The Fantasy Football Notebook- Championship Week Edition

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Congrats to all of you still alive in your redraft, dynasty, best-ball leagues, etc as we head into championship week, and happy holidays/early 2021 prospect preview time to the rest of you! This exercise is simply a stream of consciousness and an opportunity to share some of the insights  I had after Week 15.

The Potentially Historic 2020 Rookie Class Keeps Coming

Jalen Hurts
Hurts was an incredibly dynamic QB in college. In four total years at Alabama and Oklahoma, he threw for 9,477 yards and 80 TDs and ran for 3,274 yards and 43 TDs. And in his senior season alone at Oklahoma just last year, he threw for 3,851 yards and 32 TDs and ran for 1,298 yards and 20 TDs. Yes, these are real statistics!! and not ones accumulated while playing a video game.

Not only did I overlook these numbers and Hurts’ potential because I was a Carson Wentz believer, but I also was a huge naysayer in the second-round draft pick of Hurts. Boy was I wrong, and I’m happy to be as I continue to learn and evolve. Things can change in a hurry in the NFL which is why the saying, ” NFL stands for Not For Long” exists.

Hurts showed promise and showcased his dual-threat skillset in his first NFL start in Week 14 against a really good Saints defense, throwing for 167 yards and a TD while adding 106 rushing yards on 18 attempts. But it’s his Week 15 performance that truly stands out. On the road in Arizona, Hurts threw for 338 yards and three TDs and ran for an additional 63 yards and a score on 11 carries.

Hurts is a confirmed fantasy football cheat code and he might just be a real-life cheat code for the Eagles moving forward as well. As the NFL and football, in general, continues to evolve in this new day and age, mobile and dynamic QBs such as Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Ryan Tannehill, etc. are changing the game because they bring upside to their respective offenses and franchises in addition to their pocket passing abilities. And Hurts appears to be next in line of this new wave, coincidentally at the same time more “pure pocket passers” have recently hung them up or are about to such as Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees.

Brandon Aiyuk
Aiyuk was an interesting collegiate prospect that had some red flags on his profile we had to sift through. Aiyuk played Community College ball at Sierra College during his freshman and sophomore seasons before transferring to Arizona State to play out his final two years of eligibility. As a junior, Aiyuk only caught 33 passes for 474 yards and three TDs. He didn’t “break out” until his senior season, but what a season it was, catching 65 passes for 1,192 yards and eight TDs while also adding 672 yards and a TD on special teams.

His film was fun to watch as a solid slot player that also offered upside in the deep passing game repeatedly jumped out, giving way to comparisons such as Victor Cruz, Golden Tate, and Deebo Samuel. And it’s that last comparison of Samuel that sticks out seeing as how Aiyuk’s impressive head coach, Kyle Shanahan, had just selected Deebo in the second round of the draft the year prior. Shanahan then followed that up by selecting Aiyuk in round one of the 2020 draft, a truly eye-opening selection.

Pairing a player like Aiyuk with an offensive mastermind like Kyle Shanahan should be very fun and that’s exactly what has played out so far. Despite my original label of a “solid slot player,” Aiyuk has only lined up in the slot on 23.2% of his snaps this season per Pro Football Focus. Still, it hasn’t mattered since that upside in Aiyuk’s game hasn’t gone anywhere. Aiyuk has already caught 59 passes for 733 yards and five TDs while adding 61 rushing yards and two rush TDs despite only playing in 11 games. And it’s Aiyuk’s recent stretch that truly stands out. Here are his numbers over his past six games after his Week 15 performance where he caught nine of 13 targets for 73 yards and a TD: 11.5 targets, 7.5 catches, 94.7 yards, 0.67 TDs. Despite being a first-round pick, I would argue Aiyuk still has already exceeded expectations and his stock is only continuing to rise.

