Let's examine what we think about these topics as we head into Week 6.
- Aging Tight Ends with Starter Production
- Pre-emptive Pickups
- Revisiting Jordan Howard-Miles Sanders.
- Second-Half Surprises
Aging Tight Ends with STarter Production
Matt Waldman: Greg Olsen, Jason Witten, and Delanie Walker are in their mid-30s and ranked 8th, 9th, and 11th in PPR formats. Why do we write off older players at the position when there's a track record of quality performances from aging tight ends?
Dan Hindery: I wrote briefly about this topic in my dynasty trade value article last week. It seems like age-based regression does not hit tight ends nearly as hard as it does wide receiver and running backs. The aging guys ranking as low-end TE1s is both a testament to their staying power and veteran savvy and an indictment of many of the younger tight ends we were excited about. These three are averaging 9-10 PPG (PPR scoring), so it isn’t like they are providing a big advantage over the competition. But 10 PPGs probably doesn’t sound too bad for those who drafted O.J. Howard.
Daniel Simpkins: Maybe I’m going too deep with this answer, but speaking as a therapist who works primarily with geriatrics these days, I think our society is one that is ageist. Being old is undesirable and youth is paramount. That attitude filters all the way down into our fantasy football strategy. We’re afraid to fail because we picked a player that is too old to perform. We would rather take the younger player that is an unknown quantity because there is not as much of a stigma attached if we fall short in that way. This doesn’t just extend to the tight end position. One of the questions that we will cover later in this discussion will highlight that same dynamic.
Waldman: Maybe it's because I'm now nearly twice the age I was when I began playing fantasy football, but I find myself more trusting of experience and skill over youth and energy when skill shows up as questionable on tape. While I jokingly associate it with my age, the truth is that I long-gravitated to older players because they tend to process the game faster and they have a more robust library of experience and skill to draw upon that doesn't always require the athletic ability of a 25-year-old to execute.
Haseley: All three of those tight ends have two touchdowns in five games. If not for those, they would be outside of the Top 12, perhaps Top 15.
Waldman: Haseley, if not for the fact that you could spell, you might not be a writer. You're bringing me down, man...
Haseley: You can't spell, and they keep you around here, Waldman—I follow you on Twitter.
Waldman: I plead autocorrect...so was there more to your argument?
Haseley: Veteran tight ends generally know their offense well and are a key piece to the team’s success, especially in the red zone. It’s no big surprise that all three have multiple scores. That’s one of the benefits of having a veteran tight end on your team, the tendency to score. Tight ends who have been in the league awhile are also in tune with how the offense operates because they need to know blocking schemes, protection calls, play calls, etc.
Often, a veteran tight end is a vocal leader in the huddle, as well as the sidelines and practice sessions. Being so involved in the offense, their number is often called and the talented ones are the ones who benefit. We’ve seen that from Olsen, Witten, and Walker this season. Unfortunately, they are also the ones who are called upon when an extra blocker is needed in games where the pass rush is heavy and concerning. Injuries to offensive linemen can slow down their production as a result of this. We’ve seen it in each of the last two games with Olsen and Witten.
Waldman: If I was patient, I would have realized I was going to agree with much of this answer.
Haseley: Old and foolish. Great combination there...
Waldman: At least I'm still pretty.
Bob Henry: Delusional fantasies may be your saving grace, Wildman. As for this topic, the simplest answer is that we prefer younger players with unknown upside and untapped potential to players with a proven record of production, who in this case was coming or season-ending injuries or a year away from the game.
The other side of this, for the second year in a row, is the tight end position is top-heavy with very little value outside of those top performers. The lack of second-tier players erodes the quality depth at tight end creating a bubble not only for players like Olsen, Witten, and Walker but others who can produce inconsistently but enough to be in that same conversation. The value for this group of veterans has been their consistency and if you don’t have an elite player there is comfort in knowing that Witten consistently delivers an acceptable floor while generally lacking a more enticing, explosive week-to-week ceiling.
Maurile Tremblay: I don't think Olsen, Witten, and Walker are performing all that differently from expectations. All three came with risk. All three, if they stayed healthy, were going to be NFL starters and possibly fantasy starters—most likely at the low end. So far, they have stayed healthy and have settled in as low-end fantasy starters.
