Welcome to Week 15 of Lessons Learned! In this article, we break down ten important takeaways from the prior week in fantasy football, and what they could mean for your lineups moving forward. Also, since Week 17 fantasy championships are a sham that should be banned from civilized society, there won’t be a Week 16 Lessons Learned, so this is goodbye for the 2018 season! Hope you learned a thing or two … or 150.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the fantasy classroom.
1. Start Whoever KC and PIT Start at RB
There are several offenses throughout the league where an injury to the lead back means disaster for the team and for fantasy (read: the Bills). The Chiefs and the Steelers are not on that list. Damien Williams and Jaylen Samuels, neither of whom was even their team’s No. 2 running back, both balled out in Week 15. Williams tallied 123 scrimmage yards and 2 TDs on 16 touches and Samuels gashed the Patriots for 172 yards and a TD on 21 touches.
Both handcuffs-to-the-handcuff finished as RB1’s on the week in standard scoring, and proved in resounding fashion that fantasy championships are won through savvy waiver wiring and not at the draft over four months ago. And even more importantly, both affirmed the reality that whoever gets the start on these two teams — be it Ware or Williams, Conner or Samuels — should be in your fantasy lineup as well.
2. Elijah McGuire Eked His Way Into Starting Consideration
Without a doubt, McGuire is the very poor man’s version of what we just talked about with Williams and Samuels, simply because the Jets offense is a whole different caliber — and not in a good way. However, McGuire was surprisingly useful in a very difficult matchup with the Texans last week, totaling 71 yards from scrimmage on 18 carries and 3 receptions, and adding a touchdown to reward fantasy owners bold enough to start him.
In all likelihood, you didn’t start him last week, but you can start him this week in a much better matchup with the Packers. McGuire has back-to-back games with 70+ total yards and a score, and the Packers defense is allowing the 10th-most fantasy points to running backs over their last 10 games. In a home game against a team with very little will to win, McGuire and the Jets could be a big surprise in Week 16.
3. Jameis Winston is a Different Quarterback
If you’re a Buccaneer’s fan, Jameis Winston’s mother, or both, you’re probably feeling okay about Winston’s recent performances. He’s thrown 6 TDs and only 2 INTs since regaining the starting job in Week 12, after starting the season with an 8-11 TD-INT ratio. And we can excuse last week’s down performance (157 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) as a product of the elite Ravens defense, right?
Well, yes actually, we can, but that’s not my concern. I’m looking at his pass attempts over the past few weeks, and I’m discouraged. Winston has averaged 32.8 attempts/game in his second stint as the starter (Weeks 12-15), and turned that volume into 232.8 passing yards per game. Over his first (much more mistake-prone) stint, Winston averaged 42.7 attempts and 345.3 yards. So while he’s cleaned up his game from an NFL standpoint, his fantasy value is capped. I certainly don’t consider him a QB1 this week against Dallas, so find a streamer if you can.
4. Nick Chubb is Making a Case for First-Round Fantasy Pedigree
We’re taking more and more lessons these days to focus on some big takeaways for next year’s fantasy drafts, and Chubb is becoming a pretty darn big. The Browns’ rookie running back hung 100 yards on the Broncos last week in Denver, and while the 10-point fantasy total might have been slightly disappointing, it was still the 2nd-best by an RB versus the Broncos in 7 weeks (behind only Melvin Gordon).
Chubb has now scored 16.5 non-PPR fantasy points per game since taking over as the starter in Week 7 and is the RB7 over that span. You have to figure Baker Mayfield, Chubb, the coaching staff, and the entire Browns team will only get better next season, which means Chubb’s stock is likely to rise even further moving forward. Consider him an elite dynasty asset, likely within the top 10 at the position.
5. The Return of the (Marlon) Mack: Part II
We had a lesson touting Marlon Mack back in Week 7, but he ran into a gamut of tough defenses in the past several weeks, planting seeds of doubt into his fantasy owners. Hopefully, that doubt didn’t keep him out of your lineups in Week 15, as Mack trounced the stiff Cowboys defense for 139 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, on a whopping 27 attempts.