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Jonathan Taylor
Taylor was an incredible prospect who ran for 6,174 yards and 50 TDs and caught 42 passes for 407 yards and five TDs in only three seasons at Wisconsin. He then ran a 4.39!!! 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine while weighing in at 226 pounds and standing 5′ 10″. His athleticism consistently showed up on tape and I specifically made a point to write in my pre-draft notes that Taylor’s wow plays that made my eyes get big were extremely noteworthy.

Taylor is a fantastic case of practicing patience, especially when an impressively large body of work trumps a much smaller sample size. Taylor got off to a slow start this season, especially in comparison to the expectations many had and continue to have for him, but he has officially arrived over the past month. Taylor’s per-game averages over his past four games: 17.75 carries, 103.5 rushing yards, 3.5 targets, 3.25 catches, 23.75 receiving yards, and one TD.

Getty Images / Andy Lyons

One of the questions many had about Taylor as a prospect was his pass-catching ability. I thought when given the opportunities at Wisconsin, Taylor appeared very capable in this area and he hasn’t disappointed as a rookie, catching 35 of his 37 targets. Taylor was in the discussion for the 1.01 rookie pick all offseason and that valuation remains the same in my eyes. His stock moving forward in all formats is sky-high.

J.K. Dobbins
Like Jonathan Taylor, Dobbins was also an exciting RB prospect. He ran for 4,459 yards and 38 TDs and caught 71 passes for 645 yards and five TDs in only three seasons at Ohio State. Then, Dobbins found a juicy landing spot in Baltimore on a Ravens team that loves to establish the run. It took a bit, but Dobbins has now received double-digit carries in six of the past seven games whereas Mark Ingram saw one snap in Week 14 and was a healthy inactive in Week 15. Dobbins is still sharing time with Gus Edwards, but that’s not a value killer on the run first Ravens as he has run for 53+ yards and scored a TD in four straight games.

The Incredible Third-Year Leap: Josh Allen

Allen’s dynamic skill set hasn’t changed: 510 rushing yards and nine TDs last year compared to 383 rushing yards and eight TDs so far this year. But what has, is Allen’s competency as a passer. He has shown incredible improvement in year three that must be commended. I was one of the many original detractors of Allen, latching on to his 56 completion percentage as a sophomore and 56.3 completion percentage as a junior at Wyoming. The accuracy questions didn’t stop there though as Allen posted similar numbers his first two years in the NFL: a 52.8 completion percentage as a rookie and a 58.8 completion percentage last season.

Yet, Allen’s 6′ 5″ 237-pound frame, rocket arm, athleticism, and unwillingness to give up on a single play have all come together in spectacular fashion this season. Allen just roasted the Broncos, completing 70% of his passes for 359 yards and two TDs while adding two rushing TDs as well. This performance was a good metaphor for his MVP-caliber season. Take a look at the difference a year can make:

Year Games Completion Percentage Passing Yards Pass TDs INTs Yards per Attempt
2019 16 58.80% 3,089 20 9 6.7
2020 14 68.70% 4,000 30 9 7.8

The leap Allen has made is awesome and he’s become, if he wasn’t already, one of the most fun players to watch and root for in the league.

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The Sensational Career Revival: Ryan Tannehill

Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans are quite the story. Tannehill currently ranks fifth in the league in pass TDs per game (2.2) and leads a Titans offense that ranks third in DVOA. Tannehill just went nuclear on Sunday, chopping up an awful Lions defense to the tune of 273 passing yards and three pass TDs on a 77.78% completion rate and rushing in two additional scores.

I was curious just how improbable Tannehill’s career revival was so I went back and took a look. Tannehill actually showed promise early on in his career before injuries started to pile up. From 2013-2015, his second through fourth years in the league, Tannehill didn’t miss a game and posted 3,913+ passing yards and 24+ TDs in every season.

