After three months of jockeying for position and competing for players on the waiver-wire, we’re finally approaching the precipice of the Fantasy Football playoffs: the best time of the year.
But given that it’s the final week of the season for those of us who won’t advance into the playoffs, it’s time to look back and evaluate some of the triumphs and head-scratchers over the past 12 weeks.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
NFL needs a preseason
There has been a growing movement over the past few years to shorten the preseason (or get rid of it altogether) because teams employ their backups and third-stringers for most of the games.
But I don’t think there is any denying at this point that players have been negatively affected by the lack of preseason and diminished training camp. Guys were falling like dominos over the first month of the season with soft tissue or knee injuries, including Christian McCaffrey, Saquan Barkley — two of the top draft picks in most fantasy drafts — and a slew of other top backs and receivers.
You could chalk up some of those injuries to wrong-place, wrong-time; as in the case for Michael Thomas or Dak Prescott who simply got rolled up on from behind. But there were a lot of ankle sprains and strained-hamstrings in the first couple of weeks. My guess is the lack of time to fire everything up and get game ready contributed to that.
Year of the Rookie Receiver
It’s been a while since we’ve had a rookie class this loaded with talent.
Everyone points to the 2014 receiver class (Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins) as being the best, but I think we’ll look back at this 2020 class of receivers as one of the best in the decade.
Justin Jefferson (918), Tee Higgins (673), CeeDee Lamb (650), Chase Claypool (611), and to a lesser extent Jerry Jeudy (589) all have a chance to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards on the season — something only 23 other rookies have done since 1952.
And the last time multiple receivers did it in a season was 2014: Beckham Jr. (1,305), Evans (1,051), Benjamin (1,004). So four would be groundbreaking.
Pandemic has separated the Juice from the Sauce
“The juice is something that’s temporary, anyone can obtain the juice, but the sauce, that’s forever,” said Gino, a Best Buy employee who went viral in 2017 explaining the difference. “How long does juice last in your fridge… a couple of days, (weeks), how long does barbecue sauce last in your fridge though? Awhile. That’s the sauce, it’s thick, hard to move.”
I think about that quote frequently — most of the time for no apparent reason — but it’s never made more sense than now.
Baltimore, Minnesota, Houston and San Francisco all had the 'juice' last year. They looked dominant in a few games and were fortunate in others; they had the appearance of being quality teams. All four have taken a step backward this season while the Seahawks, Packers, Bills, Titans, Chiefs, Saints and Steelers have been the standard — or the sauce.
Those seven are the real deal.
Quarterbacks to Start
Taysom Hill, Saints: Two weeks into the Taysom Hill experiment I think the Saints have to be content. Hill might throw a couple of ducks on deep balls but he's proficient between the numbers and is always a threat in goal-to-go situations. His fantasy numbers are pretty reliant on him getting a rushing touchdown but the Falcons also allowed him to throw for over 230 two weeks ago. As good as Atlanta has been the last month, its defense is still ranked 31st against opposing quarterbacks. Give me Hill this week.
Ryan Tannehill, Titans: It’s funny to think Tannehill was almost driven out of the league a couple of years ago following a few subpar seasons under Adam Gase in Miami. He won’t ‘wow’ you with any tantalizing deep balls or likely even throw for 300 yards, but what Tannehill has is consistency. He rarely turns the ball over and is excellent in play-action, which has been so effective since Derrick Henry is a Mack Truck running the ball. Cleveland just allowed Mike Glennon to move up-and-down the field last week, Tannehill should have no issue.
Quarterbacks to Sit
Kyler Murray, Cardinals: Yikes. I have Kyler Murray in a few of my leagues and last Sunday’s game left me nervous heading into the fantasy playoffs. Murray, unquestionably, had his worst game of the year — which granted was against a Bill Belichick defense in New England — but he’s clearly still ailing from that shoulder injury suffered against the Seahawks. He’s back at home, which bodes well, but the Rams are no joke defensively and coming off a disappointing loss to San Francisco. They are going to get after Murray all day. I just hope he can stay healthy.