None of these three aging tight ends were likely to enter the top-tier with Kelce, Ertz, Kittle, Evans, et al. Players like Hunter Henry, O.J. Howard, David Njoku, Austin Hooper, Mark Andrews, and others all had better upside potential than Olsen, Witten, or Walker.
It's not that we wrote off the aging tight ends as potential fantasy contributors. We wrote them off—probably correctly—as potential top-tier fantasy starters.
Waldman: This point above may be the point of the thread thus far.
Tremblay: Thanks. Taking O.J. Howard over Greg Olsen didn't work out very well this year, but without the benefit of hindsight, I'd make the same decision again every time. Upside potential is worth shooting for.
Justin Howe: The issue is their general lack of upside. And I’m fine with that. I’m certainly not kicking myself for drafting Witten at TE9, after all. These guys are holding steady, but none of them will win you a week more than perhaps once a year. They’re just as likely to sink it, as when each and everyone has this year. Olsen lured a thousand fantasy players to sub him in after two big weeks but has laid eggs ever since. Witten caught two early-season touchdowns, but has yet to draw more than four targets - when would you start him? Walker hasn’t drawn a look from inside the 10 since Week 1.
First off, I believe that we tend to fundamentally misunderstand how aging works in the NFL. If you've been playing fantasy football for more than a minute you've undoubtedly seen countless examples of "age curves", graphs that average production by every player at every age to show when each position "peaks" and "declines". According to these curves, for example, running backs are in their prime at age 25 and 26 and then start declining quickly from there. Here's a phenomenal example from good friend and talented analyst Chase Stuart using one of the cleverer approaches I've seen.
Indeed, I used a similar approach of comparing running back performance from one year to the next, but I bucketed all backs into players who maintained their previous level of performance or even improved, players who declined by some reasonable amount, and players who essentially fell completely from relevance overnight. And older players were actually not any more likely to exhibit small declines than their younger peers (the yellow line below), but they were substantially more likely to suddenly implode entirely (red line).
An aging curve model suggests that players should typically be worse in their last year than they were in their second-to-last year. In other words, as they get older their play declines. This intuitively makes sense.
But if you look at the last two fantasy-relevant seasons from top 100 fantasy RBs and WRs from 1984-2014, you find that half of them were actually better in their last fantasy-relevant season than they were in their second-to-last season, which is exactly what you'd expect if improvement and decline were essentially random processes until the final and inevitable end.
In 2017, Chase noted that "Frank Gore [wasn't] aging", using this chart to make the point:
Because of this, I'd also be wary of Dan's takeaway that "age-based regression does not hit tight ends nearly as hard as it does wide receiver and running backs". It's possible that this is the case. It's also possible that the recent trend of tight ends lasting longer is just statistical noise.
Indeed, I wrote about this exact phenomenon last season, noting that contrary to popular belief, NFL careers at most positions were not getting longer. (To use one dramatic example: from 1997 to 2000 there were seven double-digit sack seasons by a player 36 years or older. In eighteen years since there has only been one more. Similar patterns hold at wide receiver, offensive line, and even among placekickers and punters.)
At the one position where careers seemingly were getting longer (quarterback), it was more a result of random fluctuations in incoming talent than anything else. It's not that great quarterbacks were playing longer than they had in the past, it's that we had an unusually large number of great quarterbacks enter the league at the same time, which fifteen years later left us with an unusually large number of old quarterbacks at the same time.
There's also an element of selective memory at play here. The list of the most valuable fantasy tight-ends of the last decade includes the likes of Tony Gonzalez (whose last TE1 season came at age 37), Antonio Gates (36), Jason Witten (35), and Delanie Walker (33). It also includes Jimmy Graham (31), Rob Gronkowski (29), and Jordan Reed (26).
And if you want to dismiss Gronkowski and Reed because of their injury histories, remember that Greg Olsen-- one of the players being held up as proof that old tight ends can still play-- hasn't had a TE1 season since age 31. He's missed 16 games over the last two years, and in the games he did play he averaged just 30 yards, down from 66 yards from ages 29-31.
Had Olsen failed to make it back, we could easily dismiss him, too, as someone who didn't age so much as he succumbed to injury. Since he did make it back, we hold him up as proof that tight ends can continue playing well as they age. This is how insidiously selection bias works.
