Fantasy Football
Matthew Berry, ESPN Senior Writer 9d

Love, Hate and Secret Squirrel

Fantasy NFL, Fantasy

"What if we call him 'The Dopp'? I like that. 'The Dopp.'"

It is early August, and I am in a meeting with a bunch of people way higher than me on the ESPN food chain. We are discussing The Fantasy Show and, more pointedly, how we will refer to Daniel Dopp on the show.

Daniel's day job, of course, is producing the Fantasy Focus Football podcast that we do five days a week. Based on the on-air chemistry Daniel and I have, and his knowledge and enthusiasm for fantasy football, we'd decided that Daniel would also be joining the TV show in a producer and on-air role. And as Daniel started taking part in the rehearsals, I had been calling him "Secret Squirrel," his nickname from the podcast.

"It's weird," the higher-ups said. "It makes no sense," another offered. "Viewers will be confused." And that's when the suggestion came. "What if we call him 'The Dopp?''" added a third. "I like that. 'The Dopp.'"

As they spoke, my supervising producer just looked at me as the room grew silent, the last suggestion just hanging there.

I bowed my head and just said, very quietly: "I'd like it if we could call him Secret Squirrel, please. It's the name we use for him on the podcast, so it will help fans of the podcast connect to the TV show. He likes the name. We both do." And at this point I raised my head and looked at the group. "But most importantly, it's not some silly, random nickname."

There were many things on the agenda for the meeting, from graphics packages to the logo, to music cues to the opening credit sequence, and a million other things you never think of that go into getting a show on the air. If I'm being honest, I was in this meeting only as a courtesy. They didn't need my approval on any of it. And now I was holding everything up over a nickname. But they were listening.

So I told the story that I am about to share with you.

Daniel D. Dopp was a C student coming out of high school in Michigan. His lack of focus wasn't just limited to his schoolwork. It was his very existence, wandering without purpose, with no idea what he would even be interested in studying, let alone what to do with his adult life. So he went to community college for two years, where even in a, shall we say, relaxed academic setting, he barely scraped by with a 2.3 GPA. And he still had no idea what to do with his life.

An uncle took pity on Daniel and hired him to work in the family business as an electrician in Midland, Michigan. Two years later, Daniel the electrician was still living with his parents, and the only progress he had made on the topic of what to do with his life was ruling out being an electrician and deciding he didn't want to live at home anymore.

"I was self-aware enough to know that I needed someone to push me because I was incapable of doing it myself," Daniel told me. It was a problem he shared with his brother Andy. And so, one day, their search for a purpose led them to take an ASVAB test, which helps the armed forces assess potential recruits for success.

And wouldn't you know it, Daniel, with his 2.3 GPA at community college, crushed it. Because of his score on the test, and specifically because of his aptitude for the Air Force, Daniel was allowed to pick his path to any division of the Air Force he wanted.

Partially because he thought it would be challenging, partly because it sounded interesting to him and, frankly, partly because he thought it would be cool to have a job that required him to get security clearance -- Daniel asked to be in intelligence.

Andy also did well on the test and entered the Air Force at the same time, becoming a special investigator. Daniel headed off to basic training in April 2006 and soon after was stationed at an Air Force base in Texas. After a year there, Daniel moved on to an "ISR shop" (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) where he spent the next three years focusing on intelligence gathering in the Pacific, and from there, it was two years at an intelligence facility located somewhere between Washington and Baltimore.

During those six years, the wandering, aimless Daniel Dopp finally found something: a purpose.

"We joined at the same time, and early on, my brother Andy was deployed to Iraq," Daniel told me. "Once he went overseas, it all became very real to me. I worried about my brother over there, and I realized the enormity and gravity of my job."

"Someone, somewhere was doing the same job, but their responsibility was keeping my brother safe, being his eyes and ears as he traveled unsafe and unfamiliar territory. It became very personal. The soldiers I was responsible for were brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to someone out there, and I wanted to take care of them the way I prayed someone was looking after Andy."

Senior Airman Daniel D. Dopp earned multiple awards while in the Air Force, including the Air Force Achievement Medal, where he was cited for discovering a theater-level server malfunction and repairing the faulty components in the critical aftermath of a B-52 crash. His efforts led to the successful recovery of the aircraft and, most importantly, two crew members.

As Col. Aldon E. Purdham noted in a 2010 citation recognizing Daniel for his service, "He provided vital inputs to 148 intelligence products which led to the safe execution of 172 missions. His actions contributed directly to his section's selection as the Squadron's Team of the Year for 2008."

