Over the past couple of decades, it has been well documented that the MLB has been slowly transitioning into a borderline boring form of baseball. The increased use of data analytics has led to more shifts on the defensive side and a bigger push for hitters to swing for extra-base hits as opposed to just putting the ball in play, even with two strikes. This has led to the percentage of all MLB at-bats ending in the three true outcomes (strikeout, walk, or home run) to increase to about 33% in 2022, and even up to 36% in 2020 1 . The only exciting outcome here is the home run, but that’s also the least likely out of the three, so the resulting product has been slow and not exciting for fans.
Because of this, the MLB decided to make the following rule changes for the upcoming 2023 season:
Pitch Timer – “A pitcher must begin his motion before the expiration of the timer. Pitchers will have up to 15 seconds between pitches when the bases are empty and up to 20 seconds between pitches with at least one runner on base… A hitter must be in the batter’s box and alert to the pitcher with at least eight seconds remaining.”
Defensive Shift Restrictions:
Lateral Positioning – “Two Infielders must be positioned on each side of second base when the pitch is released.”
Depth – “All four infielders must have both feet within the outer boundary of the infield when the pitcher is on the rubber.”
No Switching Sides – “Infielders may not switch sides unless there is a substitution.”
Bigger Bases – “With the goal of improving player safety, the size of first, second, and third base will increase from the standard 15” square to 18” square.”
Now, as a massive baseball fan, I was very skeptical at first. Seeing many of the recent clips on social media of the players being called out due to the strict enforcement of the pitch clock, and even games being ended due to the pitch clock, I was concerned about potential negative impacts on the game.
However, as spring training has progressed and I have heard more discussions, I am now on board with the changes. I recently attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference where I attended a forum where four subject matter experts discussed these new rules. The panel included Bill James (baseball writer, historian, and statistician), Morgan Sword (Executive VP, Baseball Operations – MLB), Raúl Ibañez (former player and Senior VP of On-Field Operations – MLB), and Kevin Negandhi (ESPN TV anchor/host).
This star-studded group discussed many interesting points about these changes including a few that I hadn’t considered. This experience, combined with looking deeper into the numbers, has led me to solidify my opinion to welcome the new rules. The changes have all been implemented and tweaked throughout multiple seasons in the minor leagues, so I will be referencing statistics from those trial situations throughout, obviously with the understanding that major league baseball will not have identical results to the minor league implementations.
The first positive effect of the pitch clock will be that attendance at the parks will go up. The toughest part of midweek games, that typically started around 7:05/7:10, was that they weren’t ending until about 10:15 or later which led fans to not be able to get home until very late at night. This not only affects those who have to wake up early to work during the week, but it is even more pivotal for fans who want to bring their kids to the games. Not having the ability to bring kids to the game decreases the ability for interest in baseball to grow.
This year, however, teams plan to start most mid-week games around 6:40, taking about half an hour off the top from the start. That switch, combined with the fact that games in the minors last year, with the pitch clock, were 26 minutes shorter on average, leads to games ending an hour earlier – an overall benefit for baseball fans during the week.
A common argument that old fashioned baseball fans could assert is the claim that players shouldn’t be forced to rush and pitch/hit before they are completely ready. The counter I would offer, however, is that why should players have as much time as they want? We’re talking about professional athletes. Basketball has a shot clock, football has a play clock, and baseball has no one getting in your way during the play, so why should baseball players be treated differently?
Pitching injuries in the minors last season were even down from the year before with the pitch clock implementation. I’m not claiming that it helps fight arm injuries, but it should not be expected to increase them. It may help with the health of position players, though. There is a significant decrease in the amount of time fielders will need to be on their feet, which can add up over the course of a 162 game season. This could lead to less off days for stars too, again benefitting the fans.
My final point on the pitch clock is that it won’t even come into play very often, as pitch clock violations occurred only 0.45 times per game during 2022 MiLB season. It will be forgotten about, and the benefits of faster games overall will benefit.
A way the league wants to reduce the likelihood of the three true outcomes is by banning the shift. The shifts were a direct result of the analytical revolution in baseball because analysts were able to predict where hitters hit the ball in play most often. A big leaguer will hit what would traditionally be a line drive single to right field, but because of where the infielders are positioned, that just results in an out right at the second baseman.
Similarly, if the hitter does try to hit it to the opposite field where there are less defenders, not only is this difficult to do if the pitcher is game planning correctly, but a single out made to the one fielder on that side of the infield will again make hitters rethink their sanity/approach at the plate. Because of this, hitters have begun to just try to hit the ball over the defense as a part of the launch angle movement.
Removing the shift will allow these singles to happen more naturally which will promote the number of balls in play, making more game action for the fans to enjoy. Fielders being forced to play more traditional positions defensively also goes back to what I mentioned earlier by forcing players to be more athletic to make defensive plays. The skill level of athletes at the major league level is better than ever before, and these players will be able to showcase this talent at a new level this year with the shift eliminated.
How will the bigger bases affect the game? Bigger bases are expected to increase the number of stolen bases, which means more excitement just like the MLB wants. The size change for the bases will decrease the distance between first and second and second and third by 4.5 inches (and home and first by three inches). This is a significant change for baserunners where milliseconds explain the difference between safe and out, especially with replay review in today’s game.
The biggest reason that teams have reduced their stolen base attempts in recent years was due to the fact that the success rate was too low to accept the risk. In the minors in 2019, this rate was about 68%. Many organizations, using analytics, don’t feel comfortable stealing with less than a 75% chance of success. This change led to that number being around 77% in the minor leagues last season 3 . It can already be seen in this spring training as well that this change will have an effect at the major league level as well in 2023.
With all of this being said, the interesting situation will come when it’s Game 7 of the World Series, full count, bases loaded, all in a tie game. The pitcher wants to take an extra second to compose himself for the big moment, and now the umpire has to decide how strict he wants to be in that spot. If he enforces the clock, then he will become public baseball enemy number one and it could reverse any positive effects that may have come from the rule changes this year. But, if he doesn’t and the pitcher gets the out, the hitting team could claim the umpire cost them their ring. Not only that, but it would affect the future enforcement of this rule as well.
Now, while this would be the worst case scenario for MLB, the chances of this actually happening are extremely slim. What should be focused on right now are the net positives. At least at this point, with Opening Day approaching, they appear to be changes for the benefit in terms of excitement and popularity among the fans in the near future. After all, it is still the great game of baseball being played and that will carry the focus of most fans.
“Rollercoaster of emotions”. I think this short phrase sums up the experience of being an SSC Napoli fan these days. From bankruptcy in 2004 to going inches away from a historic Scudetto in 2018, Napoli fans have really experienced it all recently.
A historic club and a city with unbreakable ties to football, Napoli, today, is close to ecstasy. League leaders by 18 points at the time of writing, the Scudetto seems like it may be heading back to Naples for the first time since 1990. On top of this, club philosophy, roster, and overall excitement around the club is enviable.
However, as aforementioned, things weren’t always like this.
Season 2004/2005. SSC Napoli find themselves battling for the Serie C1 playoffs against local rivals Avellino. In front of 21763 spectators, Edi Reja and a humble Napoli side fight to snatch a win after the first leg had ended 0 0. Despite being favorites to win and a tenacious performance, two goals from Biancolino and Moretti for Avellino doomed Napoli to another season in the third tier of Italian football.
