sammy Watkins are two other notable veterans in pass-happy systems.
At RB the value is less obvious. Jordan Howard and Royce Freeman are in timeshares; the Bills brought in 3 RBs (Gore, Yeldon, Singletary) to compete with Shady McCoy; Kareem Hunt has an 8 game suspension to serve before seeing the field; and who knows what Ronald Jones II will be in 2019. Don’t worry, there is hope in the form of Latavius Murray, who might still be knocking around early in Round 8. The former Viking quietly improved his overall game in Minnesota and replaces Mark Ingram in the explosive Saints offense. Sleeper alert!
The Reach: if you desperately want to fill that gap at TE then I will scratch your itch. Popular breakout pick David Njoku has an ADP smack bang in the middle of Round 8, which is nice. What is even nicer is that Baker Mayfield is his QB!
..or “The Sleeper Round” as it is also known. We all play fantasy football for the love of the game, right? Well, here is your opportunity to draft a guy you loved coming out of college, or saw take big steps in their second year, or is about to benefit from a timely coaching or scheme change. This is the pick that may win you an extra week, or playoff game, or championship. Get it right!
Marques Valdes-Scantling was the clear breakout of the 3 WRs the Packers drafted last year to help Aaron Rodgers become a Superbowl contender once again. That obviously didn’t happen but MVS flashed the skill-set of a WR2 in what promises to be a creative offense under new Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
Corey Davis stands to be a true X receiver this season after the Titans added A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries. News out of camp is that the former 1st round pick has significantly improved his body control to make the most out of his commanding 6’3″ frame. Despite a run-first offense, at this value Davis is a tasty prospect.
The Reach: a “deep sleeper” if you will! I stay at WR here and give you Anthony Miller. The Fantasy Footballers highlight Miller’s 72.6 % success rate vs. man coverage in his rookie season. Pair that up with an impressive 7 TDs despite playing the season with a separated shoulder. A healthy Miller under Matt Nagy in year 2 is a mouth-watering prospect. His current late Round 11, early Round 12 ADP is insulting.
Those smart enough to resist the urge of reaching for a QB are likely to be rewarded with some very effective, efficient options at this point in your fantasy draft.
Elite talents like Cam Newton and Jared Goff may have fallen to early Round 10. Jameis Winston is a bounce-back darling under the gaze of QB whisperer Bruce Arians, and Philip Rivers never fails to put up big numbers.
My target would be Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who set career-highs in passing yards (5,129), TDs (34) and pass attempts (675) last season. Fresh off a contract extension, and with JuJu Smith-Schuster graduating to be his primary receiver, Big Ben will again be a Top 5 QB in PPR in 2019.
The Reach: We are talking QBs so we have to talk about Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers franchise stud is coming off an ACL sustained during a miserable opening 3 game stint in which he failed to register 300 yards passing and boasted a completion percentage below 60%. Kyle Shanahan has amassed a series of RBs and WRs begging for dump offs, slants and check downs. It won’t be a pretty offense but it may be productive.
Late Rounds and what to do with rookies
It is much harder to predict the fantasy output of the players ranked 101-200 than it is the the top 100, fact! Public opinion, team bias, handcuffs, etc…there are lots of reasons why. I am going to try cut through the spaghetti to give you 3 players you need to draft for your bench:
Dede Westbrook is currently hovering just outside the top 100 in ADP and with guaranteed improved QB play from Nick Foles, the 3rd year Oklahoma wide-out is due for a huge year in 2019
The Atlanta Falcons have one of the most underrated TEs in the NFL in Austin Hooper (ADP 156), who is guaranteed to see a bump in production (from a mere possession TE) thanks to Dirk Koetter’s love of TEs in red zone packages. Feed him Matty Ice, feeeed him!
Slot receivers are not the sexiest of picks but you cannot shy away from their production at the positions thanks to a steady stream of targets and receptions. Jets QB Sam Darnold gets an upgrade with Jamison Crowder (ADP 178), who is exactly the type of receiver you want to fill in when the bye weeks come rolling.
I will only say this once: if your league has DST and K then please do not draft them before the last two rounds. No exceptions, no excuses. Ok, good chat!
Rookies violently divide opinions in the redraft community. Veteran fantasy players will be adamant that they “will not be drafting any rookies” during their drafts. Others argue that rookies can make a huge impact late in the season when your playoffs and championships are being decided.