Said Daniel: "The Air Force instilled in me a drive and work ethic that let me know, for the first time, I could succeed in anything I put my mind to. The military gave me that knowledge and confidence more than anything else in my life. Sorry, Mom."

It was that courage that allowed him to leave the now-comfortable confines of the military when his initial service agreement was up six years after he joined, because he had another challenge he wanted to take on.

So, at the age of 29, Daniel decided to enroll at Full Sail University, paid for thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill. I can't imagine what it was like to be a 29-year-old guy on a college campus, but Daniel, as he has often done since joining the Air Force, made the most of the opportunity. The guy who struggled to get a 2.3 GPA in community college graduated as class valedictorian.

Now in his early 30s, Daniel finally had a college degree, and as he looked around, he once again decided to go on a path that some might have questioned at the time. "There was a 10-week internship available in digital audio at ESPN, and while I really wanted a paying job, this was the only chance I could see to get into ESPN. Potentially working at ESPN offered me an opportunity no one else could."

Seven weeks into the internship, a part-time job opened up helping out with podcasts, and Daniel got the gig, which led to him eventually becoming the full-time producer of the Fantasy Focus 06010 pod. When Daniel first joined the podcast, we were searching around for a nickname for him, and as we got to know him a bit, we found out about his service as a "Secret Squirrel," a common nickname for people who work in military intelligence. And that was that.

We call him Secret Squirrel not only because it's a fun, endearing nickname -- but also to honor him and his service to our country. For me, it's a way to recognize the sacrifice Daniel made and, in our show's goofy little way, to also acknowledge all the men and women of the military who have and continue to fight for our freedom.

When I say "Secret Squirrel" on air, in my mind, I am saying "Thank you for your service. Thank you for fighting for a freedom that allows me to live in a country where I can somehow make a living wearing makeup and talking about fake football surrounded by puppets. I recognize what you and your families have given up for that freedom, and it is not lost on me."

The suits smiled at me then. "Secret Squirrel it is."

Every year I try to write at least one column (and often more) about the military. It's one of my great joys when I hear from so many servicemen and women who tell me how much fantasy football means to them. How it keeps their mind sane when stationed somewhere scary, away from their families, and how it keeps them in touch with loved ones, be it family, friends or fellow soldiers. How much joy this silly game brings them.

So whatever very, very small part I can play in helping that cause, it means a tremendous deal to me. It's the very least I can do. With Veterans Day on Saturday, it seems it's the very least any of us can do: Thank these men, women and their families, all of whom have made more sacrifices than we have the right to expect from them. It's our duty to acknowledge what they mean to us and our way of life.

"Whether you are behind a desk or on a flight line, it doesn't matter to me," Daniel said. "I fought for the freedom for everyone to be whoever they want to be and for them to be able to express whatever belief they wanted, even if I don't agree with it. That's the country I'm proud to have served."

You know, sometimes I'll run into someone in public, or I'll read social media comments under videos from The Fantasy Show. They see Daniel, never having been on TV before, with a nose ring, earrings, full sleeves of tattoos on his arms and a big bushy beard. And they say to me, "That guy? That's your co-host?"

You're damn right he is.

Let's get to it.

NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are for the past four weeks.

Quarterbacks I love in Week 10

Matthew Stafford, Lions: I know, I know. The Browns are improving (16th against the pass) and getting healthier, as Myles Garrett, Jason McCourty and Jabrill Peppers, among others, are expected back Sunday. But one of the issues Detroit has had this season is running the ball. That will remain an issue against a stout Cleveland defensive front that is in the top 12 against the run. So the only way the Lions move the ball here is through the air, where Stafford is averaging an NFL-high 365.3 passing yards per game since Week 6. Playing at home (where he has averaged more than 19 points per game this season), I have Stafford as a top-three play this week, even with reinforcements coming for coach Hue Jackson's squad.