Yet things weren’t as dark as you may imagine them to be. In other words, this wasn’t about to be the most classic of ‘almost’stories – and largely thanks to one man: Aurelio De Laurentiis. De Laurentiis, renowned film director, didn’t – and to this day, doesn’t – take “almost” stories. Like when on set, he imagines a scene and does everything in his power to make that reality – regardless of how unorthodox that path may be.
His way, or no other way.
De Laurentiis did much more than just relieve the club from bankruptcy.
He revived and brought back the love for football to Napoli. A city that, largely thanks to Diego Armando Maradona, worships and lives off football. Whilst his years at the head of the club haven’t always been sunshine and rainbows (to say the least), De Laurentiis has helped Napoli in ways that the average fan fails to consider.
The following season, Napoli earned promotion to the top flight of Italian football, led by Italian ‘bomber’ (slang term for goal scorer) Edoardo Calaiò, who found the net 16 times that season. Along with them, Juventus and Genoa were promoted, in what would be a fresh start for all three clubs in the division which they belong in.
Since then, Napoli have had a lot of success.
Actually, let me rephrase.
Napoli have done really well for a club promoted back to Serie A less than 17 years ago – but I can’t refrain from mentioning that I felt like they’ve underperformed.
Over the past decade or so, Napoli has built a huge success story and remarkable teams. The Partenopei have boosted their trophy cabinet extensively. Testimony to the first, the Azzurri have added 3 Coppa Italia’s and 1 Supercoppa Italiana: impressive. Yet if we consider the caliber of players that have played for the club over the years, you can’t help but feel that they could have arguably done better. Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuaín, Jorginho, Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, Pepe Reina, Josè Callejòn, Marek Hamšík and so many more. The level of these players, in any other team, would have perhaps led to a Scudetto.
But with Napoli, it didn’t. “Why?”, I hear you ask.
This is where we touch on De Laurentiis’ bad side. His stubborn side.
Over the years, especially the 2017/2018 season, Napoli had an incredible team. However, because of De Laurentiis’ stubbornness with investments and finances, it felt like there were just a few pieces missing. He would never go for that “extra” signing. The type of signing which makes good teams great teams.
During that season, Napoli, in my opinion, simply lacked a great Centre-back to pair with Kalidou Koulibaly. Raùl Albiol, 31 at the time, was past his prime. If you compare it with Juventus’ Bonucci, Barzagli, and Chiellini, you can see the slightest of margins which ultimately handed the team from Turin the Scudetto. Albiol, in my opinion, would have been an invaluable resource as a 3rd, rotational center-back for other domestic and international competitions. In front of him in a center-back hierarchy, Napoli should have put a young(er) center-back of the highest of qualities. That would have come with a bigger financial burden – and De Laurentiis wasn’t (and still really isn’t) a fan of that philosophy.
But Umberto, how come Napoli are doing so well now?
Good, actually, great question.
De Laurentiis-Giuntoli Strategy
De Laurentiis’ stubbornness, today, has (finally) paid off. Whilst I wasn’t a fond believer in not investing heavily into the club as that gave off an aura of high financial conservatism, the strategy eventually paid off. Even though De Laurentiis, in fairness, did loosen his grip on finances ever so slightly (which was inevitable seeing how crazy football markets have become in recent years), he has refrained from repeated high-value investments.
In fact, Sporting Director Cristiano Giuntoli and De Laurentiis have done an exceptional job at mixing their strategy. They’ve put together a remarkable mix of cheaper finds and amalgamated them with more expensive, proven players. The likes of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (€15M), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (€8M), Zambo Anguissa (€16M), and Kim Min-Jae (€18M) were all signed for less than €18 000 000 respectively – absurd if you think about today’s transfer fees. In contrast, they then added the final touch to their masterpiece by adding in the proven, high-caliber players like Victor Osimhen for the price of €75 000 000 from LOSC Lille.
This investment strategy, in today’s footballing market, has undoubtedly paid off. Its low-risk (Napoli could hypothetically easily cut losses on low-value investments like Anguissa by selling the player to a smaller % of their value to other teams – which would be happy to take a player from a club like Napoli) factor makes it a special strategy which requires a lot of patience – but when it works, it will do wonders.
On top of this, their club philosophy, in which no player is bigger than the club, was designed similarly to AC Milan’s which we talked about in the previous episode. Club captain and true Napoletano Lorenzo Insigne knows something about it, and so does Gonzalo Higuain. Both of these forwards were denied lucrative contracts, and went searching for them elsewhere. Whilst the two may have then had the first laugh – obtaining desired amounts of money and footballing success respectively – it is now Napoli that laughs last. Their strategy has paid off, and their future looks as prosperous as it has ever done. Whilst this strategy may result in the loss of high-value players, the board has done a remarkable job at dealing with contracts in similar fashion as aforementioned. Testimony to this is the total market value of the team, which has increased from €471M to €543M in only one season: impressive.
Furthermore, we must also recognize Giuntoli and De Laurentiis’ dues because of the scrutiny their strategy received. Many tifosi of the azzurri and around Italy questioned the stubbornness. Other tifosi da bar (fans who chat about football as if they were experts at cafès) acted as Sporting Directors criticizing the cheaper investments and questioning whether these cheaper bets were ever going to pay off. They couldn’t believe that players from uncommon nations (Mexico, Georgia, South Korea, North Macedonia, Uruguay, Norway to name a few) would adapt rapidly to Italy’s system.
Yet here we are today.
Napoli’s Ship Soaring Through the Mediterranean Sea
On the field, the Captain is Giovanni Di Lorenzo. I’ve written in greater depth about how great he is and how criminally underrated his performances are.
On another note, off the field, the real mastermind is another man: Luciano Spalletti. Fresh off a new record, most Serie A Wins (276) in history, Spalletti has sat on the sidelines for various clubs around Italy. Udinese, AS Roma, Inter Milan and now SSC Napoli. Wherever he’s gone, Spalletti has brought some form of success to the city. In Udine, it was a first historic qualification to the UEFA Champions League. In Rome, it was two Coppa Italia trophies. In Milan, it was a remarkable UEFA Champions League qualification which put end to a 6-year-drought for the Nerazzurri.
Now, in Napoli, he’s about to rewrite history. Luciano Spalletti’s team is demolishing opposing teams as they currently find themselves at the head of the Serie A table with an 18 point gap from 2nd place Inter Milan. In fact, many question what their path will look like in the Champions League, as they show no sign of slowing down.
What makes everything even more exciting, is how perfectly well the pieces of the puzzle have come together in Naples. Spalletti’s game – aggressive and intense off the ball, exciting and offensive on the ball – suits its players perfectly.
