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Patience will let you find fantasy football sweet spot to draft tight ends

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In the second of a six-part fantasy draft preview series leading up the NFL season, Fantasy Insanity discusses tight ends, defense/special teams and kickers. Next week: quarterbacks. 

All fantasy positions are not created equal. Some produce more points than others. Some are deeper. Some have greater disparity between the top scorers and potential replacements. And some, essentially, just don’t matter. 

For example, does your league still use a kicker? If so, may I ask why? The best of the bunch doesn’t score that much more than the worst, the production is next-to-impossible to project from week to week and there is always a more useful bench guy at a primary position available in during the last round of the draft. Get your commissioner to drop kickers and add a bench spot. 

Or defense/special teams. We don’t despise these as much as we do kickers, because there can be strategic advantages if you look hard enough into specific matchups — particularly in DFS. But they aren’t so valuable that you should ever pick one before the last couple of rounds of your draft. 

Which brings us to tight ends. This position takes a huge leap into relevancy, but still falls into the low-impact category. You don’t, and shouldn’t, have to wait until late in the draft to pick one, but we prefer this route to using a high choice. 

It would be great to have Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews or Darren Waller, sure. But we would rather have a an additional starting running back or wide receiver at the point in the draft those top tight ends normally go — in the top six rounds. 

Instead, the Madman prefers to wait it out. We would rather avoid this season’s 2021 Waller and try to find this season’s Dalton Schultz. Some of our primary targets are Schultz, Dallas Goedert, Dawson Knox and Mike Gesicki. Schultz finished top-three among tight ends last season, yet is being drafted as TE7 this season, though the Cowboys lost Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup’s return from an ACL injury is uncertain. 

The problem with getting Schultz is the high volatility of his draft position. He averages middle-fifth round, but he can often go as high as early fourth or as late as early eight. We don’t want him at the high end and everything has to go just right early for us to be comfortable in the middle of his range, but we love him at the back end. 

Dalton Schultz
Dalton Schultz
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The Eagles’ addition of A.J. Brown gives them a legitimate NFL pass-catching threat, which could lure coverage away from others, including Goedert. Gesicki is in a similar situation in Miami, with Tyreek Hill the new defensive distraction. 

We think Knox can turn in a top-10 TE season. He made a nice step forward last season, and can further build on that this year. You do have to worry about QB Josh Allen robbing Knox of some red-zone catches by rushing for touchdowns, but in such a high-powered offense, we’ll take our chances. 

Mike Gesicki
Mike Gesicki
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Dawson Knox
Dawson Knox
Boston Globe via Getty Images

If we miss on all of these, we don’t mind taking Cole Kmet fairly late. 

Granted when we wait as long as we often do for a TE, we prefer to grab a second to give us some flexibility. And we have a couple of super-late guys who make us smile when we pick them: Tampa Bay’s Cameron Brate or Kyle Rudolph. 

Tom Brady no longer has Rob Gronkowski. With Chris Godwin returning from an ACL injury, his health and production will be iffy. But someone is going to be catching passes in this offense. And we like either one of the Buccaneers’ TE options to be touchdown producers, even if they don’t rack up a lot of yards. 

So feel free to sit tight before grabbing a tight end. But you don’t have to wait all the way till the end.

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The U.S. women’s team has won millions at the men’s World Cup.

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The United States women’s soccer team, a four-time World Cup champion, is winning at the men’s World Cup, too.

Thanks to new labor agreements reached with U.S. Soccer that guarantee a split of prize money won by the country’s national teams, the women will receive an equal share in the prize money from the performance of the U.S. men in Qatar. How much money? At least $6 million to date, or more than the combined prizes the women’s team collected for their 2019 World Cup victory in France ($4 million prize) and their 2015 title in Canada ($2 million).

In September, the U.S. women’s and men’s teams formally signed new collective bargaining agreements with landmark terms: For the first time, U.S. Soccer guaranteed the players will receive equal pay for competing in international matches and competitions, which had been one of the most contentious issues facing the teams and the federation in recent years.