3 rookies finished top 10 in PPR leagues between week 13 and week 17 last season: Josh Allen (2), Saquon Barkley (8) and George Kittle (9). Furthermore, Nick Chubb and Justin Jackson were both top 20 RBs in the fantasy championship window (weeks 14 – 16).
So, I think you should be seriously considering rookies with your last couple of bench spots. Here are a couple to consider:
Darwin Thompson (RB): do not sleep on the Kansas City Chiefs offense. Mahomes journey to stardom will continue in spectacular fashion and everyone will benefit. Thompson is a versatile, 3-down back with explosive spreed and underrated strength. The RB room in KC is far from set and Thompson could be this year’s Phillip Lindsay
Mecole Hardman (WR): as above! Despite only playing two years as a receiver at Georgia, Hardman not only offers huge upside as he develops with Mahomes but his potential to return punts makes him a clear PRR late round flier.
Devin Singletary (RB): The Bills love to run the football. An ageing group at RB, including LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore and TJ Yeldon, are likely to be knicked up, traded, or cut as the season goes. Singletary, according to The Fantasy Footballers, finished his senior year in the top 10 in attempts per game and total touchdowns, and just outside the top 10 in rushing yards per game. What is more impressive is he accomplished all of this behind an offensive line that ranked in the bottom third of the NCAA. Tasty!
Daniel Jones (QB): everyone laughed when the Duke QB was called at No. 6 overall in the NFL draft, right? Nope. I had Jones as my QB1 and his development under QB guru David Cutliffe was all on shown in his 423 yds, 5 TDs performance against Temple in the Independence Bowl. His remarkable athleticism, ability to read the defense and incredible accuracy points to Jones taking over the starting job in New York before their week 11 bye.
N’Keal Harry (WR): last year the Patriots selected Sony Michel late in the first round of the draft. His performances in the post-season en-route to another Pats Super Bowl win were nothing short of phenomenal. Harry is the first wide receiver ever drafted by Bill Belichick in the first round. Same same, please!
Congratulations, you are now ready to draft your championship fantasy team! Good luck for the season ahead!
The ever-enigmatic Jeff Daniels, in an Emmy-nominated performance, plays John O’Neill in this thrilling limited series that depicts the growing threat of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the decade prior to 9/11. Brash, vitriolic and utterly entertaining, Daniels steals the show as O’Neill, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit. The series gives us a visceral examination of the toxic rivalry between the FBI and CIA at the time; the producers focus upon the bitter infighting for ownership of information and cite this as a key cause of tragedy of 9/11. Dan Futterman, the Oscar-nominated writer of “Capote” and “Foxcatcher,” served as showrunner on the series, which highlights how dangerous government dysfunction can be. Timely in the current political climate.
LAST CHANCE U – Season 3
Netflix’s sports docuseries focused on the most at-risk junior college American Football athletes returned with a new school and new egotistical, repulsive head coach. Director Greg Whiteley’s compelling, refined approach to relational tension elevates this series from its predecessors, with the attention shifting acutely to the non-football aspects of the players lives. As educators and coaches attempt (through varying, questionable means) to stress the juncture between success and failure that these young men find themselves in, many seem undaunted by the risks. It is arguable that this ineffective educational system, and the personalities it recruits to mould the minds of future Americans, only serves to fuel the social issues the country spends billions of dollars trying combat every year. Essential for any sports enthusiast!
A triumphant return for Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church as we leave the highly agreeable yet tragic and suffocating first season behind in favour of an undoubtedly lighter and more optimistic second season in which both characters look towards a more amenable future. The great success is that we don’t lose any of the black in the comedy in doing so. It also remains one of the most authentic shows on screen with sharp writing, two loveable characters who are given plenty of development, and plenty of moments that explore the honesty of human emotions. Tracey Letts and Molly Shannon return to provide wonderful supporting cameos in this must see TV comedy of the year.
SBS recently brought to our screens the unnerving dramatisation of the infamous FBI and ATF siege of religious leader David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound near the small Texas town of Waco in 1993. Koresh and 82 of his followers died in the siege, including over 20 children. The series is worth the watch purely for the performances of Taylor Kitsch (of Friday Night Lights fame) as Koresh, and the imposing Michael Shannon as FBI hostage negotiator, Gary Noesner. Based upon two memoirs, one from survivor David Thibodeau and the other from Noesner, the series has divided opinions amongst critics primarily for its sympathetic angle on self-styled prophet Koresh, who was accused of stockpiling illegal firearms, statutory rape and child abuse. Despite the series’ flaws, it is no doubt an apt, engaging think piece about domestic security and firearms, two of the most important political agenda items in modern day America.