The back-line is comfortable on the ball and extremely solid when facing opposition. Napoli have only conceded 15 goals so far this season. That is 0.63 goals per game – a significant improvement on last season’s 0.82 goals conceded per game. Offensive construction is also aided by one of Serie A’s great Center Defensive Midfielders, Stanislav Lobotka, who often slides in between the two center-backs and sets up plays. Midfielders Zambo Anguissa and Piotr Zielinski offer great balance and are able to find their forwards efficiently – as mentioned in Underrated Episode 1. Up top, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Victor Osimhen, and Hirving Lozano have played in a league of their own – this is especially the case for the first two. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Victor Osimhen have produced a combined 31 goals and 12 assists, with the first on top of the Assist leaderboard (9 assists) and the Nigerian striker on top of the Goals scored leaderboard (19). Flabbergasting.
Today, watching Napoli play is daunting. Daunting because you wish your club played like they did.
And whilst their likely first Scudetto in over 30 years may be a massive sign of success, it is the future that shines even brighter for la Città del Vesuvio. Off the field Napoli and De Laurentiis’ unorthodox strategies have yielded great success.
First of all, an important mention must be mode for Napoli’s Kit Sponsorship deal, and howof a pioneer it truly is. To me, De Laurentiis really hit the spot with this one. On July 27th 2022, Napoli unveiled their new home and away kits, thus confirming their continued collaboration with EA7, Emporio Armani’s Sportswear line. This was another one of De Laurentiis’ mad moves, where he literally said “f**k it, I’ll produce them myself – that’s what you have to do at one point if you want to create change”, as he criticized Puma, Adidas, and Nike, who “create their kits 18 months prior to their release”. Whilst the 18 months is perhaps a hyperbole, there is some great truth and genius to his actions. In fact, not only does the partnership bring €9 000 000 to Napoli’s finances, but it also allows them to create designs and produce them with little turnover. In other words, thanks to its terms with EA7 (who don’t have other involvement in football’s markets) Napoli is truly independent when it comes down to kits. This means creating and displaying as many kits as they desire, whenever they want.
These conditions allow Napoli to release special edition kits and advertise them accordingly. In turn, not only does this create more opportunity to generate revenue, but also to commemorate special events – which is very much in De Laurentiis’style. For example, one year after the death of club and city legend Diego Armando Maradona, Napoli released 4 different kits with a design that pictures him in a Napoli jersey. Similarly, Napoli’s Halloween Jersey was explicitly said to be “an idea of the President” (Aurelio De Laurentiis). On top of this, Napoli also managed to sign a deal with Amazon worth over €2 000 000 – impressive for a sleeve sponsorship deal.
What makes this idea work so well – and Napoli a special place to play in – are the fans. Whilst the relationship between the players and fans has historically been rocky in Naples, you cannot deny the intensity of their passion. Their love radiates to the players, and this season, finally, the players are giving all of that back. Their engagement towards the club overall – including social media – has been notable. Over the past year and a half, Napoli’s Instagram account has seen an increase in followers by more than 700K followers, as they currently sit on 3M followers.
In terms of finances, Napoli has closed the 2022 financial year with a loss, but an improvement on the previous fiscal year. Its loss of €51 951 202 was a slight improvement on the previous year’s €58 941 765 loss. This is an important factor to keep in mind considering the size of the club and the direction it has gone in with its investment strategy.
Throughout these previous two transfer windows, Napoli has done some good, great business, ending with a net positive of €4 900 000. Players like Fabian Ruiz and Kalidou Koulibaly seemed to be irreplaceable – but again, the current season and the board’s strategy showed us exactly why this isn’t the case.
Urgently Needed: Modernization
Napoli fans, De Laurentiis, Giuntoli, the players, and everyone else at SSC Napoli have been patient enough. They are finally collecting the results of their hard work over the years – but we must question: what could be improved?
Not everything in Naples is great. Starting from the Stadium. The ‘Diego Armando Maradona’ Stadium needs a lot of work. To allow the stadium to compete with other stadiums in Europe, engineers have said that “a new exterior facade, the structure of the stands, and the roof would need complete redevelopment”. Whilst the stadium has received works worth around €23 000 000 in 2019, it is still in sub-par conditions and owned by the city of Naples. Pieces of concrete from the Curva have been seen tearing and falling to the ground – in what is also a safety hazard. What perhaps is even more frustrating, is the idea that the venue is in a one-of-its-own location, on the gulf of Naples. Renovations would allow the (home average) 38 000 spectators to enjoy their games even more. Whilst Naples carries the stereotype of being an old-fashioned city, far from the technological development present in cities like Milan and Turin, I still strongly believe that a Stadium – of property of SSC Napoli and not the town – would open up immense pathways for the club.
As previously mentioned in AC Milan’s SB article, a model like Tottenham Hotspur’s is the one to follow. To add to this, the English club just recently announced a partnership with F1 – another brand who has done a one-of-a-kind job of promoting itself on digital platforms over the years – to have car-racing events held within the stadium.
Finally, I also believe that the club should capitalize on this season – and increase their social media content creation. A first historic scudetto in 30 years not only should be documented crisply, but shared with all the fans around the world which will inevitably hear about the Azzurri’s story. This idea is emphasized even further if the Parteneopei end up encountering success in the UEFA Champions League – Europe’s most prestigious competition.
Overall, things are not looking half bad in Napoli. With the city in ecstasy, it is curious to see if the board will adopt a change in strategy to ride the wave of enthusiasm and create a dynasty for the years to come. However, that may have to come with more important capital investments, which now, regardless of end of season income and prizes from competition wins, seems unlikely. I am most curious to see how Napoli close out the season – which I hope sees them go far in Europe and carry the Italian – and Serie A’s – flag high and proud.
May 2011. The Rossoneri and their fans have just won their historic 18th Scudetto and Il Diavolo is preparing for an unquestionably prosperous future. That previous, successful season, AC Milan had perhaps one of the scariest teams of all time, including once-in-a-generation talents Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, and a prime Zlatan Ibrahimović. Whilst many of these phenoms that made up that historic team were now reaching the end of their careers, the Rossoneri had set the fundamentals for a future full to the brim with success. Thiago Silva, Kevin Prince Boateng and Alexandre Pato were set to be the foundations of the next generation of AC Milan domination.
Fast forward 10 years. AC Milan are yet to win their 19th Scudetto. This expected period of domination following the 18th Serie A Title, to say the least, did not come.
During this time, the Milanese club failed in flabbergasting fashion to exert any sort of dominance as the transition from the old generation of players to the new one was conditioned by a variety of poor decisions.
Throughout those 10 excruciating years, AC Milan and their fans suffered. They assisted to a period of pure, shocking dominance led by Antonio Conte at Juventus and the rebirth of Milan rivals Inter Milan. In turn, Il Diavolo only managed to collect numerous 6th place finishes and other disappointing results. The suffering was exacerbated by economic and political chaos within the club, following Li Yonghong’s short stint as Chairman of the Club as he took over from Silvio Berlusconi in 2017. What seemed to be a new chapter that gave hope to the fans only set fog and a sense of unclarity around the club. Mr. Yonghong wasn’t able to repay high-interests on loans he had obtained from US Hedge Fund Elliott Management worth approximately $300 Million, which ultimately lead to Elliot Management seizing the club in 2018. A questionable investment which didn’t obtain the desired return,
Yonghong Li was – per people close to the transaction – always going to lose. Considering the high interest rates on the loans, the same source added “If Yonghong Li pays, Elliot wins, and if he doesn’t pay, Elliott will seize the club”.