The best way to combat selection bias is with large samples based on objective criteria. I happen to have a list of the most valuable fantasy tight ends since 1985, and the top 20 includes Keith Jackson (last top-12 season at age 31), Ben Coates (29), Brent Jones (32), Steve Jordan (32), Jay Novacek (33), Jeremy Shockey (27), Mark Bavaro (30), Eric Green (30), Dallas Clark (30), Frank Wycheck (30), Todd Heap (26), and Kellen Winslow Jr. (27). Indeed, historically tight ends have tended to fall off earlier than wide receivers.
Maybe you don't think Frank Wycheck is really comparable to someone like Greg Olsen, but again, this is selection bias; Wycheck made pro bowls at ages 27, 28, and 29, and was a top-5 fantasy tight end for six consecutive seasons from age 25 to age 30. The reason we don't think he's comparable is because he fell off so young.
Perhaps the league has trended more towards using tight ends like receivers and we should expect the positions to age more comparably going forward, though there's little reason to expect tight ends to last longer than their more-heralded receiving peers. And I also don't know if I believe today's tight ends are behaving more like wide receivers than, say, Kellen Winslow Sr. (30) or Todd Christensen (31), who led the NFL in receptions four times in seven years from 1980 through 1986.
In the past, I've attempted to create "mortality tables" for each fantasy position based on how frequently historical players have "survived" at any given age vs. how frequently they have faced the sudden and inevitable decline. To get around the problem of changing usage at the tight end position (and the astronomically small sample of true receiving weapons over the years), I used a blended approach that compared modern tight ends to a sample that included both tight ends and wide receivers.
Now, as this pertains to tight ends Olsen, Witten, and Walker: because they are older, we should assume heading into this year that they were at heightened risk of a dramatic decline in their quality of play. But absent that sudden and dramatic decline, there's little reason to believe that they should have been noticeably less effective than they were the last time we saw them. And indeed, it looks like all three players have managed to outrun Father Time for at least one more season. Given their strong starts I don't think any of the three are at any heightened risk of disappointing the rest of the way than any other comparably productive tight end.
At the same time, I feel hesitant to suggest (as the question implies) that it's unwise to discount aging players at tight end. I think they genuinely are riskier assets than their younger peers. We know with certainty that the end comes for everyone, and the older a player becomes the more likely it is that this year is the year they are no longer who they once were. The fact that this year wasn't the year for Olsen, Witten, or Walker doesn't change that fact.
I'd compare player aging not to a smooth curve, but to a series of weighted coin flips. Imagine that every player has made a deal with the devil. Before the season, they flip a coin. If the coin comes up heads they survive another year unscathed. If the coin comes up tails they have reached the end of the road. Perhaps they continue on as a shell of their former selves, perhaps they suffer a career-ending injury or suddenly retire, but one way or another they are no longer who they once were.
Every year that coin becomes weighted more and more toward tails, but just like anything involving coin flips, there's nothing fundamentally preventing someone like Jerry Rice from flipping heads every year into his 40s. Nor is there anything preventing Andre Johnson from flipping tails at 33, or Herman Moore at 30, or Dez Bryant at 27, or David Boston at 25. Each of these events differs in terms of relative likelihood, but again, assuming probabilistic statements that are true at the group level will apply to individual members of that group is how we got into this mess in the first place.
So to sum up: age is a serious concern for tight ends (and for all players at every position), not because it tends to make players a little bit worse, but because it tends to make players a little bit more likely to become a lot worse all at once. But if we can see that a player hasn't become a lot worse all of a sudden, then I don't know that knowing their age adds any further explanatory power.
Haseley: Wow, and that was only one of the questions.
Waldman: Daniel's weekly column focuses on preemptive additions who you can add to your team with the hope of them emerging into values without spending money during waivers.
Let's each name a player whom you believe could be a preemptive addition of value to your roster.
Andy Hicks: Zay Jones is a player I would be looking after his trade from Buffalo to Oakland. He had a great last half of 2018 in his second season in the NFL. He is another young receiver who had a lot of pressure to perform and hasn’t learned his craft properly. The fact the Bills have traded him for chump change at this stage of his career is a concern, but he was drafted in the second round for a reason.
Whether his loss of favor in Buffalo is due to effort, attitude or disenchantment is unknown as of now, but Oakland will give him a chance to be a top-line receiver with a quarterback who will be more accurate than Josh Allen. Carr may not be a natural match, but if Jones has his head screwed on correctly and he gets some development, his future can still be salvaged. Even as early as a few weeks’ time. Otherwise, he is out of the league soon.