That means the women’s national team will also benefit from the men’s advancement at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, in figures that a spokesperson for the women’s team said the players are still digesting — but that have given the women’s team, and its predecessors, a sense of accomplishment and advancement in a decades-long pursuit of equity in the sport.

“The women have done their work — four World Cups, four Olympic gold medals — to bring high visibility, and I mean high visibility, to the sport of soccer in this country, which needed it for a long time,” said Briana Scurry, a goalkeeper for the Americans’ 1999 World Cup-winning team. “Now the men, once again, it’s their turn and they’re showing incredibly well.”

FIFA previously announced that the total prize pool for the World Cup in Qatar would be $440 million, including $42 million for the winning team. For advancing to the knockout stage of the tournament, after a 1-0 tense win over Iran, the team stands to earn at least $13 million. A win against the Netherlands on Saturday could raise that figure to at least $17 million.

Under the new agreements, 90 percent of World Cup prize money will be pooled and shared equally between the players on the 2022 men’s World Cup roster and the 2023 Women’s World Cup roster, in a historic move that is unique only to the United States among top soccer-playing nations.

The sharing is reciprocal: When the women defend their World Cup title at the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, any earnings will be split with the men’s team.

“These agreements have changed the game forever here in the United States and have the potential to change the game around the world,” the U.S. Soccer President, Cindy Parlow Cone, said in a statement when the agreements were reached in May.

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How Jacque Vaughn is using the lessons of Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers to bring a sense of harmony to the rejuvenated Nets

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The Nets team that stormed into December is a totally different one than the despondent, dysfunctional one that limped into November.

The personnel didn’t change, but their passion and sense of purpose did.

And for that, many players credit the man guiding it, Jacque Vaughn, with having successfully lifted the attitude and atmosphere around Brooklyn in his first month in charge.

“He just holds everybody accountable, honestly,” veteran Joe Harris told The Post. “He challenges everybody in here to be the best version of themselves with whatever’s going to help the team out.”

Vaughn stepped in as the interim head coach on Nov. 1, inheriting a 2-5 mess. Since then he’s engendered players’ trust and commitment, earned the permanent job and changed the vibe inside the HSS Training Center halls and Barclays Center walls.

Oh, and gone 11-6 in his first month (and a day) on the job.

“They’re in the process of establishing that identity,” Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said of Vaughn, his former boss. “You’re seeing that on the defensive end. I don’t know how much is different, but a little bit more buy-in, a little bit more commitment. You can tell there’s more intent.

Opposing coaches have noticed the Nets appear to be buying in to Jacque Vaughn’s efforts to forge a united identity among his players.
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“They’ve done a terrific job; top 10 since Nov. 1 on both sides of the ball. Got to give Jacque and his staff a lot of credit. It shifted. They’re a different team.”

When Vaughn replaced departed coach Steve Nash — whom Kevin Durant had tried to get fired over the summer — Brooklyn was 29th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive rating (119.1) and 28th in net rating (minus-6.5).

Since? Tenth in offense (113.1), fourth in defense (108.5) and fifth in net rating (plus-4.6) after Friday’s tilt vs. Toronto. Oh, and tied for second in wins.

“The spirit and the togetherness seems to be on the uptick,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. He’s already gotten three up-close looks at Brooklyn, with the Nets winning on Oct. 21 and the night before Thanksgiving before losing to them yet again on Friday.

“The defense, obviously, some of the numbers have shown that it’s been very good. I heard the Nets are top 5 or something since he took over. That would be big. Anytime you’re top 5 in defense for any stretch of games it’s a plus.”

How has Vaughn enacted such change? Let’s dig into it.

Keep it simple

Jacque Vaughn and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets talk against the Milwaukee Bucks on October 26, 2022 at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
By asking for his players’ opinions on game strategy and simplifying his points of emphasis in practices, Vaughn has gained the trust of the Nets’ roster.
NBAE via Getty Images

Apparently clarity isn’t only vital in diamonds; it’s pretty useful in coaches, too.