On top of that, in his short stint, his subordinates CEO Marco Fassone and GM Massimiliano Mirabelli took AC Milan and drove it into the ground with a series of questionable investments. €240 million spent in one summer, with no clear direction on what the strategy was going to be. Ultimately, what Italian fans do remember about that summer transfer window was the now-comedic “passiamo alle cose formali” (“let’s get to business”), which
CEO Marco Fassone would say just before the newly announced players signed their lucrative contracts.
The board, ecstatic for the money pump from the club’s new ownership, had put together a talented, yet anomalous group of domestic and international players, hoping that some magic would come out of it.
20.07.2017 €44 000 000
13.06.2017 €34 000 000
02.06.2017 €32 000 000
21.08.2017 €27 000 000
07.07.2017 €24 000 000
30.06.2017 €21 000 000
Lucas Biglia 17.07.2017 €19 000 000
Mateo Musacchio 02.05.2017 €17 000 000
13.06.2017 €14 000 000
30.06.2017 €5 500 000
11.07.2017 €1 000 000
And this magic did not come, ever. In fact, 5 years later, all 11 players departed the Meneghino club leaving an almost comic tint on that 2017 summer transfer window for AC Milan.
No identity, poor finishes in the league, partnership deals coming to an end. AC Milan felt like a Ferrari stuck in the mud. No matter how hard it accelerated, there was no chance of movement.
When in 2018 Elliott Management finally took over control of the club, it felt like a needed fresh start.
Instead of accelerating, that same Ferrari was now taking some time to assess what the best options were to get out of this sticky situation. UEFA’s one-year-ban from European competitions between 2019-2020 further encouraged this reflection, which ultimately led to a 360° turn in the club’s management. The Rossoneri had now decided to take a step back, ask for help, and get towed out of the mud in order to get back on the road to success – a road that they had traveled on for most of their history.
At the head of this 360° turn was former captain and club legend Paolo Maldini, assisted by his right arm and Football Director Ricky Massara. The two understood the gravity of AC Milan’s financial situation, and decided to act upon it.
First and foremost, they changed their strategy. AC Milan and their fans had to wave goodbye to lucrative, €40M + transfers, as Maldini focused on a low-cost strategy. This would include scouting of young, raw talents that would come at lower prices, and a good mix of experienced players who still had a few years of high-level performances to give. The plan was to build for the future, and so they did. With the aid of Chief Scout Geoffrey Moncada, in the following 2 seasons the Rossoneri put together an impressive list of transfers for even better prices.
Below, what I see as Maldini and Massara’s most notable transfers over the past few seasons.
On top of this, the leadership team at AC Milan also took an important stance with their wage management. Contrary to what the markets are moving towards nowadays, the Rossoneri decided to let go of any players who felt unhappy with their contracts and had put in excessive wage requests. Whilst this saw the loss of high-caliber players like Gigio Donnarumma, Franck Kessie, and Hakan Çalhanoğlu for a combined fee of €0, the remarkable scouting work done behind the scenes made the fans forget about these players soon enough.
Maignan, Bennacer, and Tonali soon became fan favorites as they replaced AC Milan’s previous deserters.
AC Milan’s management also enabled the club to make a smooth transition to financial stability with the help of key partners and partnerships. In June 2022, AC Milan renewed their initial 2018 Sponsorship deal with German sportswear brand Puma for a further 5 seasons. The deal was reported to be worth €30 000 000 per year, bringing in vital funds for the club’s finances. On top of this, AC Milan’s management carried out a remarkable job in expanding into untapped markets and exploring strategic partnerships that would allow the brand’s image to grow exponentially.
Most notably, its recent partnership with popular designer brand Off-White created a lot of noise in (and out) of the footballing community. The two struck a 3-year-partnership deal which will see Off-White serve as AC Milan’s “official Style and Culture Curator”.
The partnership created a lot of “hype” on Social Media too, with AC Milan’s account receiving 600 000 likes on Instagram over the first 5 posts promoting the collaboration.
The club’s marketing efforts following the change of ownership have also been rather remarkable. In 2018, it launched a new app for the fans to immerse themselves fully in the Rossonero world. Similarly, in 2020 it landed on popular social media platforms TikTok and Twitch whilst also launching a partnership with Jay Z’s Entertainment Agency Roc Nation. The “Milan Media House” was then launched in 2021 and was greatly successful in bringing fans as close to the first team as they had ever been before.
Marketing and Digital Director Lamberto Siega “manages a team of 40 people in the technical and creative areas”,which have propelled the club’s marketing performances into great success. AC Milan has “500k average monthly visits” to acmilan.com, 13M followers on Instagram, 1M+ subscribers on YouTube, and an estimated cumulative online audience of 500M users. On top of this, The fans can now engage in different ways such as electing the team’s ‘MVP of the Month’, joining the Matchday ‘Prize Contest’, Special Member-Only Events or buying the team’s merchandising. Think about this: when the club won its 19th Scudetto in May of 2022, over 3M people streamed the celebrations through the AC Milan app, with “concurrent views peaking at 50,000”. Overall, this clearly shows how the club has made a transition to a fresh, sustainable philosophy both on and off the field.
The strategy switch enacted by the club’s management has produced wonders on and off the field. From the football point of view, we saw the strategy ultimately culminating with the bringing together of a talented team and the 19th Scudetto in May 2022. It is off the field, however, that AC Milan has surprised many.
As highlighted in Deloitte’s most recent ‘2023 Football Money League’ report, AC Milan generated a noticeable +22% on its revenues compared to the 2021 financial year. This is especially noteworthy if we consider the COVID-19 restrictions that prevented in-person attendance at the San Siro. With €264 900 000 generated in revenue, AC milan was 16th in
Europe’s top clubs for revenue generated – third if we consider only Italian clubs. Compared to AC Milan’s revenue from the pre-COVID seasons, the 2021-2022 Season had greater amounts of revenue coming from the commercial side and broadcasting side (€87M and €146M respectively). Whilst the matchday revenue still came together for €32M, it amounted to comparatively less (12%) when put next to the 2019 season (18%). Negative at first, this metric is still positively valuable because it reminds us of AC Milan’s cheap season tickets – as low as €199 per season, with a “good” seat coming at around €400 per season and implies that the club expanded in different ways over the course of the past few years. On top of that, that metric should not scare Rossoneri or their fans, as their club had an at-home average attendance of 73,032 fans, only second to Milanese rivals Inter Milan who had just a few more: 73,250.
Furthermore, as mentioned earlier in the article, the wage management was also significantly improved, as their % in wages to revenue ratio decreased significantly from 108% to 64% in the space of 2 years (2020-2022). This metric is important to consider (regardless of how arguably flawed it may be due to potential layoffs following the pandemic) because it is the reflection of a change in strategy that the club had.
AC Milan is now valued at €1.1B. Even though it is operating at a €98.2M loss, it has cut down these notably compared to the previous season (€194.6M). Its growth in the past few years has been remarkable in all areas of competency, and it is now also heading towards a strong, stable financial future. Yet in my opinion, it is far from where it wants to be.
In order to get back to where AC Milan deserves to be, the club must do three things: move to a new stadium, win domestically, and win internationally. For the first point, let’s take a look at Tottenham Hotspur’s model. The English club has produced a state-of-the art stadium in
just a few years, and is now showing the rest of the world why clubs must own or restore their clubs, and they have to do so now.
