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CFF Series - Via’s final insult: the coup de grâce
Why I'll never draft UCLA's TJ Harden, nor any other UCLA player in CFF (sort of)
It is waste…
- Random passenger on my train (2023)
What can CFF players make of Charles Edward “Chip” Kelly’s UCLA Bruins? I will answer that question by drawing an analogy to a challenging experience in my life: last week’s train ride home.
In Canada, our flagship locomotive service is called VIA Rail. Last week, I decided to cash in some VIA points for a free five-hour journey from Ottawa to Toronto.
Upon arrival at the station, I learned that my train's departure was delayed by 30 minutes. OK, no biggie, I can use that time to catch up on 247’s latest release of the top prospects for 2026.
As promised, we boarded the train around 30 minutes later than we were scheduled to. OK, we’re back "on track,” everything is good, I thought—not so fast.
Through a series of miscues, a five-hour train ride became a nine-hour train ride. A 7pm arrival became an 11pm arrival — the exact time a major concert near the Toronto train station came to a close. That meant heavy traffic and another 40 minutes in a cab. Our hero still hasn't eaten dinner and he has back-to-back meetings the next morning until noon, with nothing to eat in the fridge. Lovely.
However, I’m a veteran of the train. Delays are common — too common if you ask me — and they don’t disturb my zen. And to VIA’s credit, around midway through the journey, the train staff ordered pizzas for the passengers at one of our stops. Having a dietary restriction, I could not partake, but I am used to that and I appreciated the sentiment.
What happened next, however, bothered me a lot.
The passenger next to me, who is actually sitting in my window seat, which I generously let him have since he told me it was his first train ride, dropped his slice of pizza mid-hand off from the crew member onto my bag. The crusty yet saucy and cheesy slice slid off so innocuously and onto the cabin floor, like it was a playful escape from the confines of its cardboard realm. Its journey, while abrupt, seemed almost choreographed—optimized for maximum damage just to spite me. The passenger looked down, disappointed, and said one line: “it is waste”.
That’s it? I thought. I looked over at him, you know… expecting some acknowledgement and an apology. Then I looked over at the crew member… Nothing? Tick tick tick, 20 seconds goes by—nope, nothing. Cool, I’ll just clean it off then like the peasant that I am.
Even more disgusting, the crew member tried to pick up the slice and hand it back to him, and the passenger looked like he was about to accept it too—except, luckily for him, another crew member intervened and said “no, get him another slice”. It was around this moment that I thought to myself—halfway disillusioned, halfway disappointed in my prior self’s decisions that led me here—Where the fuck am I?
The crew members served our boy up another slice, naturally. During the exchange I tried to keep my cool when I said to them “try not to drop it this time”, in an encouraging yet (perhaps) a seemingly passive-aggressive tone. I then cleaned off my bag and attempted to console myself, coming up with lame-ass excuses like “it could have been worse—could have been on my laptop, or my pants…” blah blah blah. I then decided to stand up to go wash my hands at the washroom. Of course, in keeping with the theme of the evening, when I open the door I find a puddle of urine all over the floor. Alright, I guess I’ll try the next one.
A moment of clarity was provided to me during this time—seven hours into a five hour journey, walking aimlessly around the locomotive in search of a usable loo, tired, hungry, and feeling an overall sense of irritation and self-contempt, that I decided that I’m at a point in my life now where I cannot deal with this anymore. While I’ve experienced many positive journeys via the train, the roll of the dice phenomenon that comes with booking travel via Canada’s flagship locomotive service is proving taxing. Too taxing. No. No more. I’m done with subjecting myself to this nonsense.
I told myself something similar last October too, about midway through the CFF campaign. I had drafted UCLA’s RB Zach Charbonnet in a re-draft league I was in. Charbz was an exceptional back for me, everything I had hoped for when I drafted him—at least, when he was playing. In this league, we had to choose our starters each week. The first warning shot was sent to me in week two, when Charbz was mysteriously missing from the game entirely. No warning, no info, no heads-up. Nothing. Head coach Chip Kelly mentioned nothing about Charbz’ availability being questionable headed into that week’s match-up, and it cost me (see below). Oh, and don’t mind Odunze’s soft ass missing the game without warning either. I generally don’t get emotional about CFF outcomes—but this is one that stuck with me.
Fun fact: this team started the season 0-4 (we played two matchups per week) yet—despite Chip Kelly’s best efforts—made the four-team playoff of the 12-team league and finished second in total points scored, only behind the illustrious Gridiron Scholar… how’s that for a comeback?
Kelly’s insistence on keeping any and every bit of information from the public meant that I was spooked out of playing Charbz a few more times during the season—games where he popped off (I mean, he popped off basically every game he played). At about the midway point of the season, after endlessly trying to interpret what little information would come out, and despite still being in a good spot standings-wise, I said to myself: fuck Chip Kelly. I’m done with this.
Life is too short to be frantically reading reports on whether your player is in or not every week. Worried that if I take a bike ride Saturday morning that I’ll miss a piece of crucial information coming out last minute and end up with DNPs for my starters. No— my time is simply too precious. Too precious to be doing that, too precious to be wiping my bag from pizza stains on behalf of the next passenger who dropped it and won’t apologize, nor the staff member who won’t acknowledge her part in what was an unmitigated disaster. Too precious for all of it.
But as the content creator of a decent sized CFF publication now, I realize my obligation to cover topics that others will find illuminating. After all, surely there are those—more ambitious and energetic than I—who are willing to subject themselves to the Kelly treatment this season. Indeed, there is upside to owning the UCLA RB. Charbz was dynamite for me last season—truthfully, he was a key cog in my team making the playoffs. I liked Charbz, and I have nothing against the UCLA program. But as long as Kelly is at the helm, I’ll never draft another player from their roster in CFF again.