Waldman: I'll add another possibility: an emerging talent below him on the depth chart at a cheaper price and offers a different but necessary skill set Jones lacked. It's why I'll add Duke Williams as a preemptive pickup. Don't wait for two weeks of good work.
Tremblay: Ryquell Armstead is my choice here. Leonard Fournette will hog all the carries as long as he stays healthy. But if he is injured, the Jaguars don't have much behind him other than Armstead. He would become the new workhorse, and this offense is designed to get the lead RB a lot of work. Armstead is a better rusher than a receiver, but that's consistent with being a good fit in this offense.
Howe: To me, Alexander Mattison is one of the easiest calls here. The Vikings are run-rooted to a fault, and Mattison is their only viable body behind Dalvin Cook, who’s taking on 23 opportunities (carries plus targets) a game. An injury to him would make Mattison an immediate RB2, if not better.
I’ll also keep beating the drum for Gus Edwards, who could be looking at another massive second half. Remember, down the 2018 stretch he averaged 93 yards a game and was football’s most efficient goal-line runner. Yes, he’s taking a clear backseat to Mark Ingram II, and no, he won’t help anyone with receiving numbers. But while the Ravens offense is losing its luster from Weeks 1 and 2, they remain squarely in the divisional race.
Lamar Jackson’s improvement is commendable, but the two-pronged attack of Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews is far more volatile than it looked early on. Jackson’s development is key, and there’s a strong chance John Harbaugh will mandate a shift back toward last year’s grinding run game to keep afloat. Greg Roman is his coordinator, after all, and last year’s Ravens averaged 45 rushes a game with Jackson under center. That kind of volume would make Edwards a viable RB2 if Ingram were to go down.
Henry: Outside of players who are on IR or suspended, I would look at a player like Kenny Stills, who might be available now, but as a player who should return to an explosive offense and have a role. Will Fuller V had one of his huge breakout games this week, but he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. Stills was likely waived in many leagues after the trade to Houston and then getting hurt.
The other place I would look is more like panning for gold with backup running backs. These tend to be rostered, but in the event that you find a Mattison, Armstead, Chase Edmond or Darrel Williams on the wire, then grab them for that last roster spot. If it doesn’t materialize, cut bait and get who you need for the bye weeks. Of this group, Armstead might be the one most likely to be available with arguably the higher likelihood of getting an opportunity in a starting role.
Lastly, there is always the slight (10-20%?) chance that Rob Gronkowski returns to the Patriots and plays a pivotal role down the stretch of the regular season coinciding with the fantasy playoffs. As discussed in the previous question, the tight end position is not deep, so anyone that has value (and fits the aging tight end profile) like Gronkowski can deliver is worth stashing if you can afford the roster spot.
Haseley: Dante Pettis...
Waldman: You're not trying to kiss and make up with me now, are you?
Haseley: Never. The 49ers offense has been run-heavy so far this season which doesn’t bode well for a booming passing game, but the good news is, Pettis is finally healthy after dealing with three different injuries to begin the season that kept him at bay. The game script for the passing game has been virtually non-existent for San Francisco, due to their running game taking center stage.
If that changes, Pettis is one who could benefit. Let’s not forget, in 12 games as a rookie, he had 27 receptions for 467 yards with a 17.3 average with 5 touchdowns (75 yards for longest). He is an excellent route runner who routinely gets good separation on his targets. If the 49ers offense needs to take to the air to be victorious, look for Pettis to be a key piece of that.
Simpkins: One of my favorite names that I’ve been advocating picking up all year is Edmonds, simply because he’ll gain exponential value in PPR leagues if David Johnson gets hurt. Johnson had a scare with his wrist earlier in the year and is having back problems that may hold him out of his next game. Edmonds isn’t Johnson, but he’s a capable pass catcher. Arizona’s pass-heavy attack could make Edmonds flex or even RB2 worthy, depending on your specific scoring settings.
Hindery: Edmons would also be my top priority. Last week, David Johnson and Edmonds combined for 179 rushing yards, 6 receptions, 83 receiving yards, and a touchdown. This Arizona offense is going to pick up steam as the year goes on, which should make the starting running back an RB1 projection each week. As long as Johnson is able to stay healthy, he will lead the way. However, he is dealing with a back injury. Those can be really tricky and it feels like, at the very least, Johnson is at a heightened risk of missing some games.
