Saturday, August 22, 2015

Top Premier League Transfers of the 2015 Transfer Window

I'm taking the liberty here to extend my role as World Cup analyst to include an article here about the Barclays Premier League. At the end of the month of August, the BPL summer transfer window will close shut and teams will be forced to work with their roster as it is until the window reopens again in January. Thus, I'm going to rank my top ten transfers of this summer, with transfer quality based on a combination of player talent, fit, and price.

10. Gokhan Inler, $8m, Leicester City
They may have lost Esteban Cambiasso, but Leicester City managed to replace him with an experienced, talented, international in the heart of the pitch. Players with top flight experience are crucial to Leicester, who were just promoted prior to the 2014-2015 season and made a remarkable escape from relegation having been bottom of the league on Christmas day. Inler also comes at a very cheap price and will help solidify a position that was previously lacking for the Foxes.

9. Adama Traore, $11m, Aston Villa
It's not often that an extremely talented youngster from the Barcelona youth system would choose to move permanently to Aston Villa, but so are the odd circumstances surrounded the relegation of the Barcelona B team that Traore did just that. For 11 million dollars, Traore represents only a fraction of what Villa recouped from the Benteke transfer and will bring a flair and technical ability to the attack that the Villains have been lacking for years. As an added incentive, Traore's price will only rise over the next few years, and his resale value should eventually exceed twice or three times the 11 million dollars that Aston Villa paid for him.

8. Jordan Amavi, $14m, Aston Villa
Adama Traore is not the only incoming Villain that can provide flair and technical ability on the pitch, as Jordan Amavi has more tricks up his sleeve than you'd expect for a left back. He's a decent defender, but will become better at that portion of his game as he matures. On the other hand, his attacking ability is right where it needs to be and his pace is phenomenal. Most of all, he looks comfortable in the position, and Aston Villa have sorely been missing a confident left back the last couple years with Aly Cissokho manning the position.

7. Andre Ayew, Free, Swansea City
Admittedly, I wasn't sure that Andre Ayew was going to fit into Swansea's first team for much of the season with the excess of midfielders that they have on their roster, but he has burst onto the scene and made a real impact in their first few games. He's physically dominant, with great speed and a very sturdy build, while his technical skills are well above average and he seems to have a poacher's ability of being in the right place at the right time. And wait, you tell me they got him on a free transfer!? Yep.

6. Nathaniel Clyne, $19m, Liverpool
Clyne is only 24 years of age now, but he's been among the best (if not the best) right back in the Premier League for several years now, so it's rather remarkable that Liverpool got him for only 19 million dollars. Factor in the massive gap between him and Liverpool's previous starter at right back, Glen Johnson, and you've got yourself a brilliant transfer by Liverpool.

5. Yohan Cabaye, $15m, Crystal Palace
For Crystal Palace to capture a 29 year old rotation player from PSG really speaks to how far the mid-to-low table BPL teams have come over the past few years. Just two years ago, Cabaye was at Newcastle and probably could have transferred to one of the top 5 in the Premier League if he'd wanted. Now, a mere two years later, he's been picked up by Crystal Palace (Crystal Palace!!) for just 15 million dollars. What a phenomenal capture. 

4. Matteo Darmian, $19m, Manchester United
I actually had my doubts about Darmian when this transfer was confirmed, but the forward-thinking right back has done everything possible to reverse my opinion of him in the first few weeks of the season. He has offered dominant display after dominant display to lead Manchester United to three straight clean sheets and has also been alert in attack. With Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City lacking any real form or consistency at the right back position, Darmian and Clyne are undoubtedly the two best in the BPL right now and they were both captured for the lovely fee of 19 million dollars.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri, $18m, Stoke City
I said this about the Cabaye transfer too, but let me say it again -- look how far the mid-to-low BPL teams have come! Shaqiri is only two years removed from being a Bayern Munich player and only one year removed from playing for Inter Milan. He also had an incredible 2014 World Cup, leading Switzerland with relatively little help. Lastly, he's still only 23 years old! (that's the second exclamation point I've used in this paragraph because I'm so surprised by this transfer) I really like the transition that Stoke are making from a rough team that played for draws to an aesthetically pleasing team that plays with attacking intent, and there's no doubt that Shaqiri, when on his game, is both aesthetically pleasing and forward-thinking. Does he have some sort of attitude problem that has caused him to be cast off from Bayern and Intern? Maybe. But if Stoke can solve him then they've got themselves a gem for only 18 million dollars.

2. Dimitri Payet, $16m, West Ham
I liked this transfer by West Ham at the outset and I like it even more now that I've seen a few weeks of Payet. As an attacking playmaker, he's a silky smooth dribbler with good pace and a brilliant eye for passes, which is exactly what West Ham were looking for after letting Stewart Downing go. He lead the Ligue 1 in assists last year and if he had a better supporting cast at West Ham there would be a legitimate possibility that he'd top the Premier League. Watching him play is a joy and for only 16 million dollars, I'm not sure that the Hammers could have found anybody better to fill their attacking midfielder role.

