What We Learned in Week 9 (Fantasy Football)
We’re approaching the stretch run of the fantasy season where the true champions are made, and if you’ve survived this far then you need to start peaking at the playoff matchups your players have and adjusting if necessary. Once you reach the fantasy playoffs, all of your league opponents have good teams, so taking advantage of soft schedules is how you can separate your team from the pack. Defenses, quarterbacks, and yes – even kickers, can all get a boost from a soft schedule and that boost could be the difference between a trophy and a Ben and Jerry’s crying session while you hammer DFS lineups with nothing else to do. Start looking at every angle of your playoff run, and don’t look back. Now, let’s look back…. at week nine and the ten things we learned from it:
Running backs are thriving in Kliff Kingsbury’s system
It’s quite difficult in the modern NFL to determine whether a running back is the primary reason for a successful scheme, or if the scheme is the reason a running back performs well. Once in a while, we have a rare opportunity to watch multiple running backs in a similar scheme within a short period of time. David Johnson and Chase Edmonds have been trading big games for four weeks in a row now, but this past Thursday both players had to sit out of their contest against the Niners. The Cardinals made an anticipatory move and traded for Kenyan Drake, and he lit up the fantasy scoreboard on only three days’ notice. If you follow me on Twitter you know I’ve been a huge Kenyan Drake fan since early in the offseason, so it was exciting to see him perform so well under a coaching staff that actually allows him to play football. Even though he’s a talented back, it’s time we recognize how much the ball carriers in Arizona have flourished in this air raid scheme, regardless of which player is getting the bulk of the work. Not everything is perfect out in the desert, but it’s very clear that Kingsbury is doing something right with their backfield.
Larry Fitzgerald is droppable
This breaks my heart to even say, but Larry Legend is on the verge of riding off into the sunset and leaving the land of fantasy relevance for good. He’s now put up three straight games under six total fantasy points, and six straight games in the single digits. At the beginning of the year, I was very bullish on the Arizona passing attack because of their pace of play and projected touchdown regression, but things haven’t panned out the way I had hoped. Outside of Kyler Murray and whichever running back is leading the way, Christian Kirk appears to be the only player you can roster in fantasy. Fitzgerald is a name who still may carry some trade value, but I would have no issue cutting him if you have to find someone at another position or need a player with a higher ceiling.
Darren Fells is this year’s Eric Ebron
Death, taxes and Darren Fells randomly scoring touchdowns. These seem to be the only three certainties in life over the course of the last calendar month. It’s a bizarre situation because Fells is completely silent until the Texans get near the end zone, then it seems like he’s the only player who is allowed to catch any passes inside of it. He’s currently leading the NFL in touchdowns at the TE position, yet he only has 24 receptions all year. His stat line this week was 1/1/1, meaning he caught a single pass, for one yard, and it was a touchdown because of course. Fells reminds me a lot of Ebron last year because he’s entirely touchdown dependent and it’s pretty much impossible to expect his production to continue at this rate. He’s a fine streaming option at a shallow position, but his lack of volume and target share makes him an extremely low floor option that could sink your lineup at any time.
Tyreek Hill’s speed makes him quarterback proof
Please, stop what you’re doing and go watch the video of Tyreek Hill chasing down Damien Williams on his 91-yard touchdown scamper. I was watching it live and I could not believe how ridiculously fast Tyreek Hill is, even though I know how ridiculously fast Tyreek Hill is. NFL Next Gen Stats listed his top speed on the play at 22.6 MPH, and he wasn’t even the one with the ball in his hands. The bigger story here for fantasy purposes is the fact that Hill has been able to maintain WR1 production with Matt Moore behind center. The reason for this is obvious: he’s just that fast. When you can outrun any DB in the league, all you need is someone to chuck the ball down the field in the general area of where you will be. This isn’t necessarily a new revelation, but Tyreek Hill is an every-week WR1 and has the highest ceiling of anyone in fantasy, especially once his all-world QB returns to the lineup.
Adam Gase is actually getting worse
I don’t want to keep whining about Adam Gase, but every week he delivers a different kind of mental anguish that enrages me like no other. I cited on Twitter that every team he has coached steadily declined in yards/per play each season under him, and the Jets are continuing that trend this year. Gase had a chance to make a statement to his former franchise this week, but his team rolled into Miami and handed them their first win of the season instead. Le’Veon Bell finished with a solid stat line overall, but he barely cracked the double-digit mark until very late in the game during garbage time. I’m a huge Le’Veon Bell fan in terms of his talent, but he’s a glaring sell candidate in my opinion if someone will offer you top-10 RB value for him. Gase refuses to dial up plays for his most talented players, and this isn’t a new trend. He locked Kenyan Drake in a cage in Miami last year, and he actually gave his newly signed superstar running back fewer looks once his starting quarterback came back. This means Gase was intentionally riding Le’Veon Bell in negative game script where they had no chance to win, simply just to do it. This shows a lack of understanding of longevity at the position, and it shows a lack of self-identity and commitment to continuity for his team. He’s one of the most frustrating and overrated coaches in the league, and I’m done trusting a single word out of his mouth when it comes to projected usage and pace of play.