Others receiving votes: Just in case you were thinking of getting cute and not starting Tom Brady because he's on the road at Denver -- don't. The Broncos already have allowed 16 passing touchdowns this season, four more than all of last season and, you know, he's Tom Brady. Brady has a 13-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his past six games against the Broncos, and half of those games were in Denver. Just stop. You're starting Tom Brady. ... I'm not a huge Ben Roethlisberger fan this year, especially on the road, but I have him as a top-10 play this week as the Steelers visit a Colts team that has given up at least 300 yards passing or multiple passing scores in every non-Tom Savage game this season. ... I had the Rams' Jared Goff as a top-10 play last week, and I'm back in against a Texans team that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing QBs. ... Josh McCown is now a legit starting QB in 10-team leagues, and I expect his success to continue against a Tampa Bay squad that has coughed up the third-most passing yards per game, the third-highest completion percentage against and the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this season. ... I understand it's hard to get excited about any part of the Giants' offense, but Eli Manning has two or more touchdown passes in four of the past six games (Denver and Seattle being the only exceptions) and, you know, it's San Francisco. Eli is a legit midtier QB2 with some upside this week.

Quarterbacks I hate in Week 10

Philip Rivers, Chargers: I don't like Rivers even in a two-QB league this week. A West Coast team traveling east for a 1 p.m. game is never ideal, and Rivers has quietly struggled recently (just QB22 from Week 6 to Week 9 on a points-per-game basis). The Jags are no joke, having allowed just one touchdown pass in their past five games and only four for the season. In addition, Jacksonville has allowed 225-plus passing yards just once this season. Rivers is becoming more of a dink-and-dunker -- he is averaging his fewest yards per attempt since 2012 -- so it's hard to see him putting up top-20 numbers here, even in a week with four guys on a bye, plus Jameis Winston and Deshaun Watson being out. No, thank you.

Others receiving votes: That was a helluva win by Kirk Cousins in Seattle, and that late pass to Josh Doctson was an absolute thing of beauty. I'm a big Cousins fan and hope he and the Redskins figure out something long term, but I'm not crazy about him this week. He's still playing behind a makeshift offensive line with pass-catchers who have struggled to get separation (plus Jordan Reed could be out again), so it's hard to see Cousins having significant fantasy success against a Vikings team that has allowed just 10.2 fantasy points a game to opposing QBs since Week 4. ... Even though the Packers' Brett Hundley scored 18 points last week, I would look elsewhere for a bye-week streamer, as the Bears' defense is underrated. In the previous four games before their bye, the Bears allowed just one total touchdown pass and less than 10 points a game to opposing QBs. Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco all faced the Bears and came away without a passing score. I'd rather play the Bears' defense than Hundley.

Running backs I love in Week 10

Alvin Kamara, Saints: It's very rare for a top running back on a team with another very productive rusher who is getting a lot of touches to also be a top-10 guy. But then again, Kamara is a rare kind of back. He's a true three-down talent, so it's easy to see why we kept hearing rumblings about how much coach Sean Payton liked him in the preseason. The good times will continue to roll when the Saints visit Buffalo, and I have Kamara and teammate Mark Ingram in my top 10. You might be worried because the Bills have overachieved and the game is outdoors, but you shouldn't be. Kamara has at least 100 yards from scrimmage or a score in five of his past six, so his fantasy consistency is off the charts. Buffalo, meanwhile, is tied for the third-most receptions, fourth-most receiving yards and fourth-most fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs since its Week 6 bye.

Others receiving votes: You were already starting him, but I'm the highest on Jordan Howard this week, as he continues to get a ton of volume (28 touches a game over his past three) and will be the focal point of a Chicago offense facing a Packers team that is 19th against the run. ... Everyone is talking up the Rams (and rightfully so), but as great as their season has been, it's worth noting they still allow the fifth-most yards per carry and are tied for the third-most rushing scores to opposing running backs this season. With QB Tom Savage, ahem, struggling to find his rhythm in the offense, expect Houston to once again lean on the run game, making Lamar Miller a legit RB1 this week. ... The Giants might have tuned out coach Ben McAdoo, but they still have to play the game. And over the past three games, Orleans Darkwa has gotten 64 percent of the Giants' running back carries. He's averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season, and I like his chances at a top-20 day against a 49ers team that is allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.

Despite what Philly did to Denver last week, in general I think it is very tough to run up the middle on the Broncos, and their corners are terrific, so my expectations are that the Patriots will try to move the ball via tight end Rob Gronkowski and dump-off passes to their running backs, especially James White, whose role in the passing game is secure. White is a top-20 play for me this week. ... With C.J. Anderson banged up (reports Wednesday, when I wrote this, had him dealing with a knee issue at practice), I could see even more work this week for Devontae Booker, who has averaged 4.6 yards per carry since making his debut in Week 4 (Anderson is at 3.9, Jamaal Charles 3.6) and leads all Denver running backs in receptions and targets this season. Since the Broncos want to hide QB Brock Osweiler, and since it's a favorable matchup with a Pats defense that allows the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, I could see Booker getting double-digit touches and being flex-worthy here for those scrambling. ... Be sure to watch the injury reports. If Matt Forte were to miss this game (he didn't practice Wednesday because of swelling in his surgically repaired knee), you'd love the Jets' Bilal Powell's chances against a Tampa Bay defense that is 30th against the run, and Elijah McGuire would become worthy of consideration in deeper leagues.

