2023 Team Capsules: Kazakhstan’s Very Nice Team
In a 12-part series, we take a look at each DFL team, where they’ve been and where they’re going. We analyze the strength of their current roster build, what areas need improvement, and speculate what they might do in the coming months.
A look back
Kazakhstan had a strong run in 2022 led by a strong season from RB1 overall Austin Ekeler and a deep wide receiver corps led by A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, and Tyler Lockett. The team got some extra help about midway through the season with the addition of free agent quarterback Geno Smith, who had a surprising season and finished as QB5. They also got some additional help from rookie wide receiver Christian Watson who, after a slow start to the season, scored 137.4 points in his final 8 games (17.2 ppg), including a 4-game window between weeks 10-13 when he tallied 99.2 points (24.8 ppg). The Very Nice Team won the East Division crown with a 10-4 record and advanced in the playoffs before being ousted by Ireland. They went on to win the consolation 3rd place game against South Africa.
A look ahead
There are a number of decisions that await the ‘Stans this offseason, starting with deciding which players they’d like to place a franchise tag on. Ekeler, last season’s top running back, is a clear choice to consider. Brown, who finished as WR6, is another player they must make a decision on. Another interesting option, but one who carries much risk, is running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara has a potential suspension looming, and he only finished as RB16 last year. The price tag just might not be worth the risk, or the ROI. The Very Nice Team could also consider the Transition Tag on quarterback Geno Smith, if they think he wasn’t a one-year wonder and can finish in the Top 10 again. Kazakhstan plays in a very tough division with Papua New Guinea and an Australia team who had a bad first season but is poised for a comeback in 2023, so the Very Nice Team could be in for a very tough season in 2023.
The Stock Report
Stock Up: Christian Watson, WR/GB.
Stock Down: Deebo Samuel, WR/SF; Allen Robinson, WR/PIT.
The ‘Stans began the 2022 season with an atrocious quarterback situation. They signed Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield to lead them into the 2022 campaign and Carr finished as QB17 overall and Mayfield completely bombed, being cut midway through the season. It wasn’t until about mid-October that they signed Smith, who went on to have a fantastic season. As noted, the team could opt to place the TT on Smith, or just go after another one in free agency. Carr’s fortunes changed this offseason and there’s a good chance he has a resurgence and finishes as a high-end QB2 this year. But his prospects of being a starter in this league seem dim, which is why the team needs to go get a bona fide leader at the position.
Running Back Analysis
I can’t imagine the Very Nice Team does not place the NFT on Ekeler and likely secure his rights for another season, but anything is possible. As of right now, the team only has Chase Edmonds and Zamir White under contract, two essential camp bodies who don’t appear to be able to offer much. They’ll need to add two strong starters at the running back position, if not a third one for better depth. This clearly will be a focal point of the offseason.
Wide Receiver Analysis
The ‘Stans had the deepest wide receiver corps in the DFL last year, ending the year with 12 at the position — although all the extra bodies couldn’t do anything to boost the poor quarterback play early in the year. They still have a deep corps of them under contract at this point in the offseason with 8 currently employed. Tagging A.J. Brown seems like a strong option but it’ll come at a high cost. As of right now, Samuel’s $18 million contract seems awfully bloated for his WR38 finish last year, but he’s bound to have a significant bounce-back season in 2023. If not for Allen Robinson’s cheap, $1.7 million contract, he’d probably be cut given his lack of production at this stage of his career. The team is hoping that Watson takes good strides in his second season to complement Deebo and to become a regular contributor to the offense. Two interesting names to keep an eye on are Odell Beckham and Calvin Ridley, whom the team signed for cheap last offseaon and are both returning to football action in 2023. Can either offer a fraction of what they once were? That could be a big factor in determining what kind of team the ‘Stans are in 2023.
Tight End Analysis
Kazakhstan had some struggles at the tight end position, at least by the end of the season. Veteran Zach Ertz had some success early in the year before suffering a season-ending injury mid-year. Backup Gerald Everett might have had his best season as a pro, but was hardly instrumental to his team’s success — even putting up a goose egg in their season-ending loss. The ‘Stans don’t have any tight ends under contract right now so will have to add a few via free agency.
The main goal for the Very Nice Team this offseason is securing a solid backfield. I presume they’ll tag Ekeler but they’ll need another solid starter and perhaps some good depth. If they can’t get that position right, having 52 wide receivers on their roster won’t be able to help them. After the running back position, they’ll have to lock down solid starters at quarterback and tight end and add some depth across the board.
“What could be…”
The ‘Stans had a great run in 2022, but to get back up the mountain, they have some work to do this offseason. In an ideal scenario, they sign four starters — two running backs, a quarterback, and a tight end — bring back A.J. Brown to lead their receiving corps, get something big out of second-year pro Christian Watson, and then have a three-headed monster competing for “comeback player of the year” between Deebo, Ridley and Beckham. Hey… it could happen. (And Saint Kitts and Sint Maarten could sit down for tea and crumpets, too.) I don’t expect Beckham to make much an impact at this stage of his career, but the team doesn’t need him to, that far down the depth chart. The key will be if Ridley gets back on the bicycle and remembers how to play the game after an extended absence. As long as the ‘Stans fill out their starting lineup with capable and consistent players, they should be right back to competing for a division title in 2023.
Next Up: Ireland Shamrocks