Tottenham Hotspur, with its new stadium, has quite frankly experienced a spectacular rebranding as part of their commercial strategy. With a self-owned stadium, Chairman Daniel Levy makes sure that gameday revenues are all for the club. The stadium, which disposes of a retractable field that makes way for an artificial grass field, is also host to an annual NFL game, and will be for the next 10 years. These types of events not only expand the Tottenham Hotspur name to an American market, but also function as another form of income as the games generate an estimated €1.5M from merchandise, food, and beverages.
Today, AC Milan (and Inter Milan) are trying to move out of the historic Stadio San Siro, but bureaucracy in Italy and Minister of Culture Vittorio Sgarbi seem to be halting this process. The two clubs pay approximately €8M per season to play in the San Siro, which is owned by the City of Milan, and locals Milan seem to be opposing the initiative. As a result, not only are the two clubs forced to host home games in a decaying stadium which does not grant a high-quality fan experience, but also lose out on a ton of opportunities for the clubs as businesses. The approved plan for the new stadium called ‘La Cattedrale’ would reportedly be the “most sustainable and inspiring stadium” in Europe, elevating fan experience by bringing fans closer to action (similarly to English stadiums), offering lounge spaces, bars, a modern open space on the roof of the stadium, and a museum. These would be accessible all-year-round, thus generating revenue on a constant basis for the Milanese clubs. Further, La Cattedrale would be able to light up in the colors of the club playing, allowing for branded messages to reach its fans. Ideal.
Finally, for the latter two points, there is unfortunately (or fortunately) no objective way to obtain success on domestic and international terms. That’s the beauty of football: its unpredictability.
Maldini and Massara, with the aid of Coach Stefano Pioli, have put together an impressive team which is now back to competing for the Scudetto year-in-year-out. Over time, especially if it wants to address its international competitions, the club may have to transition to a slightly more spending strategy compared to its current sustainable one.
Whilst domestic success may occur with the current philosophy, I personally see international success as more and more improbable if a club doesn’t bring in star players from other clubs – especially with the investments that other European teams such as PSG, Manchester City, and Chelsea are making nowadays. Granted that this is a more risky strategy, I still believe that
Maldini and Massara have at the least earned a shot at a transfer window with a significant increase in budget compared to the previous seasons. If this were to be the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see AC Milan back on “Il Tetto d’Europa” (“On top of Europe”) soon.
But for now, let’s appreciate the greatness of AC Milan’s comeback, both on, and off the field.
Written by Umberto Pelà (21.01.2022)
‘Scudetto’ – Nickname for Italian Soccer Championship
‘Rossoneri’ and ‘Il Diavolo’ – Nicknames for AC Milan
San Francisco 49ers: Elijah Mitchell (RB23, ADP 50)
Last season, Mitchell ranked 16th in average points-per-game-played in PPR leagues and 10th in non-PPR leagues. He received over 17 carries in 9 of 11 games played last season and consistently picked up production as a receiver over the course of the season. Now entering his 2nd year, Mitchell has established himself as the clear RB1 in San Francisco, and with dual threat QB Trey Lance taking over as starter, expect the 49ers to lean even harder on the running game. This should lead to even more rushing opportunities, yielding top 10 upside for Mitchell.
Chicago Bears: Darnell Mooney (WR26, ADP 62)
With the departure of Allen Robinson to the Rams, Mooney is the only established wide receiver on the Chicago Bears roster. QB Justin Fields seems to have established a strong connection with Mooney, targeting him 7+ times in 12 of 17 games last season, with three 13+ target games in the final eight of the regular season. On paper, the Bears roster is even worse than last year, and thus they figure to be coming from behind in most games this season. Expect a lot of passing attempts from Fields and thus a lot of opportunities for Mooney, putting him firmly in the low-end WR1 discussion this year.
Cincinnati Bengals: Hayden Hurst (TE23, ADP 190)
Coming into 2022, Hurst is set to replace CJ Uzomah as the clear TE1 in Cincinnati. As teams started to prioritize star Bengals receivers Jamar Chase and Tee Higgins in their coverage plans coming down the stretch last season, QB Joe Burrow started to lean a little more on underneath options like Uzomah. In fact, Uzomah received 6+ targets in 4 of the final 5 games last season, and, as a more natural receiver, expect those targets and more to transition smoothly over to Hurst this season. With the TE position figuring to be light again this year, Hurst has easy top-10 potential.
Buffalo Bills: Gabe Davis (WR29, ADP 71)
Everyone remembers that insane Bills-Chiefs Divisional Round playoff game where Davis put up a whopping 201 yards and 4TDs. Those gaudy numbers may be out of touch for Davis on a consistent basis, but as the now firm WR2 in a figured-to-be lethal Bills passing offense, Davis is primed to have a significant step up in consistent target share from 2021. This, coupled with his deep-threat ability and big body in the red zone (6’2” 210lbs), should result in Davis being a rock-solid fantasy starter throughout the season. He is definitely worth a roster spot.
Denver Broncos: Jerry Jeudy (WR28, ADP 70)
Plagued by the injury bug and poor quarterback play throughout his young NFL career, Jeudy is finally in a position to showcase his true potential this season. New star QB Russell Wilson loves the short-to-intermediate range passing game (with a career 7.8 yards-per-target), which is exactly where Jeudy excels. An elite route-runner with an accurate quarterback is a potentially lethal combo, and with fellow WR Tim Patrick now out for the season with a torn ACL, Jeudy is really only competing with WR Courtland Sutton for targets. Keep your eye on this guy, as he could scare top 10 production at the position should he be able to stay healthy.
Cleveland Browns: Amari Cooper (WR25, ADP 61)
The Cleveland Browns QB situation is a tricky one, with forecasted starter Deshaun Watson being suspended 11 games by the NFL. This makes way for newly acquired Jacoby Brissett to take command of the offense. Although Brissett is a definite downgrade from Watson, Cooper will be the CLEAR WR1 in Cleveland, which should allow him to garner enough targets to make up for the occasional Brissett misfire. In fact, it is likely that, due to the lack of experience at the receiver position, Cleveland coaches will set up their passing scheme specifically to get Cooper the ball as much as possible. Even though Cleveland is a run-first offense, Cooper figures to get pretty much all meaningful targets amongst the Browns receivers, and, if nothing else, he is a guy to stash early who could step up in a big way for you at the end of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin (WR24, ADP 56)
The fantasy situation in Tampa is a tricky one. As has been the case ever since QB Tom Brady arrived, the Bucs’ offense figures to be high-powered again this year. Unfortunately, the Bucs suffer from “too-many-weapons” syndrome: having so many weapons that none can maintain fantasy relevance. That being said, Brady has always zeroed in on a short-to-intermediate range go-to target over the course of his career (Wes Welker and Julian Edelman particularly come to mind), and Godwin appears to have established himself as that guy in Tampa. To that end, he hauled in a whopping 24 more receptions than anyone else on the roster last year (98 receptions to Mike Evans’ 74). This, coupled with the fact that the other top receivers on the roster, Mike Evans and Julio Jones, are primarily deep threats, expect Godwin to dominate the short-to-intermediate receptions again this year, which could make him the most valuable Bucs weapon, especially in PPR leagues.
