It’s that time of year, training camps are underway and everyone is getting into the fantasy football spirit down here on Narrative Street. If you’re not familiar with Narrative Street, it’s a magical place where tape and production go out the window as beat writers and “experts” like myself forgo real analysis and jump on the most exciting storylines and make seemingly random projections for the upcoming season based on rumors and what could happen… maybe.
Don’t get me wrong, there is some valuable information within the noise of Narrative Street, you just need to know where to look. Here are some of the common tropes and narratives that come out of training camps, who they apply to and what you can do with that information.
This is so catchy, it’s even alliterative. How could it not be true that 2nd-year QBs will regress because opposing teams now have a year of tape on the young signal caller and can now scheme for him?
For the most part, this is a gimmick to cover up for overhyping rookie successes. Whenever a rookie QB doesn’t fall flat on his face he gets celebrated, so when his sophomore year is average at best it feels like a regression. This year’s leading “Sophomore Slump” candidate is Dak Prescott. He has been tied so closely to this narrative, it was only a matter of time before someone asked him about how he feels about opposing teams having a year of tape on him. This week a local Dallas radio station did just that and Dak responded, “I have a year of film on them. It works both ways. So, when people say that it doesn’t really mean anything to me.”
The sophomore slump is just superstition anyway, but I enjoyed Prescott’s confident response. He has obviously thought about it, but I think he’s a promising young QB on a team that won’t ask him to do too much.
Best Shape of His Life
This is the go to filler comment for coaches at training camp interviews when he gets asked about player “X”. ‘He looks great, he’s in the best shape of his life’. It’s a quick and easy response that pumps up his guy without having to get into too much detail. In fact, the most important part of this narrative is what isn’t being said. If someone is in the best shape of their life, it means they aren’t out of shape. So instead of counting this as a positive and moving a player up my rankings, I take this as a confidence booster where I can feel good about where I had a player ranked previously.
For example, ‘Fat’ Rob Kelley is reportedly focusing on diet and nutrition and is in the best shape of his life, which is good news when the alternative storyline for Fat Rob could’ve easily been that he is well Fat, not unlike Kelvin Benjamin.
He’s Been Working Out With [Insert player/trainer here] This Offseason
Every year we hear about WR’s working out with Randy Moss or Antonio Brown to hone their craft. For the most part, it’s just noise. You may also hear a story like the one about Blake Bortles where he spent the offseason working with Tom House to rework his mechanics and footwork. On its face, it sounds like good news that Bortles is dedicated to getting better and is working with a good QB coach to do so. Until you realize that Bortles has worked on his mechanics every offseason with little to show for it. In fact, just 3 days into Training Camp Bortles threw 5 interceptions in a single practice session.
As far as this narrative is concerned, I’m more interested to see the teammates that get together, primarily QBs and pass catchers who may be new teammates and work on their timing and chemistry away from organized team activities. Like Jameis Winston working on his timing with Mike Evans and newcomer DeSean Jackson, for example. Again, not a huge bump in my rankings, just something I like to see.
Young QB vs. Coaching Change
It should come as no surprise that a team without a QB is bad. Often this leads to a coaching staff on their last legs taking a chance with a young QB. Generally, banking on a young QB to be your savior in year 1 or 2 does not go well which leads to a subsequent coaching change.
The significance of this change is that a QB who is just starting to get comfortable at the pro level in the previous scheme/offense now must start over and learn an all new playbook and familiarize himself with new terminology. Many young QBs have been lost in this shuffle; Jason Campbell is the poster child for this struggle. Campbell, a first round QB endured 3 different head coaches and various offensive schemes, and that was just in his first contract. He faced further change with 4 other franchises in his career.
Fast forward to modern day Los Angeles where the former number one overall pick Jared Goff is transitioning to a new offensive Scheme with Sean McVay coming to town. Goff’s situation is not as dire as Campbell’s as he is coming off what might be the poorest coaching season of all time, at the hands of Jeff Fisher and is moving to the offensive young gun in McVay. While young, McVay shows more promise than say, Jim Zorn did in Washington. The learning curve will be there for Goff to be sure, but I think the change will be beneficial for him in the long run, rather than potentially derail his career.
Contract Year Boom
This is the narrative I buy into the most on this list. For one reason, money talks. NFL athletes are real people and are influenced and motivated by the same things as the rest of us. When they are playing under a contract with guarantees with a few years remaining they can be complacent. However, in a contract year, they are in a pressure point between unemployment and a multi-million-dollar deal in free agency. Again, it is best to manage expectations, but the impact of a contract year cannot be dismissed altogether.
The guys that I expect to get a contract year boost in 2017 are Le’Veon Bell, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Terrelle Pryor. Each has their own added motivations in addition to the money. Le’Veon Bell isn’t just in this for himself, he has taken on the mantle as the champion for all running backs and he wants to redefine the market for RB’s in the NFL. This is big talk for a position that has been marginalized and devalued by GMs in recent years. Bell will have to bring it. Cousins, on the other hand, is out to stick it to the Redskins, for seemingly doubting him at every turn. If both he and Matthew Stafford hit free agency the contracts will set records. Finally, Terrelle Pryor is out to prove that he not only deserves a big WR contract but also that he belongs in the NFL as a WR in the first place. He’s playing on a one year “prove it deal” in Washington and has a lot to gain/lose based on his performance.
Do you pay attention to offseason tropes or do you steer clear of narrative street altogether? Let us know your favorite offseason story lines in the comment section.