Edmonds is the type of high upside stash I love. If you are deciding between some low-ceiling wide receiver with WR4 upside who could come in handy in bye weeks and a guy like Edmonds who has a clear path to being a 20 PPG difference-maker, go with the upside.
If Edmonds isn’t available, Darius Slayton is another name to strongly consider. The rookie out of Auburn fell to the 5th round of the draft but has drawn positive reviews since just about the first day of training camp. He got off to a slow start due to injuries but has put up decent numbers since returning in Week 3 (147 receiving yards in three games). The Giants' wide receiver corps has hit another string of bad luck. Most notably, Sterling Shepard suffered his second concussion of the season and could be looking at an extended absence. It is going to open up more playing time and targets for Slayton. Slayton could see enough deep ball targets each week to be consistently fantasy relevant and help you through some bye weeks at least.
Revisiting Jordan Howard-Miles Sanders
Hindery: It is way too early to call this one way or the other. It was expected that if Sanders became the top option in the backfield, it might take some time. Plus, I'm still not convinced that Howard is all that valuable for fantasy players in PPR leagues because he is barely involved as a pass catcher and extremely touchdown-dependent, which makes him a tough guy to actually put into your starting lineup.
In the first two weeks, Jordan Howard averaged 8.5 touches and 5.6 PPR fantasy PPG. Unless you were clairvoyant or drafted a really bad team, he was probably not in your starting lineup against Green Bay in Week 3. For context, in the FBG positional rankings heading into that week, Howard was our RB51, so almost everyone had better options and very few started Howard. If you drafted Howard in a typical league, you didn’t get to take advantage of his one big game.
Will he have another big game that actually helps you?
Outside of Week 3, Howard has averaged exactly 50 total yards, 0.75 receptions, and 0.5 touchdowns per game. That’s 8.25 PPG in PPR scoring, which makes him a guy you don’t want in your starting lineup. Maybe we see Howard’s role expand further and Week 3 won’t end up being a fluke. For now, he looks like a guy who is going to get you 50-60 total yards and maybe a catch or two. If he doesn’t get into the end zone, you’re probably scoring less than 10 fantasy points. He is a decent option for standard scoring leagues but for PPR leagues, I still don't trust him.
In looking at Maurile Tremblay’s early projections for Week 6, he has Howard projected for 9.9 points and Miles Sanders projected for 10.1. Do you feel great about starting either one right now? Is this a slam dunk in favor of Howard?
It is also worth remembering that just because we are projecting Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders for almost identical fantasy numbers in Week 6, it doesn’t mean that will be the case when the fantasy playoffs arrive and it really matters. The potential for an increased role in the most important weeks of the fantasy season is a big part of the case in favor of drafting youth. We could very easily see Sanders slowly emerge as the top option. Time will tell. Until those results are in, Howard versus Sanders is "to be determined" for me and I'll withhold comment on any lessons learned until then.
Waldman: I'll argue that you don't have to be clairvoyant, just understand the difference between a runner can who can abide the scheme design and press a crease versus one who doesn't—no data necessary, simply understanding the basics of football. Still, it's realistic that most people will gravitate towards a story with data because it's the most mass-marketed commodity in fantasy football and people tend to believe in data to their detriment.
So, yes, most people would have not started Howard against Green Bay but if you follow what processes make a good running back, Howard would have been considered the better player. Doug Pederson has also come out this week and made comments that suggest that Howard is going to become the lead back:
I think as we go, Jordan has been kind of the lead back the last couple of games, for sure. ... I think moving forward it's kind of going that way. I can't sit here and say that if Miles (Sanders) has the hot hand one day that (Howard) gets more touches, but that's kind of the trend,' Pederson said.
So yes, I feel better about starting Howard over Sanders. If Sanders improves, he's the better athlete and it will be inevitable that he becomes the lead back when it happens. I won't be waiting with bated breath this season.
Simpkins: I made a lot of mistakes with my picks this year, but I am relieved to say this is not one of them. I watched some of Sanders’ college work this summer and I came away thinking that, while he’s got the physical tools to do the work, he hasn’t learned to make all those skills work in conjunction yet. Ball security was also an issue. So far, that’s also been what we’ve seen in his professional game.