Matt Ryan, Falcons: ‘Matty Ice’ has looked like his 2016 MVP self at times this season, but he's also had a few games where he looks completely inept. Unfortunately, Ryan has played like the latter the past two weeks generating just 18 total fantasy points. That’s simply not going to cut it. Especially not in the final week when many teams are still fighting for a final playoff spot. The Saints had a sack party the last time they played Atlanta, and Julio Jones is still questionable with a hamstring injury. Without Julio, Ryan is a J.A.G (just a guy). Don’t start him this week.
Running Backs to Start
David Montgomery, Bears: Returning from a two-game absence, Montgomery ran all over the Packers last week, racking up 143 total yards and a TD in Sunday’s lopsided loss. Montgomery has been the only consistent offensive weapon for the Bears and he’s in for a heavy-workload against the Lions, who own the worst rush defense in the league. The Bears might struggle, but Montgomery is a must-start this week.
J.K Dobbins, Ravens: The Ravens have found their running back of the future. This is all dependent on if Dobbins is able to get taken off the COVID-19 reserve list, but if he is, make sure you grab Dobbins, who is owned in just 60% of ESPN leagues. Once he’s back, Dobbins should be the lead option, and the Ravens have a good schedule for running backs over the next month. This could be the guy that wins you your fantasy league. And he’s a must-start this week against a Dallas defense that’s allowing 25 fantasy points per game to opposing backfields.
Running Backs to Sit
Alvin Kamara, Saints: Anytime you sit Kamara you’re taking a huge risk because he can go off for 40 fantasy points any given week. But with Taysom Hill at QB, Kamara has had his two worst games of the season. Sean Payton has been comfortable splitting carries with Latavius Murray and running Hill in all goalline situations. A much worse sign is Kamara’s lack of targets in the passing game. With Brees at QB, Kamara averaged six catches a game and caught 5 TDs. He’s reeled in just one ball the last two weeks with Hill. That’s not a good sign heading into the playoffs.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team: Gibson likely won your game after galloping for 115 yards and 3 TDs against the Cowboys. But now he gets the Steelers and their vaunted front seven. Even though Pittsburgh won Wednesday, they looked awful. I think they come out motivated on a short week and shut down Washington Monday night. If Pittsburgh can control the line of scrimmage, Gibson might have a difficult time finding room to run. Sit Gibson this week but get him back in your lineup for the fantasy playoffs.
Wide Receivers to Start
Robert Woods, Rams: Even though Cooper Kupp has been excellent, Woods has emerged as the clear No. 1 option for Jared Goff. He’s drawn 27 targets in the last two games and scored 46 fantasy points. With the Cardinals, Jets and Seahawks still left on the schedule, Woods figures to be a dynamite receiver for the fantasy playoffs. Sunday’s game against Arizona has the potential to be a shootout, which means Woods should be in line for double-digit targets. Get him into your starting lineup.
Deebo Samuel, 49ers: When Samuel has been healthy this season, generally he’s played well. And coming off a game in which he was Nick Mullen’s go-to option down the field, I think that largely continues against Buffalo with George Kittle still on IR. Samuel is owned in 70% of ESPN leagues, so grab him if he’s available. Samuel is an explosive receiver that gets a lot of running opportunities in addition to his large target-share. He has the potential to be a major contributor for the fantasy playoffs.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Tyler Boyd, Bengals: Boyd has been the most consistent Bengals receiver throughout the season but his production dipped considerably last week with Brandon Allen under center. Things should get better this week against Miami, but at the same time, the Dolphins have surprised everyone this year. I wouldn’t be shocked if Miami blew out Cincinnati and won by 30. If that’s the case, Boyd could get a lot of targets, which means he should have a decent floor this week. I just think Tee Higgins has more chemistry with Allen and has a higher ceiling. Hold off on Boyd this week and hope he gets the same target-share as Higgins.
Juju Smith-Schuster, Steelers: He’s one of my favorite players to watch, but Smith-Schuster has not been the same deep threat he was in years past. The Steelers have decided to limit him to short, over-the-middle routes while Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool go deep. He’s averaging less than 5 yards a catch in his last two games and now he lines up against Washington’s Kendall Fuller, who has been the best slot corner in the NFC. This is a game where Smith-Schuster might struggle.