Running backs I hate in Week 10

Doug Martin, Buccaneers: Martin is averaging just 3 yards per carry and has just one touchdown the past four games, so it's hard to generate any excitement for a Buccaneers offense that will be without QB Jameis Winston and receiver Mike Evans on Sunday. The argument for, I guess, is more volume for Martin without Winston there, but I'm not sure that matters. Since Week 3, the Jets have allowed the third-fewest running back points per game, and that's not because they faced a bunch of scrubs. That range includes games against Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy and two games of Jay Ajayi. The Jets already blitz at the eighth-highest rate in the league this season, so I can't see them easing up with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, which should lead to some turnovers or long down-and-distance situations that aren't ideal for Martin. He hasn't really been involved in the passing game (just five receptions in his five games this season), so it's hard to bank on production coming via the pass, either. You might not have better options, but I have Martin outside my top 20.

Others receiving votes: As mentioned in the Matthew Stafford section, I don't think Detroit can run the ball, period, and the Browns' defensive strength is that line that allows a league-low 2.91 yards per carry this season. Coming off a two-fumble game, I want no part of Ameer Abdullah on Sunday. ... Joe Mixon is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry, so it's safe to say the folks who used a high draft pick on the Bengals rookie have not been pleased with his production. Well, I have sour news for you, Jack: That continues this Sunday against a Titans squad that is fourth against the run and has allowed only two rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs all season long (and none since Week 4). ... Speaking of that game, I'm not thrilled with DeMarco Murray's prospects, either. He has fewer red zone touches this season than teammate Derrick Henry, and he is clearly not 100 percent healthy, averaging a paltry 3.03 yards per carry over his past three. Murray has five straight games with fewer than 60 rushing yards, so you need a score from him and, well, no team has allowed fewer rushing scores this season than the Cincinnati Bengals. Murray is merely a touchdown-dependent flex play for me this week.

Pass-catchers I love in Week 10

Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate, Lions: Well, if I love Stafford this week, it stands to reason that I'm on his two pass-catchers as well. Let's start with Jones, who on a points-per-game basis is the best wide receiver in fantasy over the past four weeks. It's not fluky, as he's averaging more than 12 targets per game in that stretch, and not all of that was due to Tate being banged up. As Field Yates brought up on the podcast the other day, people forget that the Lions paid Jones like a No. 1 receiver when they lured him away from Cincy a few years back. They view him and Tate as legit No. 1s. Since Week 5, only Antonio Brown has more targets per game than Jones, and his 96 yards per game in that span is also second only to AB's. I love this stat, by the way: Since Week 5, only two wide receivers have 300 yards and three touchdowns: DeAndre Hopkins and ... yes, Marvin Jones. Meanwhile, Tate leads the NFL in receiving yards from the slot this season, a positive note considering that the Browns' opponents are completing 75 percent of their passes to the slot (third highest) and have thrown six touchdown passes to the slot this season (also third most). The Lions won't be able to run here, so they will sling it. When they do, they'll sling it successfully to Jones and Tate, both of whom are top-10 plays for me on Sunday.