Again, I think it goes back to fantasy general managers valuing the new over the old without an understanding of the scheme and skill fit of players. Jordan Howard is not a special player, but neither is he as horrific as some fantasy general managers have made him out to be. He is competent and assignment-sound in so many areas of his game. That sort of reliability is appealing to coaches and will beat out unrefined talent nine times out of ten.
Hasley: Where is it written that rookie running backs will perform better than veteran backs? Philadelphia already uses a balanced committee approach at running back, so we knew there was a chance that Sanders would be caught up in the committee. The scouting profile on Sanders included challenges with ball security (1 fumble every 35 touches), decision-making, and pass protection. Those are three key skills that can stunt your development if not improved. Sanders may wind up being a great back in the league, but it may take a year or two before we see it.
Henry: The key to unlocking value in fantasy football is unearthing that next player with tremendous upside and the hunt for that treasure usually focuses around high-profile rookies, especially when said rookies are drafted into an already established, or high performing, offensive team.
Waldman: For the sake of this forum, I'll add that another key is spotting players the herd has rejected or overlooked and seeing their value.
Henry: True but as for my point, Sanders checks the boxes for the high profile rookie drafted in the second round into a great situation with an Eagles team in need of an impact running back after a committee approach the last few years. For the Eagles, this marked a change in their recent history by taking Sanders that early.
There are other false flags here that we part of the allure. He had a ton of eyes on him at Penn State following in the footsteps of Saquon Barkley as the No.1 ranked RB in his recruiting class. In our world of fantasy football, Sanders looked like a rookie dripping with potential in an offense screaming for a back to establish himself as the proverbial bell cow (and that’s still very much in play but probably not likely to happen like many wanted to earlier this season).
Interestingly enough—to your point—the person most fitting of the bell cow designation is Jordan Howard and not Sanders—not yet anyway. It’s a young man’s game and we will always continue to chase players with seemingly unlimited upside, but we have to always be mindful of established veterans who are trustworthy, reliable, consistent and the consummate professional.
That’s Howard. He may not have the speed or receiving prowess we want for our fantasy teams, but Howard has been productive since entering the league and he was every bit the bell cow running back in his collegiate career, too. We forego the steady, know-what-we-got veterans for the upside player while usually driving right past the signs that are telling us of the obvious risks in doing so.
Hicks: A player's upside is always seen through rose-colored glasses, especially with rookies. We see it every year. Then they are discarded when expectations aren’t met and we get surprised when they have a great second year.
The jump from college to NFL is different for every player. For some, it is a massive change in scheme, coaching, and lifestyle. Not all successfully make the transition, regardless of talent.
That brings us to Miles Sanders. Were we seriously expecting rookie of the year to be on the table? Jordan Howard was brought in for a reason. To be there in case the rookie needed time and be a reliable runner that works well in the scheme.
That is happening. Where we go from here is up to how quickly Sanders can get some confidence and skill to have the coaching staff prefer him to Howard. It might happen this week, week 9, week 15 or not at all. For fantasy managers, there is no surety in this situation. The good news is that Sanders is seeing more time as a receiver and is still seeing around 30 snaps a game., more than Howard. The Eagles are giving Sanders experience and what we don’t see is the during the week stuff that should be making him a better player. Patience is required.
Tremblay: This is somewhat similar to the question about aging tight ends: the answer is upside potential.
We all figured that the Eagles would use a committee approach at RB (as they have for the past three years). We did not expect any single back to break out as the clear workhorse. But we thought that if a back were to break out that way, it was more likely to be Sanders than Howard.
I don't think that view was wrong. Howard was a productive back for the Bears, but it looked like his 2016-2017 production was about as good as things were going to get for him. His 2018 production was less impressive, and overall he looked like a good, but not great, running back.
Sanders, meanwhile, seemed to have a much larger range of potential outcomes. A lower floor for sure, but also a higher ceiling. The ceiling is more relevant for fantasy purposes.
Davenport: I'm embarrassed to even say it but mine is easily Mark Andrews. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a player rotate in and out frequently while hoping for a slice of a small passing pie. But Andrews has made me a believer. When he is in the game he runs routes and is targeted heavily. His snap count isn't super relevant anymore so my fixation with his playing time was poor process. I'm still kicking myself for missing on Andrews.
