Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so it’s time to start considering what us fantasy degenerates are thankful for. Whether you’ve already secured a playoff berth or you’re relegated to playing spoiler, there is plenty to be thankful for. But this is not to simply highlight who’s had a great season and who’s had a horrible season. You don’t need me to tell you to be thankful for Devonta Freeman and DeAndre Hopkins. So the day before the big feast, let’s get right into it, listing what we are thankful for, beginning with the abstract.
There are many instances where being patient is a slow and steady path to the bottom of the standings. Sometimes, being patient is just a euphemism for being risk-averse and overly cautious. That is not the patience we are celebrating here. Rather, let’s take a look at some players whose early, uninspiring play led owners to panic and cut bait too early. Lamar Miller had 37 carries in the first month of the season, and most owners realized it was Joe Philbin who was the problem. As long as Miller’s workload increased, so too would his value. He was efficient – just way underutilized. Sure enough, the Dolphins canned Philbin after an embarrassing string of losses, the interim coach Dan Campbell committed to running the ball, and Miller never looked back. He’s now a top 5 running back for those who were patient with him.
A couple of wide receivers selected early in drafts were basically unusable for the first month or so of the season, but are now top 12 options. I’m talking about Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks. Evans suffered a high ankle sprain at the end of preseason, and he missed the first two games of the season. After a so-so first couple games back, owners were beginning to label him a bust. But the target hog is now one of the top wide receivers (despite his constant drops), after topping 125 yards in three of his last five games. As for Cooks, it was a longer process shedding the bust label. He is in sync with Drew Brees though now, and he has five touchdowns in his past three games. Clearly established as Brees’ go-to-guy, Cooks will have warranted his high draft position at the end of the year.
And, lastly, the players who owners drafted, knowing it would be a long-term investment. Todd Gurley and Martavis Bryant both missed several games. Gurley missed two (three if you count his first week back, when he was only given a handful of touches) recovering from a torn ACL and Bryant missed five because of suspension (four game suspension and then missed the fifth game with a minor injury). Well, we know how drafting Gurley turned out. He is arguably the top running back in fantasy. Bryant, since coming back in week 6, has the third most points for a wide receiver.
Tight Ends With Massive Workloads
We’re not talking about Gronk here. We’re talking about guys who get more than a third of their team’s targets. A couple of whom could have been had late in drafts. In the games he has played, Jordan Reed has received 38% of the Redskins’ targets. Similarly, Delanie Walker has 36% of the Titans’ targets. Reed and Walker are top 8 options at the position, and it is because of their obscene usage rate. To their benefit, they play on bad teams with weak receiving options. Greg Olsen also fits in this category. He is a player who went much higher in drafts, but it is easy to see why, when you consider he has almost half of his team’s targets! For the season, he is seeing 47% of Cam Newton’s attempts.
Waiting on Quarterback
If you drafted Andrew Luck early I really am sorry. But I am also sorry if you spent a high pick on Aaron Rodgers. Not because Rodgers is bad – he’s a top 3 QB – but because of how easy it is to find a good fantasy quarterback. Here are guys who were drafted outside the sixth or seventh round in most drafts, according to ESPN: Cam Newton, Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles, and Derek Carr. In there, we have QB2, QB3, QB5, Q6, QB8, QB9, and QB10, The moral of the story here is to wait on quarterbacks. Why spend a high pick on Russell Wilson – and before you say, “no one did that,” I’ll refer you to ESPN’s average draft position that says Wilson went, on average, 27th overall (!!!) – when I can get any one of these other quarterbacks 60-120 picks later?
Unsexy, Ultra-Reliable Running Backs
Running back Fantasy Football is a crapshoot. It’s about reducing risk wherever possible. High upside guys are great, but I’ll take someone whose ceiling is a little lower but is more consistent on a week-to-week basis. As with any strategy, this can backfire. People who drafted Alfred Morris thought they were getting a boring, if not ridiculously consistent player, and look how that turned out. With running backs, that means we’re looking for guys who get a lot of touches every week. This year, there are a couple guys having great fantasy seasons, but whose owners probably weren’t jumping with joy upon drafting them. Jonathan Stewart was one of the more boring players that you could draft this year. His name didn’t elicit a huge reaction from owners one way or the other. Ugh, I got Jonathan Stewart. I was one pick away from getting Melvin Gordon. It’s easy in hindsight to think no one said that, but Gordon was a rookie, and we know the kind of appeal rookies can hold to many owners. Well, only Adrian Peterson has more carries than Stewart, who’s on pace for over 300 carries. That’s incredible volume for someone that slipped to the 4th or 5th round in drafts.
Chris Ivory had a little more buzz to his name, but we’re talking about a 27 year old running back who’d never had a true breakout season before. When you drafted him, you thought you were getting a solid RB2. Not a top 10 RB. Ivory has the 6th most carries in the NFL. The guy right behind him also fits in this theme. Frank Gore hasn’t had all the touchdowns people expected because the Colts offense as a whole has not performed like the top 5 offense people forecasted. But Gore still receives a ton of carries and he is the type of consistent starter you can keep in your lineup all season long without having to worry.
Renaissance Year Guys
In fantasy, a bad year or two and people forget about you. It makes sense to a certain extent. You don’t want to get caught up in a player’s name. Just because a player was good years ago doesn’t mean you should discount his recent struggles. But knowing a player has the talent/ability/potential to be a top player is something to consider as well. For their entire careers, Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall have been among the most talented wide receivers in the NFL. Fitzgerald had been plagued by horrendous quarterback play more than anything. Marshall’s poor season last year is a little harder to pinpoint. He dealt with injuries and it seemed like the locker room in Chicago just sort of crumbled. Either way, neither player was too old either. I’m not saying we should have known they’d both be top 8 wide receivers. That’s just silly. But they were the go-to-guys on their respective teams and 20-25 wide receivers were taken before them in most drafts.
Another guy not as old, but coming off a couple forgettable years is Doug Martin. For someone who, by all accounts in the offseason, had easily secured the starting position and had shown flashes of brilliance, it’s curious that Martin was taken after 30 other running backs in most drafts. He was being selected around backups like Ryan Matthews and Tre Mason.
For anyone wondering why I didn’t post my weekly recap, I was locked out of my website on Sunday and Monday. I will be posting it every Monday morning from here on out.
Thanks for reading and have a happy Thanksgiving!