Others receiving votes: Just in case you were thinking of getting cute and benching Doug Baldwin on Thursday night because of cornerback Patrick Peterson -- don't. Peterson almost never goes to the slot (just 9 percent of snaps this season), and that's where Baldwin runs the majority of his routes (68 percent) for Seattle. Arizona actually allows the third-most receptions and seventh-most receiving yards to opposing wide receivers in the slot this season. Fire up Baldwin as a confident top-10 play on Thursday night. ... As maligned as the Redskins' secondary (and overall defense) has been the past few years, its perimeter play is actually very strong, especially with CB Josh Norman back. As a result, teams tend to attack the secondary with the tight end, as Washington allows the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Since Week 5, Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph ranks third among TEs in receptions per game and fourth in tight end targets. Fire him up as a top-five tight end. ... Speaking of top tight ends, Evan Engram is on pace for 198.4 fantasy points. (In the past 15 years, Jeremy Shockey has the most points by a rookie TE with 171.4.) Engram has a touchdown catch in three straight games and seven or more targets in six of the past seven, and he and the Giants face a 49ers team that has allowed a tight end touchdown in three straight. He's worth the price in DFS. ... And given the state of the Niners, I'm also onboard with Sterling Shepard as a top-20 play this week. ... Over his past four games, Robby Anderson has averaged seven targets per game and 15.5 yards per reception on his 17 catches, and he has scored in each of his past three games. Tampa Bay allows the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing WRs this season. ... With touchdowns in two straight and a porous Colts defense to face this week, I'm onboard with Pittsburgh's JuJu Smith-Schuster as a solid WR3 option. ... You know I am on Jared Goff this week, so how about the guys he's throwing to? Robert Woods leads the Rams in receptions, receiving yards and targets on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield this season. That should come in handy against a Texans defense that, on a per-game basis, is allowing the second-most receptions and second-most receiving yards and is tied for the most receiving touchdowns on passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield this season. Considering the Texans have been torched by opposing wide receivers the past two weeks to the tune of 103 fantasy points, I'm going back to my little Cooper Kupp as a WR3 with upside. ... It was a bit quieter than we expected for Carolina's Devin Funchess in his first game in the post-Kelvin Benjamin era, but the volume and talent are there for me to have him as a top-20 play this week against a Dolphins team that has allowed five wide receiver touchdowns in the past four games. ... The only way to move the ball against Jacksonville is in the middle of the field, it seems, so gimme some Hunter Henry this week as a low-end TE1.

Pass-catchers I hate in Week 10

Keenan Allen, Chargers: See Rivers, Philip. Remember Week 1, when the Jags allowed DeAndre Hopkins to get into the end zone? That was the only time all season Jacksonville has given up a receiving touchdown to an opposing WR this season. The only WR with more than 70 yards in a game against Jacksonville this season is Antonio Brown. As I mentioned in the Rivers section, I'm nervous about a West Coast team traveling east for a 1 p.m. game, especially off a bye when it'll be out of sync. Allen has been held to less than 70 yards in four straight, and it's unlikely he gets into the end zone here. After getting a 26.2 percent target share in Weeks 1-5, Allen is down to a 22.7 percent since Week 6. It's still a nice number but certainly not heading in the direction you want. I can't imagine you have better options, so you likely have to start him and hope he dinks and dunks his way to a respectable outing. But he's not a guy I want in DFS cash games this week, as he's merely a low-end WR2 for me.

Others receiving votes: With fewer than 40 receiving yards in consecutive games and a matchup with a Bears squad that hasn't allowed a wide receiver touchdown in four straight games, it's hard to be excited about Green Bay's Jordy Nelson's prospects with Brett Hundley under center. He's merely on the WR2/WR3 border and no longer a must-play if you have better options. ... Speaking of big-name guys whom it's hard to muster confidence in, you're probably still starting the Vikings' Stefon Diggs, but my little Washington defense has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts and is sixth best in deep completion percentage. I much prefer Adam Thielen to Diggs this week among Minnesota wideouts. ... If it's not the NFL's inconsistent officiating stealing touchdowns from him (he should have two more, dammit!), the scheduling gods are working against the Jets' Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The most receiving yards by a TE against the Buccaneers this season is 62, and they have allowed only three tight ends to reach double-digit fantasy points. They have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing TEs this season, and ASJ is averaging 6.7 yards per catch, the lowest rate among qualified TEs. He's outside my top 10 for the week. ... Since the Falcons' Week 5 bye, tight ends are averaging just 30.3 yards against Atlanta and have allowed just one tight end touchdown. Since Dallas' Jason Witten has been held to fewer than 65 yards in six straight games, it's tough to see him as anything more than a desperate dart throw this week.

Defenses to stream in Week 10

Chicago Bears (48 percent available, vs. GB): 51 points the past three games; now they face Brett Hundley.

New England Patriots (56 percent available, at DEN): Happiness is your defense with two weeks to prepare for Brock Osweiler.

New York Jets (93 percent available, at TB): Coming off a 13-point game against Buffalo, the Jets get Ryan Fitzpatrick and no Mike Evans.

Tennessee Titans (78 percent available, vs. CIN): Home against the Bengals. You scared of that? Exactly.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, thanks all servicemen and women, past, present and future -- and their families -- for their incredible service and dedication. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.

^ Back to Top ^