The Eagles are gaining some momentum
I made the mistake of benching Zach Ertz for Hunter Henry this week, and he made me pay for that decision in a fairly big way. I didn’t expect the Eagles to handle the Bears defense the way they did, and it’s a great sign for their playoff hopes. The Eagles are starting to gain some steam going into the back half of the season, as they’ve now won two straight games against pretty formidable opponents on the defensive side of the ball. After their bye week they have the honor of playing New England and Seattle in back to back weeks, but after that their schedule opens up in a HUGE way. I would be trading for the likes of Carson Wentz, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, and Zach Ertz right now because their end of season schedule is a thing of beauty. They face off with Miami, Washington, and the Giants for the fantasy playoffs and that’s about as soft of a schedule as you’ll find this year. They don’t appear to be a team that would be a huge threat in the NFL playoffs, but for fantasy purposes, it could be an under the radar edge you’ll have on your opponents if you start planning now.
The Browns are Completely Lost
I was watching the Browns/Broncos game and I just kept saying to myself: They’re struggling, but they won’t actually lose to a Brandon Allen lead Broncos team…. right? riiiiight?……Wrong!. Brandon Allen hasn’t played a single snap in the NFL in his entire career, but the Browns made him look like Peyton Manning early in the first half. They were never able to find an identity on the ground or through the air, which has been the story of the season. Odell Beckham isn’t a must-start anymore, and Nick Chubb is the only bright spot on the offense but he’s losing steam for fantasy purposes as of late. I don’t expect things to magically turn around with Freddie Kitchens at the helm, and it could get even uglier once the impending tension in the lockerroom and front-office starts to bubble up. Ironically, I think you should take advantage of this narrative. I don’t think anyone is dying to take on Cleveland Browns in fantasy, but it may be a decent time to blast out some offers for Nick Chubb. Kareem Hunt is a talented back, but Chubb is an elite player who hasn’t given us any reason to keep him off the field. I expect the Browns to commit to the ground game even more with the return of Hunt, so Chubb could be a buy-low candidate that pays off.
Russell Wilson is The Real MVP
For both fantasy purposes, and the real NFL. Russ has been an incredibly valuable asset at a position that’s typically replaceable, and he’s been even better on the real gridiron. He tossed another five touchdowns this week on the back of another near 40 point performance and his connection with Tyler Lockett likely won some people their matchups with ease. Russ is playing at a ridiculously high level that mirrors Aaron Rodgers in his prime, and I said back in week four that he’s criminally underrated in terms of his place in history, and he’s continuing to prove that as of late.
High Volume Running Backs are Gold
This one is cheating since we already knew it, but the running back landscape has been so ugly lately with all the injuries and various teams solidifying their identities for the near future that we need to remind ourselves. There are only a handful of backs that see most of their teams carries, and even fewer that see legitimate passing work alongside it. Always remember to treat these players like absolute gold because they are the undisputed kings of fantasy football. Someone like Chris Carson doesn’t have to be an all-world talent to dominate in fantasy, and someone like Jaylen Samuels can be an RB1 without even toting the rock very often. Running backs that are involved in their teams passing games are so important, and you should hold on to them at all costs. This even holds true for a select few players on bad teams, simply because you can’t replace that volume elsewhere. Mark Walton, Joe Mixon, and David Montgomery might not be on high powered offenses, but the volume they receive makes them very useful this time of year.
The Ravens are a Model Franchise
Full transparency: I’m a Patriots fan. If you want to unfollow me and click out of this article now, I understand. The reason I mention this is because I’ve been extremely lucky to witness the model franchise of the modern NFL dominate for what feels like a hundred years straight. Their loss to the Ravens on Sunday Night Football was only a regular-season game, but it said a lot about the team in Baltimore – especially Lamar Jackson and his head coach. When they drafted Jackson in the back of the first round it raised some eyebrows and a whole lot of questions, but John Harbaugh and his staff have answered most of them in a big way. Jackson will never be a dynamite pocket passer, and he’s not going to light up the yardage column anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean he can’t succeed at the highest level in this league. The Ravens built a scheme around Jackson’s strengths and put weapons in place to help those strengths shine to the highest degree.
At one point the Ravens were rotating tight ends most people didn’t even know existed and were actually throwing them the ball. The Patriots dug themselves a big hole early on and never climbed out, but it was mostly due to the Ravens’ phenomenal game plan and ability to attack parts of the field that New England wasn’t expecting. Harbaugh has cited the analytical growth within the organization many times, and he also adjusted a scheme to his players instead of demanding his roster fits into a certain scheme. Both of these things are pretty straight-forward paths to success, but most teams refuse to follow them. Baltimore may not be the favorite to win the super bowl this year, but their franchise is heading in the right direction in every way. Lamar Jackson is a baller and a whole lot more than a running back, and anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been watching him play.