Whether Nash’s message was insufficient, indecipherableor just plain ignored, it didn’t get through. Vaughn has gotten the players to not only understand his instructions, but enact them according to Harris, one of just two Nets remaining from the squad that Vaughn coached during the 2020 Orlando bubble.

“He does a really good job of just simplifying stuff,” Harris said. “When we go through our pregame prep, I feel like everybody [is clear]. He just has an open dialogue with everybody. He wants to hear guys’ opinions on different stuff.

“Collectively, you just feel really well-prepared. That’s JV in a nutshell. That’s how I felt playing for him when he took over for Kenny [Atkinson] and in the bubble. I feel like we were always really well-prepared going into every single game.”

Sometimes basic can be better, if you do it well enough.

For example, Vaughn’s morning shootaround this past Wednesday was short and simple, with just three clips from the prior win (including how to clean up sloppy turnovers against the blitz) and three more in preparation for that night’s tilt vs. Washington (who’d hurt them on the offensive glass).

Brooklyn was in the right spots in Wednesday’s victory, their nine turnovers just two off their season-best.

Joe Harris #12 of the Brooklyn Nets battles Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards during their game at Barclays Center on November 30, 2022 in New York City.
Brooklyn’s defensive effort has picked up considerably after Vaughn took over for Steve Nash, who parted ways with the team after a 2-5 start.
Getty Images

“I try to keep things simple, [and] really be specific on how we can get better,” said Vaughn, who added he tries to be just as transparent about expectations and roles and minutes. “That communication happens. [The starter] gets his mind ready and he knows he’s going to play.

“’Patty [Mills], you may play. Markieff [Morris], you may play.’ So, overall, just being more matter-of-fact with this group and not giving them excuses. Not like ‘OK, somebody’s out, somebody’s in, we’re searching for excuses.’ No excuses. Put on your jersey, come to play. I’m going to coach my tail off as much as I can, give you as much energy as I can. Give to the group. Don’t be a taker: Be a giver.”

Experience matters

Over the years, a long laundry list of coaches have given Vaughn pearls of wisdom. He spent the most time playing for and coaching under NBA all-time wins leader Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, but he also suited up for Hall of Famers Roy Williams at Kansas and Jerry Sloan with the Utah Jazz.

Vaughn even played in Orlando for Doc Rivers in 2002-03, sandwiched in between the latter’s NBA Coach of the Year Award season and his NBA title run with the Celtics. And even though Vaughn insists he had no clue he’d end up coaching, it was obvious to Rivers from a mile away. Or more like a decade away.

“Jacque is one of those guys that you knew,” said Rivers, who still texts with Vaughn. “There’s certain guys, honestly, if you asked coaches, there’s a layup: He’s gonna be a coach. Jacque was definitely at the top of that.

Jacque Vaughn #11 of the Orlando Magic listens to instructions by head coach Doc Rivers in Game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against of the Detroit Pistons during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at TD Waterhouse Centre on May 2, 2003 in Orlando, Florida. The Pistons won 103-88.
Vaughn played only one season under Doc Rivers, who still felt it was obvious back then the veteran guard would be a coach.
NBAE via Getty Images

“I jokingly told him years ago, ‘the worse you shoot — and I was an awful shooter, too — the better coach you become. Jacque, you’re going to be one hell of a coach.’ ”

Vaughn’s first head coaching stint in Orlando — 58-158 — was closer to hellish. But his Nets encore has gone more swimmingly. And the same traits that Rivers saw in him then are the ones he’s honed over the years to have a 17-9 mark in Brooklyn.

“His IQ,” Rivers said of Vaughn, a two-time Academic All-American. “And he just loved the game. I mean, he studied the game. He’s got the competitive genes…So you just knew that he’d be a coach.”

Popovich clearly agreed. After Vaughn spent his final three seasons playing for the Spurs, he went right to the bench and spent his next three coaching under the five-time champ.

Still just 37 at the time, Vaughn then struck out on his own, taking the Orlando job. On a team with no direction and little talent, though, he struggled through 2 ½ tough seasons.