Mack has shown massive upside multiple times now and has actually been consistent for fantasy through his recent tough stretch, with 85+ yards or a score in 4 of his last 5 games. The best part is, he has the week and league-winning upside this Sunday against the Giants. New York is allowing 24.3 non-PPR fantasy points per game to running backs over the second half of the season, which is the 2nd-most to the position in the entire league. At home in a heavily favored matchup, Mack has legitimate 25+ point upside again, and could easily be RB1 on the week before you know it.
6. There Was Absolutely Nothing to Learn from the WAS-JAX Game
In one of the least interesting, least fantasy-relevant games of the entire season, no single player from either team topped 15 fantasy points (the highest was Redskins QB Josh Johnson, with 14.9). It was especially disappointing for owners of Leonard Fournette or the Jaguars defense, who surely expected more against the lowly Redskins.
The real takeaway here is this: avoid all players on these teams if possible. Yes, that includes Fournette. The Jaguars do not have a will to win, so even with a juicy matchup with the Miami run defense, I would prefer to start a number of waiver wire RBs over both Fournette and Peterson. It’s unfortunate, but we have to “be water” to win championships, and right now these players are more like stale mud.
7. Kenyan Drake Insulted Adam Gase’s Mother
There’s really no other logical explanation for why the Dolphins head coach so vehemently refuses to give Kenyan Drake touches. When Frank Gore suffered a season-ending injury early in this game, Drake owners everywhere perked up at the prospect of the long-awaited unleashing.
Instead, Gase gave rookie 3rd-stringer Kalen Ballage 12 carries to Drake’s 1 … that’s right, a single measly carry. To make matters worse, Ballage broke one of his carries for a 75-yard touchdown, looking every bit like the explosive, big-play monstrosity he was drafted to be. We touched on “Coach Butthole” and his stubbornness back in Week 5, but this has now reached epic proportions. Even with Gore on IR, you can’t trust Drake as long as Gase is calling the shots.
8. Doug Baldwin is Starting His Late-Year Surge
It’s a little late Mr. Baldwin, but thanks for finally showing up! The Seahawks receiver, who is infamous for late-season stretches of fantasy dominance, had his best game of the season on Sunday, snagging 4 receptions for 77 yards and 2 touchdowns against the 49ers.
If it wasn’t Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin, I might call this a fluke and move on. But this is a thing they tend to do, and I want to capitalize if I can. Next week’s matchup against the Chiefs is just such an opportunity, as Baldwin figures to get a lot of looks in what should be a high-scoring affair with plenty of passing.
9. The Dalvin Cook Hope Was Well-Founded
Last week we ended the Lessons Learned with a look at Dalvin Cook’s prospects after the firing of former OC John DeFilippo. Turns out, that was just about the best thing to happen to Cook since he was drafted to the Vikings last season. The sophomore RB absolutely exploded, with 136 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and a 27-yard reception to boot.
While this beautiful revelation did come against the aforementioned atrocious Dolphins defense, the 19 carries was a great sign and the fact that the Vikings scored 41 points was an even better one. Cook draws a Lions defense in Week 16 that has been a bit better since acquiring Damon Harrison, but I fully expect him and the Vikings to roll over Detroit. Additionally, look for Cook to be a sneaky value in next year’s drafts, carrying RB1 upside in the late second round.
10. Derrick Henry is … Something
I put off a reaction to Derrick Henry’s monster Week 14 performance because I wanted to gauge the Titans’ reaction to their own player’s dominance before making a call. Turns out, the Titans very much enjoyed Henry’s success and responded by giving him 33 carries in Week 15 against the Giants.
In case you were curious, 33 carries against the Giants is a recipe for fantasy success, and Henry tacked 170 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns onto his now gargantuan 2-week stat line of 408 and 6. While I still think Henry is a somewhat limited NFL player, he is now being used correctly in Tennessee — namely, he is being smashed into opponents faces with unrelenting vigor — which means he’s got the green light for fantasy. Be wary of his draft capital next season, but ride the hot hand while it’s hot.