I was flabbergasted this summer that I kept landing Mike Williams so cheaply in every draft. I thought it was elementary math that the guy is uber-talented and there are lots of vacated targets to be spread around. But he hasn't seen those targets, even with Hunter Henry out. He may be more banged up than we know, but I'm taking the loss on this one. I'm ready to pounce on him if he shows signs of life, but it hasn't been pretty so far.
Howe: I’m not sure we’ve made much of an error here. Most of us were conservative on this backfield, recognizing how likely a full-on committee was and slotting both as speculative RB3s in Rounds 7-10. I don’t see any shame in chasing the upside over Howard’s ho-hum resume.
Ultimately, we’re seeing Howard’s absolute ceiling right now and Sanders’ floor. Howard still isn’t catching passes, and Sanders has touchdowns in his future - he’s drawing his share of looks inside the 10. I can’t imagine Howard’s 80-yard, 1-touchdown upside making a big noise for any successful fantasy teams. If my season is going well, in other words, it’s not on the back of Jordan Howard. And if I’m struggling, it’s not because I spent a seventh-round pick on Miles Sanders.
Waldman: I'll argue that a box score of 80 yards and a touchdown is valuable in leagues with more than 8-10 teams and small lineups where everyone has studs. He has earned 10 points more than the lowest RB2 in 12-team standard formats and 16 more points in PPR. It doesn't sound like much right now.
Still, when I look at my leagues, that can be a valuable difference—even if you can't apply the same value weekly. Those totals break ties with several teams in each league right now.
Howard is the No.17 and No.19 back in standard and PPR formats and about to earn more touches.
That said the best argument to restate here that applies to most people playing fantasy is the one about upside versus risk. As long as you weren't drafting Sanders in the fourth or fifth round, an 8-10 ADP makes sense for a back if you aren't going to get savvy about the processes for running back play and play the data.
In this sense, this argument is the one most truly grounded in reality here—if you want to shake your fist at the fantasy industry for favoring Miles Sanders this summer, the argument is too dramatic and doesn't account of the risk-rewards that make people successful at the game of fantasy football and why it's also slightly different than straight-up football analysis.
Matt Waldman: We're nearly halfway through the regular season in fantasy leagues. Name two players who are not currently producing as starters in 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE leagues who will deliver starter production from Weeks 6-13.
Howe: Hoe Mixon, Joe Mixon, Joe Mixon. He’s considerably better than this, and the Bengals offense can go nowhere but up. In other words, we’re likely seeing his absolute floor right now—the definition of a midseason buy-low.
He checks a lot of breakout boxes, too: he dominates his backfield, catches passes, carries on the goal line (snicker), and his offense is relatively high-volume. The Bengals don’t necessarily need to be good for him to climb into the top-15 ranks based on volume and chunk plays. That’s lower than he was drafted, of course, but it’s probably the floor for a Mixon breakout. He boasts so much natural upside to beat it.
I’d also buy low on the peripheral Cardinals wideouts, especially Christian Kirk. The Cardinals are running the league’s fourth-most plays a game (68), and Kyler Murray is throwing the ball a ton. With just 2 touchdowns over 201 attempts, there may not be a quarterback anywhere who suggests more positive regression.
The volume isn’t going anywhere, so his touchdown rate should spike noticeably down the stretch. Kirk is an across-the-field playmaker out of the slot, while KeeSean Johnson looks like the best candidate to push for 7-10 targets a game on the outside. Take their volume thus far and boost the touchdown opportunity going forward, and you have a weekly WR3.
Tremblay: In 10-team leagues, Carson Wentz has produced outside QB1 territory, but don't expect that to last. He's been playing quite well but has just missed on a number of big throws—often due to WR error. He'll benefit from getting DeSean Jackson back.
In 12-team leagues, I'll name Royce Freeman. He's locked in a time-share with Phillip Lindsay, but he's been on the wrong side of TD-variance even though he's gotten a decent amount of red-zone work. Freeman and Lindsay are both playing well, and I expect both to be Top 24 fantasy running backs going forward.
Diontae Johnson is another player I like here. The Steelers offense has been struggling, but Johnson will continue to get targets as opponents focus more on JuJu Smith-Schuster. And he should improve as the season progresses at turning those targets into fantasy points.
Hicks: I’m going to keep riding Aaron Rodgers. The balance between rushing and passing touchdowns in Green Bay will tilt towards the passing game as the season unfolds. Right now Rodgers is game managing the Packers into 4-1 and the loss is where Rodgers had his best fantasy game. Ideally, they want to continue their early-season plan, but the Packers have a tough schedule coming up and opposing defenses will force Rodgers into passing back into our fantasy laps.