Arizona Cardinals: Darrel Williams (RB55, ADP 160)
When it comes to the Arizona Cardinals, it would be smart to stay away from their receivers at all costs in fantasy. There are far too many mouths to feed (especially once Deandre Hopkins returns from suspension) in a primarily run-first system. Therefore, if looking for a player on the Cardinals, Darrel Williams could be a great option as a late-round stash at running back as he will likely play the role RB Chase Edmonds played last year. In the four games starting RB James Conner missed last season, Edmonds averaged 16.75 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, putting him firmly in the top 10 at the position over those weeks. These absences are certainly not a fluke for Conner as he has never once had a fully healthy season. In fact, last season, in which he missed those four games, was the second-healthiest season of his career. Unfortunately for Conner, it is likely he will go down again at some point this year, which would make Williams an instant top-15 RB.
Los Angeles Chargers: Gerald Everett (TE19, ADP 161)
A pretty solid receiving tight-end the first few seasons of his career in Seattle, Everett enters the Chargers offense as the new TE1. He will likely take over a workload very similar to that of former Chargers TE Jared Cook, who finished as TE15 last season. Everett is faster and a better route-runner than Cook, which could make him a more of a consistent target than Cook outside of the red zone. QB Justin Herbert’s passing numbers will be very solid again this season, and, with the plethora of opportunities, look for Everett to find himself as a top-10 fantasy TE come season’s end.
Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman (WR63, ADP 152)
Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chiefs also suffer from “too-many-weapons” syndrome. Their receiving room is quite crowded at the moment, but if there’s one guy best set up for fantasy relevance, it’s Mecole Hardman. Look for him to assume the Tyreek Hill speedster role in Kansas City, to a certain extent, as he possesses a skill-set and build eerily similar to that of Hill. With no established WR1 in Kansas City to this point, someone will eventually have to take the reins as QB Patrick Mahomes’s go-to target. Should Hardman be able to step up in that position, the sky’s the limit for a guy with his elite-level speed who is liable to take any touch to the house.
Indianapolis Colts: Paris Campbell (WR83, ADP 223)
This pick comes with a lot of risk, as Campbell has amassed only 15 games played in his three-year career. However, if Campbell can manage to put a complete season together this year, adding him to your roster could make you look like a fantasy genius come season’s end. The Colts passing offense relies heavily on the play action deep shot to stretch the field, and Campbell is the only receiver in the rotation with enough breakaway speed to be a downfield threat. Although he doesn’t have as much arm strength as last year’s QB Carson Wentz, newly-acquire QB Matt Ryan rated as the 2nd-best deep ball thrower in the league last season, with a passer-rating of 107.7 on said deep throws. As such, Campbell has a chance to pop in a top-10 level receiving performance any given week.
Washington Commanders: Brian Robinson Jr. (RB54, ADP 152)*
Let’s be honest, the Commanders are a team in shambles. However, more than most teams, the Commanders have shown a commitment to the run even when down big in games, illustrated by starting RB Antonio Gibson finishing 4th in the league in carries last season. Reports from training camp are that third-round rookie Robinson Jr. has been very impressive, and it appears as though Washington might take a similar approach to that of the Carolina Panthers from the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. In those years, Carolina formed a formidable 1-2 punch with running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who both had over 1000 yards rushing in 2009. The GM who drafted Stewart to form the duo is now working for the Commanders, and head coach Ron Rivera served as the in Carolina towards the tail end of their stint. As such, expect Robinson to get his fair share of carries throughout the season, and if Gibson were to go down, which is very possible given his shaky injury history, Robinson would vault right up to being a top-15 RB.
Dallas Cowboys: Jalen Tolbert (WR64, ADP 158)
With last season’s WR3 Michael Gallup still working his way back from a serious knee injury and last season’s WR1 Amari Cooper no longer with the team, rookie Jalen Tolbert has been given a prime opportunity to establish himself as the WR2 in Dallas behind Ceedee Lamb. Tolbert played for the University of South Alabama in college where he put up nearly 1500 receiving yards last season. He is a big-bodied receiver who should see plenty of looks in the red zone, and with Dallas figuring to be a high-powered offense again this year, look for Tolbert to be a breakout rookie in fantasy, similar to Lamb a couple years ago.
Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa (QB16, ADP 121)
This list was initially going to consist of only skill position players, but in the case of the Miami Dolphins, an exception had to be made. QB Tua Tagovailoa is currently being selected as QB16 and you would have to be CRAZY not to take him if he’s available anywhere near that terrority. Let’s not forget who this guy was the last time he had competent play-calling and a semblance of an offensive line. If he could have managed to avoid some injuries throughout his college career at Alabama, there is a very strong argument to be made that he would be a two-time Heisman Trophy winner. He set four FBS career passing records including all-time passing efficiency and touchdown percentage. He posted a career TD-to-INT ratio of 7.9:1, which is by far the greatest of any college QB in recent memory. Throughout his first couple years in Miami, Tua had a bottom-five offensive line, little-to-no weapons (barring Jalen Waddle last year, who had an impressive rookie season with Tua at the helm), and a two offensive coordinator system that at best could be described as incompetant. Over the offseason, Miami brought in elite WR Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs, elite LT Terron Armstead from the Saints, and hired new coach Mike McDaniel whose offensive scheme is likely derived directly from that of Kyle Shanahan, one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the league. All signs point to the Dolphins having drastically improved the offense around Tua, so expect Tua to be a top-10 QB in fantasy all season long, with a ceiling even higher than that.
Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders (RB29, ADP 75)
Although he has been a fantasy letdown in the past, at RB29 Miles Sanders is definitely worth the pick. Regardless of his previous pitfalls, Sanders is still the starting running back in a top-3 rushing offense that will provide him 15+ touches every game. If he can manage to stay healthy, the offensive scheme coupled with a rock solid offensive line should allow Sanders to approach top-15 RB territory.
Atlanta Falcons: Cordarelle Patterson (RB33, ADP 82)
It feels like the fantasy community has completely forgotten what Patterson was able to do last season. He is currently going as RB33, meaning he is currently being taken behind multiple backup RBs. Patterson finished 3rd on the Falcons in both targets and receiving yards last season, and finished 1st in receiving touchdowns. Oh, and he also led the team in rushing yards and TDs last season. The addition of rookie WR Drake London and former Chiefs/Bears RB Damien Williams have led certain individuals to believe Patterson’s touches will go down, but it is more likely that London will simply take the touches of the departing WR Russell Gage who was the leading WR for the team last season, and Williams will fill the role of the departing RB Mike Davis behind Patterson. Thus Patterson should see very similar production to last season, making him a lock-it-in starter at RB again this season.