Then, the butthole we now know as Adam Gase became his head coach from 2016-2018 just as the injuries started to take their toll. Take a look at his numbers from 2016-2018 vs. 2019-2020:

Years Games Completion Percentage Passing Yards per game Pass TDs per game INTs per game
2016-2018 24 65.90% 205 1.5 0.88
2019-2020 26 68.00% 239 2.08 0.42

It has now become clear Gase is a coaching moron after a plethora of players has thrived elsewhere after escaping his reign, and Tannehill is now different. Few QBs can transcend the talent around them but many can elevate their play with the right supporting cast. That’s exactly what Tannehill has done and continues to do in Tennessee and I’m loving every second of it.

The Plodder RB Becomes a 2020 League-Winner: David Montgomery

Montgomery had a solid, yet unspectacular career at Iowa State rushing for 2,925 yards and 26 TDs while adding 71 receptions for 582 receiving yards over three seasons. He followed that up with uninspiring athletic testing at the NFL Combine and a rookie season with only 1,074 total yards and seven total TDs on 267 total touches as a rookie in 2019.

It’s fair to question how much Montgomery’s recent stretch of elite success has to do with small sample size variance, favorable matchups, the absence of Tarik Cohen, etc. but regardless, he’s currently on an absolute tear.

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Year Games Rush Attempts Rush Yards Rush TDs Targets Receptions Receiving Yards Receiving TDs
2019 16 242 889 6 35 25 185 1
2020 13 202 906 6 57 43 349 2

Montgomery has already bested his rookie season on fewer touches and in fewer games and his dominance over his past four contests has a lot to do with that. Montgomery is averaging 17.8 carries, 108.5 rushing yards, four targets, 3.3 receptions, 34.3 receiving yards, and 1.5 total TDs over the past month. Next up? The good old Jacksonville Jaguars, new owners of the shiny #1 overall pick thanks to their 1-13 record and awful defense. After a sluggish beginning to 2020 and many, including myself, questioning Montgomery’s overall talent level, we can begin the chatter and debates around these topics again in the offseason. For now, though, there’s no denying Montgomery is a 2020 league-winner.

The Hidden Weapon in Dallas: Tony Pollard

Pollard didn’t receive a ton of chances while at Memphis but we discussed in this very column just a few weeks ago how athleticism can trump collegiate production when projecting forward. And Pollard falls into that bucket. Pollard only ran for 941 yards on 139 attempts and nine TDs in three seasons but here’s the kicker, he proved he offers dual-threat upside by catching 104 passes for 1,292 receiving yards and nine TDs as well.

Pollard ran a respectable 4.52 40 yard-dash at the NFL Combine and consistently flashes athleticism when given chances in the NFL. So it was great to see Pollard capitalize in his first NFL start on Sunday. Pollard turned 12 carries into 69 rushing yards and two rush TDs while also flashing that dual-threat upside, catching six of nine targets for 63 yards. Translation: Pollard was the exact same player on Sunday that he showed us he was over three seasons at Memphis.

Under contract through 2022, Pollard could end up being a victim in the tragedy that is the awful Ezekiel Elliott contract. Still, he’s an extremely exciting dynasty stash and 2021 late-round RB target, especially if the Cowboys find a way to bring back a healthy Dak Prescott next year.

A Proven True WR1 in the NFL: Calvin Ridley

Ridley has already proven he’s a very good WR in the NFL:

Year Games Targets Receptions Receiving Yards Yards per Reception TD
2018 16 92 64 821 12.8 10
2019 13 93 63 866 13.7 7
2020 13 122 77 1192 15.5 9

But let’s take things a step further. Questioning the production of a “WR2” when the “WR1” (In this case, Julio Jones) isn’t on the field to draw the defense’s attention is a fair thing to wonder. Well, Ridley has essentially shut down those arguments at this point as well. In six games without Julio on the field over the past two seasons, Ridley has averaged 11.33 targets, 7.5 receptions, 112.33 receiving yards, and 0.5 TDs. Ridley is a true WR1.

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