I guess saying Saquon Barkley isn’t appropriate, so instead tab Sony Michel. After appalling games against the Steeler and Jets, Michel has run the ball better and is clearly the main runner in New England. With at least 15 carries in four of his five games, he is trusted and the big fantasy games are coming. With three touchdowns, he still finds himself outside the top 24. The addition of three receptions in his most recent game against Washington is also a positive development.
Henry: I will go with Tevin Coleman and Jared Cook. Coleman returned on Monday night and immediately showed that both he and Matt Breida are capable of delivering quality RB2 production in a two-man backfield given the proficiency and volume that the 49ers running attack offers this year.
Not only are the 49ers generating sufficient volume in touches, but the quality of touches is creating plenty of scoring opportunities and a much-improved defense is creating more favorable game scripts to sustain it going forward.
The knee injury to Kyle Juszczyk is one to monitor considering his importance to the running game as a blocker and multi-faceted fullback. Sony Michel and Kerryon Johnson are also worth mentioning as players who have far more value to offer but haven’t received the consistent volume to support the output we expected at the beginning of the season.
Jared Cook finally put together a decent game (4-41-1) this past weekend and I suspect that he will continue to produce similar results going forward. Drew Brees’ return should boost his potential as well even though the two didn’t start the season as well as many of us projected during the preseason.
Let's face it. It won’t take a ton of volume or quality targets to generate low-to-middle TE1 value with this current state of the position. Cook obviously has the talent and the opportunity should follow now that he is showing better rapport with Teddy Bridgewater and then the potential that lies out there with Brees on the horizon.
Haseley: Devin Singletary is one who could see a boost in the second half of the season. Buffalo has their bye this week, which will give an extra week for Singletary’s hamstring to heal. He should be chomping at the bit to battle Frank Gore for more touches in the Bills offense. In a limited 10 carries so far, he has totaled 127 yards (12.7 YPC) and one touchdown. He is the future of the position for Buffalo and we should start to see more of what he can offer in the second half of the season, possibly as soon as Week 7.
We have seen limited action from the rookie 4th round pick out of Oklahoma State in the regular season, but when Justice Hill was given reps in the preseason, he shined. He has the tools to make plays as a rusher and receiver and has shown the ability to have a nose for the end zone as well.
Mark Ingram II is the current stalwart for the Ravens ground game with Gus Edwards as his understudy, but that’s not how I envision Hill’s role. I see him more as a change of pace back in the mold of Tarik Cohen, Theo Riddick, James White, etc.
There’s a place for backs of his skill set, where he can provide fantasy value, especially in PPR leagues. He just needs to learn the ropes, wait for his opportunity, and execute when his time comes. It could come as early as this season.
Simpkins: Things are a little messy with the running back situation in Kansas City right now, but I think barring the health of his ankle holding him back, LeSean McCoy will emerge as the back to own and will be a solid running back starter. As we saw on Sunday night against the Colts, giving Damien Williams a majority of the snaps was disastrous for their running game. Andy Reid is not a dumb coach who continues to press things when they aren’t working, so I am confident that Williams will not get that kind of usage going forward.
On Monday night, Matt Breida also gave us reason to believe that he can deliver starter-caliber numbers when given the opportunity. Telvin Coleman and Raheem Mostert will get their touches, but Breida is easily the most talented of that group and leads the way in terms of touches and targets. The 49ers also have many mediocre-to-bad defenses on the schedule the rest of the way, which makes playing Breida even more appealing.
Hindery: It has been a major struggle for Mixon, who ranks RB29 after five weeks. The offensive line injuries have played a big role, with Jonah Williams out for the season and Cordy Glenn’s stay in the concussion protocol approaching two months. However, the absence of A.J. Green has had a maybe even more significant impact. The extra attention Green gets compared to somebody like Auden Tate helps open up running lanes for the backs.
From a usage perspective, this is basically what we were hoping for. He just hasn't been able to convert many of these deep targets into big plays. Samuel’s situation isn’t all that dissimilar to Will Fuller V prior’s to his Week 5 explosion. Don't be surprised if Samuel eventually has some big games and ends up as a top-30 receiver when all is said and done.