New York Giants: Kenny Golladay (WR51, ADP 129)
The New York Giants offense has been a bit of a mess ever since current QB Daniel Jones was drafted 4 years ago. However, for the first time in a while, there is hope in New York with the hiring of new head coach Brian Daboll from Buffalo. Many credit Daboll with transforming Buffalo Bills superstar QB Josh Allen from a fringe starter to top-5 QB and believe he can do something similar with Jones. If Jones can become even half the QB Allen has become, the Giants passing attack should take a serious step up. Remember, Kenny Golladay had multiple 1000-yard seasons with Matthew Stafford in Detroit, and he is still a very talented WR that New York paid a lot of money to be their WR1. If anyone is set to have a fantasy-relevant season in New York outside of Saquon Barkley, it’s him.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Christian Kirk (WR43, ADP 104)
Christian Kirk reset the wide receiver market when he signed a four-year $72 million deal with the Jaguars this offseason. With QB Trevor Lawrence entering year two, expect the Jaguars passing offense to take a step up and for Kirk to be the primary beneficiary. Clearly the Jags didn’t sign him to that bonkers contract to just be one of the guys this season. He is the clear WR1 ahead of an aging Marvin Jones Jr. and a relatively unproven Zay Jones. Expect Kirk to put up some eye popping numbers this season, similar to what his AFC South counterpart Brandon Cooks (WR20 in 2021) was able to do as the clear number one guy on the Houston Texans last season.
New York Jets: Garrett Wilson (WR48, ADP 113)
As the number 10 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, Garrett Wilson is expected to hit the ground running with the New York Jets. He faces little competition in the wide receiver room other than Elijah Moore, and with the Jets expected to be coming from behind a lot again this season, expect Wilson to put up respectable numbers particularly during garbage time. This is not to mention QB Zach Wilson is entering his second year in the system, and reports from training camp indicate he has taken a significant step up throwing the ball in the offseason. At the very least, expect Wilson and Moore to dominate target share in an offense that will be forced to throw the ball 40-50 times a game, giving Wilson clear WR2 upside.
Detroit Lions: Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR21, ADP 55)
The darling of last season’s fantasy playoffs, Amon-Ra St. Brown comes into his second NFL season as the clear WR1 in Detroit. St. Brown posted an absurd 25.2 FPTS/G in PPR leagues over the final six games of the 2021 season. These numbers were partially aided by injuries to star TE T.J. Hockenson and pass-catching specialist RB D’Andre Swift, but over those final six games St. Brown saw no less than 10 targets in any game, scored a TD in five of the six games, and even saw some action as a runner (at least one carry in five of the six games). He may not be able to quite replicate that pace, but he and QB Jared Goff have established a clear connection, so expect St. Brown to put up at least 15 FPTS/G in PPR formats, which would have made him a top-10 wide receiver over the course of the season last year.
Green Bay Packers: Allen Lazard (WR49, ADP 115)
It feels as though people are overthinking it when it comes to Green Bay Packers WR Allen Lazard. The greatest receiver in fantasy over the past few seasons, Davante Adams, just left 123 receptions and nearly 170 targets up for grabs in Green Bay by departing for the Las Vegas Raiders. Lazard has been consistently progressing year over year in the Packers system, posting career highs in receptions (40), targets (60), yards (513), and touchdowns (8) last season. Star QB Aaron Rodgers and Lazard are building a strong rapport as indicated by Lazard’s place atop the receiving depth chart. He may not turn into Davante Adams overnight, but expect Lazard to take the lion’s share of Adams’ vacated targets, which puts him firmly in low-end WR1/high-end WR2 territory simply because of the system he finds himself in and the guy throwing him the ball.
Carolina Panthers: Chuba Hubbard (RB64, ADP 199)
Super-sub RB Chubba Hubbard is once again being overlooked as one of the best backup stashes in the fantasy market. Reports indicate that superstar starting RB Christian McCaffery is set to retake his high-volume role in both the running and passing game in Carolina. If the past two seasons are any indication, this high usage rate is taking its toll on McCaffery. Unfortunately, he has had four significant injuries over the past 2 seasons to his right leg/foot, and, as such, it is highly likely that he will suffer another injury at some point during the season. However, the NFL is a game of “next man up”, and should the injury bug bite McCaffery again, Hubbard is once again in line for 15-20 touches a game, including critical touches at the goalline. If you have the extra roster spot, he is definitely worth a stash late in your draft.
New England Patriots: Rhamondre Stevenson (RB37, ADP 99)
Ever since QB Mac Jones took over in New England, the Patriots have shown a commitment to a run-first scheme. To that end, they finished 7th in the NFL last season in percentage of run plays per game. It’s always hard to tell in New England, but it appears as though they have a firm starting running back duo of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson established heading into this year. Harris received more carries last year, but both had nearly identical YPC and receiving stats. Stevenson showed more explosiveness and power as a runner than Harris, and as the season progressed, it appeared as though Coach Belichick was becoming more and more confident in using Stevenson. Expect Stevenson to take a substantial workload this season, and if Harris were to go down, Stevenson would vault right up to top-10 RB territory.
Las Vegas Raiders: Zamir White (RB63, ADP 195)
Continuing the trend of great backup RB stashes, enter Zamir White. Current Raiders starting RB Josh Jacobs has been top-10 in total snaps played at the running back position each of the last two seasons, which is likely to start taking its toll sometime soon. Though he often plays through them, Jacobs has seen his fair share of injuries in his first few NFL seasons, and should Jacobs go down, rookie RB Zamir White would likely be in line to take over most if not all of Jacobs’ workload. Historically, teams love to abuse running backs while they are on their rookie contracts in terms of rushing attempts, which means should Jacobs miss any time this season, White could easily see top-10 RB production similar to that of Jacobs.
Los Angeles Rams: Tyler Higbee (TE22, ADP 184)
Starting Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee saw 5+ targets in 12 of 15 games played last season including in each of the final seven games of the regular season. In his first year in LA, QB Matt Stafford showed increasing faith in Higbee as both a safety valve and red zone target over the course of the season. In fact, Higbee finished third amongst tight ends in red zone targets last season. There is nothing to indicate that this production will decrease anytime soon, so expect Higbee to push top-10 territory again at the fantasy-weak tight-end position.
Baltimore Ravens: J.K. Dobbins (RB24, ADP 52)
Baltimore Ravens starting RB J.K. Dobbins is one of the handful of guys on this list that is being taken criminally low at RB24. The fact that he missed the entirety of last season with a torn ACL is slightly concerning, but reports indicate that he should be full-go once the season starts. Assuming that is the case, one has to remember that Dobbins averaged 6.0 YPC on 134 attempts in his rookie season, nearly 0.5 YPC more than anyone else with a similar number of attempts. Remember, in 2020, the last year Dobbins played, the Ravens were a clear first in rushing plays per game with Dobbins having established himself as the clear RB1 come season’s end. Oh, and he also scored a TD in each of his last six games played. All signs point to Dobbins taking back those RB1 reigns behind a great offensive line in arguably the most run-first offense in the league. Barring any injury issues, he will yield top-15 RB production at a minimum with top-5 upside.
