2019’s Biggest Breakouts: Reality or Mirage? (Fantasy Football)

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16 games a year. That’s all we get. Thanks to extremely small year-to-year sample sizes provided by the NFL, it’s easy to give in to recency bias. This is something we must keep in the forefront of our minds when analyzing yearly performances, especially when fantasy relevance is gained during certain stretches of a season. Let’s take a look at four unique situations from 2019 by providing added context and utilizing it to project forward.

Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett

Context: Everett’s Late Season Knee Injury

Gerald Everett suffered a knee injury in Week 12, missed three games, and “returned” for weeks 16 and 17 only to play a combined four offensive snaps to round out the season. What ensued was one of the wildest “out of nowhere” stretches I can remember from Tyler Higbee (Weeks 16 and 17 are included in the without Everett section).

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Higbee was an absolute monster down the stretch but these numbers are so drastically different, I have to question things. Especially since Higbee’s breakout directly correlated with Everett’s absence. While Everett was healthy and actually a big part of the gameplan in Weeks 1-12, Higbee never had more than five catches or 47 receiving yards in a game. Even worse, Everett outproduced him during Weeks 1-12 in the ten games they played together:

[lptw_table id=”163486″ style=”default”]

There’s certainly a chance Higbee stole the starting job from Everett by stepping up to the plate at the end of the season when given the chance, but I just don’t see it that way. Especially since Rams coach Sean McVay recently said he’s “got to do a better job of utilizing (Everett’s) skillset” this season. Everett was a second-round pick just three years ago. With Everett now in the final year of his rookie deal, the Rams just invested a fourth-round pick in TE Brycen Hopkins in this years’ draft. All of this tells me McVay plans to utilize multiple TEs in 2020 and beyond.

Verdict: Mirage – Higbee’s end to 2020 was in large part due to the absence of Everett.
Future Plans: Don’t overreact and reach for Higbee. More importantly, buy low on Everett.

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DeVante Parker and Preston Williams

Context: Williams’ Mid-Season ACL Tear

It’s actually pretty crazy how similar DeVante Parker and Tyler Higbee’s seasons were in 2019. Parker shared the spotlight with the rookie, Preston Williams, for the first eight games and then absolutely blew up in the second half of the year after Williams tore his ACL. Like Higbee, many likely have forgotten Parker was being outproduced by his teammate earlier in the year. Here are Parker and Williams’ statistics playing together in Weeks 1-9:

[lptw_table id=”163487″ style=”default”]

Of course, over the final eight games of the season without Williams, Parker lit the league on fire seeing 9.5 targets per game and bringing in per game totals of 5.5 catches for 100.3 receiving yards and 0.6 TDs. Parker had a great season and that can not be ignored, especially considering Parker is a former first-round pick who had posted seasons of 744 and 670 receiving yards (Warning signals of potential upside to come) prior to his extreme 2019 breakout.

Preston Williams will return this season but interestingly, Miami had 11 selections in the 2020 draft and only brought in one total WR or TE and it was in the seventh round. Thus, with no legitimate WR3 threat on the roster, Parker vs. Williams doesn’t even have to be a thing. They can both thrive on a poor real-life team that will have to throw plenty in 2020.

Verdict: Reality – Parker benefited from the absence of Williams but his talent and situation were the major components of his 2019 breakout.
Future Plans:
I’m buying Parker and absolutely buying low on Williams as well.

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt

Context: Hunt’s Eight Game Suspension To Begin 2019

Nick Chubb was phenomenal last season, finishing tied for seventh in the league in opportunities per game (21.7), tied for sixth in total yards per game (110.8), and tied for 22nd in total TDs (8). But he did benefit from Kareem Hunt being suspended for the first half of the year. Let’s take a look at Chubb’s numbers in eight games without Hunt vs. his numbers in eight games with him:

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[lptw_table id=”163490″ style=”default”]

There’s not much to worry about from a rushing standpoint but it is important to note Chubb’s receiving work was essentially cut in half with Hunt in the lineup. That’s not surprising at all because it was clear there was an emphasis on utilizing Hunt in that capacity. On a per-game basis, Hunt averaged 5.5 targets, 4.6 receptions, and 35.6 receiving yards.

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We don’t exactly know how the workload will break down between these two in 2020, especially since Cleveland has a new Head Coach in Kevin Stefanski and Offensive Coordinator in Alex Van Pelt. Regardless, this offense is a fun one to get excited about for the second year in a row thanks to offseason additions of Jack Conklin and first-round pick Jedrick Wills on the offensive line, TE Austin Hooper, and FB Andy Janovich.

Verdict: Reality – Chubb is the truth
Future Plans: I’m buying Chubb, even with his high price tag, and Hunt will be my #1 RB target in 2020 thanks to his receiving role and league winning upside should something happen to Chubb.

Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams

Context: Williams’ Absence Was Huge for Jones

Removing Week 4 from the equation when Jamaal Williams suffered a concussion at the beginning of the game against the Eagles, Williams averaged 11.6 opportunities per game, which ranked tied for 39th in the entire league. Aaron Jones had such a phenomenal season, I think it’s easy for many to forget just how involved Williams was when healthy last year. Jones did rank 13th in the league in opportunities per game (19) himself but still, Williams negated Jones’ upside (Williams’ early Week 4 concussion is included in the without Williams section).

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Jones had three games as the true workhorse and he clearly made the most of them. Although a very small sample size, I do think it’s important to note just how drastic the difference is in these numbers.

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Almost everything broke right for the 13-3 Green Bay Packers in 2019. They’re almost guaranteed to see some regression as a team this season. In addition, not only does Williams return but the Packers also spent a second-round pick on RB AJ Dillon in the draft. All signs point to Matt LaFleur preferring a committee approach to the RB position rather than just unleashing Jones, no matter how talented he may be.

Verdict: Mirage – Although I firmly believe in Jones’ talent, Green Bay will regress as a team, and Williams and Dillon will both be involved. Jones should undoubtedly have another solid season but he’s in line for severe TD regression after scoring 19 times in 2019.
Future Plans: Spending a late first or early to mid-second-round pick on Jones in drafts this season makes me feel uneasy. He’s a fine pick, especially considering the nature of the RB position, but not one that I see moving the needle this year. Investing late-round picks in Williams and Dillon makes sense.

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