Honourable mentions: THE SINNER – Season 2; GLOW – Season 2; COME HOME; SHARP OBJECTS
“It’s coming home…it’s coming…” has been heard out of every car radio and back garden around England this week as the promise of Gareth Southgate’s team grows amongst popular opinion. Some of the tournament’s big favourites have departed early, which has only inflamed the debate over how far this England side could go. A tricky first knockout game awaited at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow against José Pékerman’s organised and dangerous Colombia. Severely hampered by the news that star Bayern Munich attacking midfielder James Rodríguez was out through injury, the Los Cafeteros implemented a solid 3-man defensive midfield with young duo Jefferson Lerma and Wílmar Barrios sitting alongside experienced Fiorentina stalwart Carlos Sanchez, employed in the Carrilero role.
Despite England starting the brighter of the teams, there was very little in terms of chances or expressive play in the opening half. The movement of Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and especially Jesse Lingard did cause the Colombians a number of issues. The Manchester United man cleverly played in the dynamic Kieran Trippier, whose teasing cross from the right was narrowly headed over by Harry Kane in what was the best chance of the half. Lingard could have put England ahead just before half time, however he snatched at an effort at the edge of the penalty area after a good clearance from Davinson Sánchez. Pékerman’s side had defended stoutly – Sánchez and the impressive Yerry Mina allowing nothing in behind their backline. A scuffed long-range effort from Juan Fernando Quintero was all the Colombians could manage as an attacking threat as England controlled possession.
Southgate’s side again took the initiative after the break as a number of set pieces piled pressure on the Colombians at the back. It was a matter of time before all the shenanigans (the blocking, jostling and shirt-pulling) in the penalty area were going to cause a flash point. Carlos Sanchez got himself in a pickle with Kane and, without eyes on the ball, hauled the England captain down as a corner was whipped in. The referee made no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Kane stepped up and emphatically fired his penalty past the diving David Ospina to give The Three Lions a deserved lead. It could have been two shortly after – Harry Maguire winning a header and Trippier again delivering a fantastic ball to the back post that Dele Alli could only head over from close range. Into the last 15 minutes and Colombia abandoned all defensive pretence. 21 fouls and 7 yellow cards in less than half an hour of football defined the scrappy, disingenuous character the game was now being played in. England soaked up everything Colombia could throw at them but you always felt they would give Los Cafeteros a chance – Kyle Walker the guilty party, giving the ball away under no pressure but Juan Cuadrado could only fire the chance high and wide from the edge of the box.
The game was petering out but then, out of nothing, drama! First, a sensational opportune strike from Mateus Uribe is acrobatically saved by Jordan Pickford. From the resulting corner, John Stones leaves his man Yerry Mina, whose powerful downward header bounces up and over Trippier on the line to secure a last-gasp equaliser for the jubilant Colombians. Extra time started in the same vain as the 90 minutes finished – two sides competing for everything, looking for an advantage in every foul and contentious tackle. It was enthralling to watch. The Colombians had their tails up as England desperately tried to recover and regain control of the match. Perkerman’s side could sense a victory and dominated possession in the middle of the park throughout extra time. Excellent work from Johan Mojica down the left flank resulted in a lovely cross that Carlos Bacca headed wide under pressure from Harry Maguire. England settled in the second period and nearly produced a winner after good work from Eric Dier and Jesse Lingard released substitute Danny Rose, but the Tottenham Hotspur wing-back could only flash his cross-shot narrowly wide of Ospina’s far-post.
Penalties – after five succesful penalties, Jordan Henderson stepped up and saw his penalty outstandingly saved by Ospina with one hand. Mateus Uribe then smashed his penalty against the crossbar to even things up. Jordan Pickford brilliantly saved Bacca’s penalty before Eric Dier converted to send England into the quarter finals!
Man of the Match: ERIC DIER!!!!