New Orleans Saints: Michael Thomas (WR31, ADP 73)
He’s back folks. Former number one fantasy wide receiver in 2019 (by almost 100 points in PPR leagues) Michael Thomas finally appears to be healthy after missing the entirety of 2021 with a lingering ankle injury. Reports last year seemed to indicate that his relationship with former head coach Sean Payton had deteriorated to a point where even if the ankle was fully healed, Thomas wasn’t overly concerned with coming back to play for the team last year. That relationship is no longer an issue with Payton retiring at the end of 2021, and, fortunately, the extra time off means his ankle was seemingly able to fully heal. As such, expect Thomas to resume his former role as WR1 for the Saints. He has seen a bit of a downgrade at QB going from Drew Brees to Jameis Winston, and as such it is a bit unrealistic to expect him to match his 2019 production. However, Winston led the NFL in passing yards in his last full season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and therefore it isn’t unrealistic to expect Thomas to put up top-20 fantasy numbers this year.
Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Lockett (WR37, ADP 90)
Put quite simply, the Seattle Seahawks are going to be coming from behind A LOT this season. Even when they aren’t down big, the coaching staff knows that their offensive line is among the worst in the league, and as such running the ball isn’t going to be too much of an option. Whether they want to or not, the Seahawks are going to be forced to throw the ball more than they have in years past, and even though star QB Russell Wilson departed for Denver at the end of last season, there should be enough targets available to Lockett to allow him to maintain fantasy relevance. He still possesses game-breaking speed and could very well see himself as one of the most productive garbage time receivers in the league.
Pittsburgh Steelers: George Pickens (WR56, ADP 136)
Arguably the most hyped player in training camp this season, rookie WR George Pickens already finds himself third on the Steelers receiving depth chart behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Due to some of Claypool’s struggles last season, the WR2 spot alongside Johnson is firmly up for grabs, and if offseason reporting is any indication, Pickens has thrown his name firmly in the ring to be that guy. At 6’3” 200lbs, many experts believe that Pickens could be the next great wide receiver to come out of Pittsburgh. He is definitely worth a late round flier due to his sky-high ceiling.
Houston Texans: Brandon Cooks (WR24, ADP 60)
Not entirely sure what the fantasy community has against Cooks, but all signs indicate that he may find himself in an even better fantasy position than he was in last year. The skill position players on the Texans have most certainly gotten worse, the team is projected to have the fewest wins in the league this year (meaning they will likely be passing from behind more than anybody else), and QB Davis Mills has had a full offseason to further enhance his already strong connection with Cooks. In Layman’s terms, Cooks is going to get A LOT of targets this season in all parts of the field, so expect him to be an easy top-15 receiver with top-10 upside.
Tennessee Titans: Treylon Burks (WR38, ADP 92)
Although he has struggled a little bit early on in training camp, the Titans very clearly drafted Treylon Burks to replace departing WR A.J. Brown, who they traded to the Eagles mere seconds before drafting Burks. He is the only receiver on the roster with similar size and speed to Brown, and, as such, it would make a lot of sense to simply transition Brown’s routes to Burks. Aging Robert Woods seems to be the only real threat to Burks in terms of targets, and it shouldn’t be long until Burks has overtaken Woods as the go-to guy for QB Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee is a run-first offense which will hurt Burks’ fantasy prospects to a degree, but even with that he has clear top-20 upside at the position.
Minnesota Vikings: Adam Thielen (WR30, ADP 72)
After a lackluster 2021 season largely due to a few lingering injuries, Theilen returns to the Minnesota Vikings for another season primed to re-establish himself as a strong fantasy option at WR. The emergence of WR Justin Jefferson definitely took some targets that have traditionally gone to Theilen over the past few years, but, fortunately for Theilen’s fantasy value, by having such a great 2021, Jefferson has painted a bright red target on his back for defenses this season. It is highly likely that defenses will primarily focus their coverages in Jefferson’s direction, which should free up Theilen to see a lot of one-on-one matchups over the course of the season. He is still an elite route-runner and has elite hands, so, barring any injury aggravations, expect Theilen to return to top-20 fantasy status again this year.
*Editor’s Note: This article was written before Washington RB Brian Robinson was wounded as a victim of an attempted robbery. All of us at UVA Sports Business wish Robinson good health and as speedy a recovery as possible.
The 2021 Atlanta Braves did not get off to a very impressive or memorable start to their season. They hovered around .500 throughout the majority of the first half and on June 30th sat at fourth in the NL East with a 37-41 record, and a 15% chance to make the playoffs. The Braves’ postseason prospects for 2021 got even worse when, on July 10, their star right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr tore his ACL and was ruled out for the season. Before his injury, Acuña was slashing .283/.394/.596 with a 155 OPS+ as a prime MVP candidate, and the floundering Braves without their superstar seemed destined for a disappointing finish to 2021. Yet, in November, the Braves were the team hoisting the championship trophy as the World Champions. What mid-season changes did the Braves make to execute this impressive turnaround?
With Derrick Henry’s recent success in the NFL, his first attribute many point out is his 6’ 3 stature that looks almost comical to other running backs. After leading the league in rushing yards in 2020, some are starting to think that the conventional 5’ 10 build for a running back is no longer ideal. I wanted to test this theory amongst running backs across NCAAF and even more specifically, the ACC.
It seems like yesterday I was formulating a big board for the 2020 draft, but here we are again–another NBA Draft is finally here! My draft circadian rhythm is still shaken, but as the world propels itself into normal life, evaluators can get back to the schedule and pacing they are used to. We only had about eight months to dive deep into this years’ draft, and with an occasional case of burnout, that amounted to about six-and-a-half months for yours truly. However, it didn’t take nearly that much time for me to realize that this is an exciting draft from top to bottom. In an incredible rarity, I have given two prospects Tier 1 grades, in addition to two Tier 2 prospects. Last year, I perceived the 2020 Draft as having no Tier 1 guys and two Tier 2 prospects (Anthony Edwards and Lamelo Ball). As great as the top of the draft is, there is also extraordinary depth as you work your way down. You could convince me someone outside my top 20 like Kai Jones deserves to be in the top 10. I’ve seen intelligent arguments of exactly that nature. There are so many quality players and not enough slots to do their talents justice. I could see myself looking foolish by some of these rankings, but that is what makes the draft fun!
The 2020-2021 off season for Major League Baseball progressed as slowly as any offseason we have seen. Combine the COVID-driven caution many teams have for signing players who hit the free agent market in their mid-30s, many big leaguers were left unsigned until Mid-January and February. Nonetheless, all 30 clubs made their moves, big and small, and here we look at the teams who had the best offseasons as well as other teams who made intriguing moves.
By the time Cade Cunningham stepped on Oklahoma State’s campus, he had put together one of the most successful 12 month stretches by any prospect in recent memory. A Nike EYBL MVP after averaging 25.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists. A gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Cup, after starting every game and finishing third in points and second in assists on a team full of former and future lottery picks. Multiple player of the year awards for his role in leading Montverde Academy to a 25-0 record, shooting 59.2% from the floor and 47.7% from 3. Cunningham’s complete skill set and utter dominance drew Luka Dončić comparisons, and Cunningham emerged in a tier of his own as the consensus number one pick.
The new coaching regime in Washington created a cultural impact immediately felt throughout the organization. With Ron Rivera battling cancer, Scott Turner managing a QB room riddled with injuries/off-field drama, and Jack Del Rio inheriting the 27th ranked defense in yards allowed from 2019, the group wasn’t exactly dealt a stellar hand. Regardless, their ability to still earn a division title has proven that with Bruce Allen gone, the opportunity for improvement is very real in Washington.