Jacque Vaughn #11 of the San Antonio Spurs talks with head coach Gregg Popovich during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 5, 2007 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Spurs won 88-74.
Vaughn spent the last three seasons of his playing career under Gregg Popovich, who then hired the 12-year veteran to become an assistant coach in San Antonio.
NBAE via Getty Images

“It’s part of my journey,” Vaughn said. “I was a pretty young head coach, 37. I’m closer to 50 [now] than I am to 37, so I’ve learned a lot through the course of the years.

“I’m a coachable individual, hopefully, and even with you [media] guys, the growth — I’m different at these things than I was 10 years, 15 years ago, so it’s good to see somebody grow as individuals. You can’t get too old for that.”

You can teach an old dog new tricks

Vaughn’s age isn’t just visible in a beard flecked with gray. It showed up as a wiser coach during his 7-3 interim stint in 2020. And a more experienced one that ended Friday 9-4 since having the interim tag removed on Nov. 9.

“In today’s NBA, [it’s important to have] the ability to communicate with guys on as small as things as what time do we want to leave, to big things as pick-and-roll coverage and lineups on the floor,” said Vaughn. “It’s OK to have that kind of communication.

“I might’ve resisted that as a young coach, where I thought I had to prove to everyone that I knew every answer all the time and wasn’t vulnerable to ask someone a question and get an answer from a player. That’s changed.”

His ability to build those relationships and get that effort has been huge.

Jacque Vaughn of the Orlando Magic during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 10, 2015 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.
Though he struggled to win in his 2½ years with the Magic, he quickly gained a reputation as a coach who could teach players as well as hold them accountable to do their jobs.
NBAE via Getty Images

To a man, the Nets seemed to genuinely like Nash. But he couldn’t seem to hold them accountable, and failed to get a clear message across to them.

“He does a terrific job communicating with players, holding guys accountable,” said Unseld Jr., who spent 2½ years as Vaughn’s assistant in Orlando and praised the Brooklyn coach’s poise. “He’s a remarkable teacher and great basketball mind. And he’s got a level of toughness that exudes a little on his teams.”

That toughness has come through in the way Vaughn has been able to hold the entire team accountable, from the two-way players all the way up to stars like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

“Yeah, if you’ve been issued a team jersey, you show up and you play,” Vaughn said. “That’s how we are. There’s no excuses. I’m not about the ‘next man up’ thing, because they’re all men on the team. Overall, you try to win that day’s game; that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not looking for any excuses. We don’t want any. We don’t want any handouts.”

Vaughn didn’t get any in his playing or coaching career. And he’s instilling that in the Nets.

No, make that his Nets.

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As the World Focuses on Soccer, a Women’s Team in Exile Aches to Play

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“We must address a message of hope that sports is possible for women when it is quite difficult or impossible now in Afghanistan,” Lappartient said. “I just want to give this idea that the light is still on.”

Without similar support from FIFA, the Afghan women’s soccer team is now looking for somewhere to play as an official national team. It’s considering joining the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, or Conifa, said Popal, the longtime Afghan women’s football program director. According to Conifa’s website, the organization “supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de facto nations, regions, minority people and sports isolated territories.”

But the level and depth of competition at Conifa is not what the Afghans have been used to at the FIFA level, where 187 women’s teams compete. In comparison, Conifa’s website listed only three women’s programs in its rankings from July: FA Sapmi (from the Indigenous Sami people who inhabit part of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia), Northern Cyprus and Tibet.

For the Afghan women, the goal is to return to play under FIFA’s umbrella. To get there, Popal, who lives in Denmark, has sent multiple emails to FIFA officials asking them for help reinstating the Afghan team. For months and months now, she has yet to receive an answer.

Last month, she also filed an official grievance with FIFA, writing, “All the coaches and players need to have their right to play respected and FIFA has the responsibility to guarantee our right to represent Afghanistan, even in exile.” At least a half dozen current and former players have also filed grievances, she said.

Again, no response.

“Men took away the players’ right to play football in Afghanistan, and now FIFA is taking away the right for the players to play football anywhere else,” Popal said. “I’m so frustrated that women have no voice. Why do the women of Afghanistan always have to pay the price?”

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