Best: Kieran Trippier, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane (ENG), Yerry Mina, Davinson Sánchez, Johan Mojica (COL)
Played out under the intense heat inside the Cosmos Stadium in Samara, Senegal and Colombia met for the Group H decider in a real “winner takes all” match. Even though a draw could have been enough for both sides to progress (depending on the Japan vs Poland result), it was clear no team had prepared for that eventuality – the opening period was both cavalier and frantic. José Pékerman’s Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers) brushed off a disappointing opening performance to comprehensively dispatch Poland last time out – the attacking flair of Radamel Falcao, Juan Fernando Quintero, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodríguez exciting the crowds and neutrals alike. However, it was Aliou Cissé’s Les Lions de la Téranga (The Lions of Teranga) that started the brighter. After a number of early exchanges it took only 10 minutes for the exciting Monaco winger Keita Baldé to slip in his captain Sadio Mané in behind the Colombia defence. A perfectly-timed tackle from Spurs defender Davinson Sánchez on Mané was initially given as a penalty but the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) overturned the decision quite rightly. Down the other end, a wonderful bending free-kick from the impressive, cultured River Plate midfielder Juan Fernando Quintero was kept out smartly by Senegal stopper Khadim N’Diaye. Senegal pushed forward with vigour, however, and both Mané and Torino forward M’Baye Niang had shots well saved by David Ospina. Colombia had to suffer the loss of influential vice-captain James Rodríguez , a key cog in Colombia’s game-plan, and, in truth, they rarely threatened the Senegalese goal. A disappoiting day at the races so far for both sides.
A scrappy start to the second period, defined by some very poor passing, wasn’t what the neutral was after. The crowd came alive, however, at the news Poland had gone ahead against the Japanese in the other game in the group, effectively putting both sides through to the knockout stages. Colombia started to dictate the play and go in search of a goal as the impressive Mateus Uribe continued to cause problems for Kalidou Koulibaly and his backline. The goal that won the game came inside the last 20 minutes: Senegal switched off momentarily for a set piece, allowing Barcelona defender Yerry Mina to rise brilliantly and direct a powerful header past the despairing Khadim N’Diaye. His second goal of the tournament. As the game played out it became apparent to everyone that this group could be decided by fair play, of all things. So when the final whistle was heard, Senegal were knocked out of the finals due to two late yellow cards in their games. Salif Sané and Idrissa Gueye were booked in the first group game; Youssouf Sabaly, Cheikh N’Doye and M’Baye Niang were shown yellow in the second. Niang was the only player booked in this game. Two of those cards happened in the 90th and 91st minute of games. Heartbreaking for the Africans, the have been wonderful value at this tournament and deserve a place in the final stages. However, it is Japan and Colombia that go through from Group H.
Man of the Match: Davinson Sánchez (COL)
Best: Davinson Sánchez, Yerry Mina, Juan Fernando Quintero, and Jefferson Lerma (COL), Sadio Mané, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sané (SEN)
The final match in Group E between Seleção (The Squad) and Beli orlovi (The White Eagles) was a neutral’s dream. The permutations for both teams were simple – they both could top the group, finish second or be eliminated depending on Switzerland’s result against lowly Costa Rica. Head Coach Tite has battled both his players and the country’s fans in the media after two less-than-convincing showings in the tournament so far. Two injury-time goals edged them past the Costa Ricans, meaning only a draw was needed at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow tonight to confirm their place in the second round. Serbia have also struggled – only a set piece saved them from drawing with Costa Rica and last time out they were soundly beaten by the Swiss. With so much on the line for both sides, there was the added problem of discipline with 3 players from each side running the risk of suspension for the knockout stages: Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Casemiro for Brazil; Aleksandar Mitrovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Nemanja Matic for the Serbs. Big names!
Brazil started the brighter of the teams with Neymar and Coutinho linking up well to bring an early save from Vladimir Stojković. Then, in a huge blow for Tite’s men, the influential Marcelo was replaced by former Chelsea defender Filipe Luís – the Real Madrid wing back suffering an apparent back injury. Neymar forced another good parry from Serbia’s Partizan stopper before Gabriel Jesus raced through, beating the offside trap, only for his weak effort to be kept out also. Stojković then made the game’s first big mistake: a delightful through ball from Coutinho found the run of Paulinho through the middle of the Serbian defence, Stojković failed to get to the ball in time and the Barcelona midfielder poked the ball over him to give Brazil the lead. It was a moment of pure class from Coutinho in an otherwise drab first half between two sides out of kilter.