1. James Milner, Free, Liverpool
Sure, Milner's not a long term solution - at 29 years old he likely only has a couple more years of top flight soccer, but on a free transfer I'm not sure that you need a player that's going to grow because there's no incentive to earn back any transfer fees (if you paid $10m for him you might be hopeful to gain that $10m back at some point, but that's clearly not the case on a free). As for his ability and motor, until he begins to decline, he will be in my opinion one of the top 50 players in the BPL. Last year he was probably even higher on that list, as he played all over the pitch and scored all sorts of crucial goals for Manchester City. If Liverpool can get that sort of value from him this year, I don't care what he offers for the future, he will have been way more than worth it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

2015-2016 Fantasy Football Love/Hate

I know it's been a while. You may not even remember me anymore. My name is Gabe Schmittlein. I'm back. Matthew Berry just came out with his Fantasy Football Love/Hate article for the upcoming season and I was inspired to give all the dedicated readers of the NFL Report my own view on the landscape of fantasy football. So -- Matthew Berry, my muse -- this one's for you.


Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers and Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts --
Rodgers and Luck can be looped in together because they are far-and-away the top two fantasy options at quarterback this year. Brady is suspended/not-suspended/who-the-hell-knows, Peyton Manning's arm strength is right down there with the Mark Sanchez's of the world (that's not good), and Drew Brees has a receiving core made up of guys who are not Jimmy Graham. Mid-level options behind Rodgers and Luck are there, but even guys like Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matthew Stafford represent steep drop-offs in value from Rodgers and Luck and don't represent extraordinarily higher values than their late draft quarterback counterparts like Ryan Tannehill or Sam Bradford. The first few rounds of fantasy football drafts are all about maximizing value in positions where value can be most effectively maximized (if ya see what I mean)... For example, running backs are often drafted so high because there tends to be a sharp drop-off in fantasy quality, while receivers are drafted lower because the difference between the 1st and 20th best receiver is marginal when compared to the difference between the 1st and 20th best running backs. So take Rodgers and Luck. Or Don't. But don't be a sucker and take Peyton Manning in the second round.

Wide Receivers in the Second/Third Round --
Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, A.J. Green. Alshon Jefferey. T.Y. Hilton. With the usual high splurge on running backs, those are all the wide receivers that could be available in rounds two and three. Picking up most of those guys in the second round would represent a good value and getting any of them in the third round would be incredible. Be aware that there is a decently sharp drop-off after these wideouts, so you don't want to be the one guy in your league to go quarterback in the second round (don't. pick. manning.) and have to draft after all of these guys are gone.

Jeremy Maclin --
He's going way way way too low right now. Maclin thrived last season with Mark Sanchez at the helm, and I don't see Alex Smith being a huge downgrade from him. Sure, Chip Kelly's scheme played a part, but Maclin was great under Andy Reid when he was in Philly too. Matthew Berry said that Maclin was going in the eighth round in most ESPN leagues, down with Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry, and Allen Robinson. Ridiculous is what that is. Hey, if you can get Maclin in the eighth round, that represents awesome value, but I'd even be happy if you took him as early as the fifth or sixth round. Pro-tip - if you're playing with a bunch of guys on auto draft, he'll likely fall right into your hands in the eighth round, so at least there's some good news with him being ranked as low as he is.


Tight Ends Not Name Gronkowski or Graham --
Ugh. See Rodgers and Luck paragraph above. Or I'll just type it out in a slightly different way down here... Gronkowski and Graham represent a massive value gap between them and the rest of their position, so I'm fine with either of them in the first couple rounds. However, guys like Travis Kelce, Greg Olson, and Julius Thomas that are being drafted around the fifth round don't seem to be providing a maximized value over a tight end that you could be drafting in the tenth round (Zach Ertz is totally gonna get it going this year!!). On the other hand, the difference between a wide receiver/running back in the fifth round and the tenth round is going to be huge.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions --
The Abdullah hype train has been very real the past couple weeks, but I struggle to see where his value is going to come. He's not going to get many touchdowns, as Joique Bell is one of the more accomplished goal line backs in the league, and he's not going to get as many touches as you'd hope, once again because of the aforementioned Joique Bell. I guess he provides some value as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, but it isn't enough to warrant the sixth round (about) draft slot that he's been getting in most leagues. I do like Abdullah in the long term, but it's going to take time for him to win carries away from Bell, who I actually think is being drafted too low right now.

Defenses and Kickers --
Matthew Berry said this in his Love/Hate article, but I believe I said it in my Love/Hate article prior to last season, so if anything he's copying me. Please please please don't draft a defense or a kicker before the last couple rounds. Berry listed a whole catalog of people who he hates more than those who draft defenses and kickers in the first ten rounds, and it was all very cute. I'll say this, though, (and I mean it for real) I hate those sort of people more than I hate cleaning off the inside of peanut butter containers so they can go in the recycling. Sorry to one-up you Berry, but I hope you understand that I don't mean any harm because we're fighting on the same side. The opportunity for maximizing value in positions where value can most effectively be maximized is almost negligible when talking about defenses and kickers. In terms of defenses, it makes much more sense statistically to just pick up a defense that has an easy matchup every week, while for kickers, our ability to predict their year-to-year success is really really poor so you're better off (once again) keeping your eye on the waiver wire.