Coaching & System
The aforementioned Chip Kelly has been with the Bruins since 2018. Before that, he was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (2016) and the Philadelphia Eagles (2013-2015). Many will know him from the stint that made him famous—he HC’d Oregon from 2009 to 2012, and served as the OC 2007-2008. Before making his way to big-time college football, he spent an unusually long time at the University of New Hampshire, occupying various roles along the offensive staff between 1994 and 2006. Not that I need anymore reason to dislike Kelly, but as an Eagles fan, I still remember what he did to the program during his short tenure. Virtually all of the star players gone within an offseason—I believe that’s what they call outthinking the room. And what did we receive in return? F***ing Kiko Alonso?! My god.
But as I said, I will be putting my personal biases aside for the purposes of today’s article. After all, I was once ecstatic to have acquired Kelly’s RB1 in the second round of one of my drafts. There is good reason for that.
In 2022, UCLA’s RB1—Charbonnet, averaged 19.5 carries per game. He used those carries to accumulate 1359 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. Believe it or not, his TD numbers should have been way higher than they were, thanks to our man Dorian Thompson Robinson… the selfish bastard that he is. What people probably didn’t expect is that Charbz also caught 37 passes for 321 yards. This was apparently a point of emphasis for him during that offseason and a key variable in his decision to return to CFB and boost his draft stock. The overall touch volume averages out to about 23 touches per game.
In 2021, Charbz was in a split backfield but took over the reigns late in the year. He finished the season with 203 carries across 12 games, rushing for 1137 yards and 13 TDs. He caught 24 passes for 197 yards as well. The second runner—super senior Britain Brown, carried the rock 102 times for 616 yards and 7 scores.
In 2020, it was multi-position standout Demtric Felton, who lead the Bruins in carries with 132 in 6 games, rushing for 668 yards and 5 TDs, and also catching 22 passes for 159 yards and 3 more scores. Overall, Felton averaged 25.67 touches per game. That’s outstanding.
The 2019 season saw RB Josh Kelly run 229 times for 1060 yards and 12 scores in 11 games. His best season with the Bruins, however, came the previous year when he rushed 225 times for 1243 yards and 12 scores. He caught 38 passes for 264 yards and 1 TD over those two seasons. All told, he averaged 21.4 touches per game over that time span.
During Kelly’s time at Oregon as head coach, all four of those seasons had a RB rush for at least 1500 yards(!). The individual numbers are presented below.
1767 yards (2012)
1805 yards (2011)
1731 yards (2010)
1546 yards (2009)
Clearly, Kelly’s offences tend toward volume pigs in the backfield. So naturally, CFF players are looking to who’s next now that Charbz is gone. There was MAC transfer Carson Steele, who many of us assumed would take over upon arrival. That hasn’t happened. In fact, there have been reports that he’s as low as third in the pecking order. The name getting the most buzz late in the offseason is true sophomore Tomarion Harden (TJ Harden). Judging by what Kelly’s offences have done in the past, Harden could prove to be a valuable asset, especially at his current ADP.
Tomarion Harden — 6’2, 215
The true sophomore out of Los Angeles—Tomarion Harden, also known as TJ Harden, had a decent showing in his first year. In 6 games, he rushed 44 times for 325 yards and 2 TDs (8.4 FPG in 1-ppr).
While the track record at RB is as strong as they come, it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be another workhorse this season. Here’s a remark from Kelly himself during summer camp:
We have depth right now . . . That doesn’t mean after the Coastal Carolina game we’ll have depth, but I think we have some guys there and we’re bigger. And we consciously wanted to get bigger at the running back spot.
Then there’s this exchange on twitter between Felix and I:
I was bluffing on Felix’ post. I was never going to draft Harden. Now you might be saying something like: “limiting yourself based on prior biases is bad process and will only hamper your drafting, VP”. To which I reply: I’m a man of principle. There are enough good RBs in CFF that can be acquired late in drafts or via waivers without the headache of dealing with Kelly.
I will note, however, that in this current draft format that Felix and I were in, it was bestball scoring rules, which removes the headache that comes with Kelly’s players. I am being dramatic in the title and throughout this article for comedic purposes, in the right scenario I would take a chance on Harden in a bestball format. The system pattern is too strong to ignore. I will be avoiding in standard formats though (unless he slips really far… is that cheating with the title? I’m sorry…).
It’s not yet decided who the RB1 will be for the Bruins.
Even if TJ Harden wins the starting role, you’d have to think that Steele will still be heavily involved due to the fact that he just transferred in from a school that gave him over 280 carries a season ago.
UCLA might have a dual threat QB once again this season, which means the TD production of the RBs could be lower than you’d expect even if they’re getting ample carries.
Harden’s current ADP is around 170 according to C2C. Unfortunately, we can’t tease out whether there’s a difference in bestball or standard formats. There probably isn’t a discrepancy. It’s highly frustrating holding a player who plays for a coach that will randomly just sit them out in standard formats, it makes starting that player a lot more of an ‘event’ each week then it needs to be. However, the value ADP-wise is good for a player like this considering the upside. I doubt he’ll come close to Charbz’ output from 2022, but in the 14/15 round he doesn’t need to, to bring value. I probably won’t be the one who owns shares of Harden in my drafts, but I understand those who seek to target him late.
“It is waste”—the words that still haunt me one week later. In my dreams, in my nightmares, even in my waking hours they follow me. Did I get all the sauce out? I ask myself in my darkest hours of doubt. Could I have missed something? Could I have done something to prevent that week two loss in 2022? No—there is nothing I could have done. But I am still at fault. My mistake was putting myself in a position where I was reliant on dubious actors in the first place. Lesson learned—never again.
- VP (2023)
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