As the second half limped on, signs of the familiar Brazilian complacency at the back started to emerge and the game felt like a cup tie. The White Eagles forayed forward after clearing a corner to find themselves four-on-four: Torino’s Adem Ljajic worked his way into the box and played a one-two with Dusan Tadic – but the return pass was a complete waste and summed up the night for the Serbs up until then. Still the Serbs piled on pressure, however; Aleksandar Mitrovic had a strong shot blocked, before Sergej Milinkoviv-Savic fired wide from 15 yards. Another chance for Mitrovic went begging, the Newcastle forward caused huge problems for Miranda but headed low straight at goalkeeper Alisson. Seleção knocked the wind from the Serbian sails with twenty minutes left – Thiago Silva popped up in front of Nemanja Matić at the near post to head a Neymar corner past Stojković to send Tite’s side into the knockout stages. It was harsh on Mladen Krstajić’s side who had given it a good crack but lacked the necessary quality to really hurt the average Brazilian backline.
The critics remain but the fans will party tonight and celebrate Neymar and co topping the group. Brazil could really struggle against a pacy, counter-attacking side with lots of quality in the final third. Next up: Mexico, who have just that. A mouthwatering prospect for all football fans.
Man of the Match: Philippe Coutinho (BRA)
Best: Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho, Thiago Silva (BRA), Aleksandar Mitrović, Sergej Milinković-Savić, Nemanja Matić, Vladimir Stojković (SRB)
As expected in Group A, this fixture would decide who finishes top of the group. Despite both teams already securing their spot in the knockout stages, the triumphant team would, as a result, most likely avoid a second round tie against the mighty Spanish. A flurry of changes for both La Celeste (The Sky Blue) and Золотые Орлы (The Golden Eagles) meant there were lots of new faces looking to impress on a sunny afternoon at the Samara Arena. Young Lokomotiv forward Aleksei Miranchuk was given his chance up front for Russia, and Uruguay’s Lucas Torreira was also given his first World Cup start – the 22-year-old is widely expected to join Arsenal from Sampdoria for £26m after the tournament. A lively end-to-end start resulted in the opening goal coming after just 9 minutes – Yuri Gazinskiy’s clumsy challenge from behind on Rodrigo Bentancur gifted a free-kick on the edge of the box to Uruguay. Luis Suárez stepped up and emphatically drove the ball hard and low past Igor Akinfeev in the Russia goal. The goalkeeper will be disappointed conceding on the same side as his positioning – you have to save those in a World Cup tournament. Russia nearly levelled the contest immediately as a lovely ball into the box from Miranchuk found Denis Cheryshev, the tournament’s surprise package so far, but he could only fire straight at Muslera. The Russians rued that missed chance as midway through the first half a Uruguayan corner was only half-cleared to Diego Laxalt. The Genoa man connected poorly with his shot at goal but thanks to a huge deflection off the unfortunate Cheryshev, Igor Akifneev was wrong-footed and the shot looped into the corner of the Russian net. Óscar Tabárez and his staff were delighted in the dugout, a pleasing sight. His side was well on top in the first half thanks to an effective press across the midfield and some aggressive forward play down the Russian flanks. It went from bad to worse for the hosts of the tournament, however, as two rash challenges from Igor Smolnikov minutes apart saw the Zenit Saint Petersburg defender given his marching orders quite rightly. A shell-shocked Stanislav Cherchesov went into the tunnel at the break with a damage limitation problem on his hands!
The game was effectively over as a contest after the break. The Uruguayans were happy to recycle the ball and see out the match, whilst the Russians struggled to play their way back into the game with only 10 men. Diego Godín was phenomenal as the cornerstone for Tabárez’s team who were determined to give nothing away at the back. The introduction of Krasnodar’s skilful forward Fyodor Smolov gave Russia a bit more of a direct threat for the final period of the game, and it was his mazy run that produced the best chance for Russia to pull a goal back. Muslera wasn’t in the mood to concede, however, and spoiled the Russian’s cross as Dzyuba lurked dangerously. The only sour note for Uruguay so far in the tournament has been the lack of reward for the hard-working Edinson Cavani. That was quickly dismissed minutes from the end – Godin thundering a bullet header from Torreira’s corner towards goal, Akinfeev did well to parry the ball away but the PSG forward was on hand to sweep the ball past the Russian stopper to claim his much-deserved first goal of the finals.
Three wins, three clean sheets, a perfect start for Uruguay. The Russian party has been rocked, however they still progress and managed to rest key players for what will be the country’s most important game in decades as either Spain or Portugal await in the first knockout round.
Man of the Match: Diego Godín (URU)
Best: Diego Godín, Rodrigo Bentancur, Lucas Torreira, Edinson Cavani (URU), Daler Kuzyayev, Artem Dzyuba, Sergei Ignashevich (RUS)
Buoyant after positive results in their opening games, Serbia met the Swiss in Kaliningrad in a crunch fixture that both teams would have highlighted prior to the tournament as a must-win. With Brazil the overwhelming favourites to progress, the two European teams know they are fighting over the second qualifying spot. The Swiss earned a well-deserved point against Brazil largely thanks to a dogged defensive display in which they were successful in preventing the Brazilians from playing in between the lines. Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji was sensational that night – at only 22 and winning his 9th cap, he is a future leader for Vladimir Petković’s Rossocrociati (Red Crosses). Serbia were less convincing against a Costa Rican side who had their chances to share the spoils in Samara. Reliant on a wonderful trade-mark free-kick from Aleksandar Kolarov to break the deadlock, Бели Орлови/Бели Орлови (The White Eagles) failed to click in midfield and but for a commanding performance from Partizan goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković, it could have been a disappointing start to the finals. Mladen Krstajić’s men started the better of the teams tonight, however. Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matić doing what he does best by winning the ball in midfield before releasing Dušan Tadić down the right. His sumptuous ball into the penalty area was met wonderfully by Aleksandar Mitrović to head the Serbs in front. The Newcastle United forward (who enjoyed a prolific campaign in the Championship with Fulham last term) attached himself to Akanji’s defensive partner Fabian Schär in the opening period in an attempt to assert his physical superiority. It worked – cushioning the ball on his chest from a Branislav Ivanović cross, Mitrović peeled away from Schär and acrobatically sent a good effort narrowly over Yann Sommer’s crossbar. The Swiss then wasted a glorious chance to level with their first attack of the game. AC MIlan’s superb left back Ricardo Rodríguez dispossessed Ivanović on the edge of the Serb box, wasting no time to expertly pick out compatriot Blerim Džemaili, only to see the Bologna man drag his shot horribly wide from 8 yards out. The Swiss slowly started to come into the game after a pedestrian start. Dynamic transition play from the defensive to attacking thirds, led by the distribution of Akanji and Rodriguez, was beginning to cause issues for the Serbian midfield. Džemaili collected an intricate through ball from Steven Zuber but his poked effort goalwards lacked power and was comfortably parried away by Stojković. Just as the Swiss looked the more likely to level before the break, a Serbian corner from the right found Duško Tošić unmarked 5 yards out in the centre of the goal. Somehow the Guangzhou R&F Football Club defender blazed his header wide and a collective head-in-hands expression could be witnessed by every Serbian player, coach and supporter inside the stadium.
Mario Gavranović replaced the ineffective Haris Seferović for the Swiss at the break, Vladimir Petković choosing to exploit the flanks in search of an equaliser. The Serbs failed to adapt and it didn’t take long for the Swiss to level. Another marauding run from Rodriguez on the counter saw the ball reach Xherdan Shaqiri at the far edge of the box. His shot was deflected into the path of Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, who thundered a left-foot strike back across goal and past the static Stojković. Game on! Moments later the Swiss could have been ahead. The enigmatic Shaqiri, ever blowing hot and cold, pops up on the right and weaves his way between two Serb defenders before curling an outrageous effort past the Serbian keeper. Despair, however, as the ball clips the outside of the post and deflects wide. Into the final 10 minutes and it is anyones game, both teams trading blows across the park in a thrilling contest.
A huge moment seconds before the 90 are up – the brilliant Akanji clears a Serbian cross with another fine header. Rodriguez moves the ball forward quickly to Zuber who spots Shaqiri’s clever cross-field run and slips him in behind the Serbian defence. The Stoke City man bursts into the box and slides the ball between the advancing Stojković and tracking Tošić to send the Swiss fans into jubilation. It is no more than their efforts deserve in the second half, and due credit to Petković and his tactical switch at half time. The Swiss go into the Costa Rica game knowing a draw will be enough to send them through to the knockout stages. Serbia need to pick themselves up off the floor and find a way to beat Brazil to qualify. They were again hampered by a lack of midfield creativity, Krstajić’s tactics were far too one-dimensional as Mitrović tired late on.
Man of the Match: Ricardo Rodríguez (SUI)
Best: Manuel Akanji, Ricardo Rodríguez, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri (SUI), Sergej Milinković-Savić, Aleksandar Mitrović (SRB)