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Getting "Tannehilled" Has A Ripple Effect on Several Fantasy outcomes
Tannehilled /Tann e hild/ Verb [Informal] A quarterback who loses his job to a reserve and never gets it back.
Did Ryan Tannehill perform well enough last year that we can label future NFL quarterbacks losing their jobs as getting "Tannehilled?" Yes, yes we can, and the risk of getting Tannehilled has implications not only for the surrounding offensive talent but also for fantasy drafts well before the midseason switch takes place.
Even if Tannehill didn't deserve all of the credit for the Titans' offensive resurgence, this temporary anthimeria* using Tannehill's name is warranted.
*Note: Anthimeria is when a culture uses a word in a form that's not the original part of its grammatical structure. It usually happens when we give a noun the properties of a verb. The most common form of anthimeria to Footballguys readers is "Blooming" a player—when Bloom gets so excited about a fantasy option that his Yintzer Neurosis kicks in and he believes his enthusiasm contributed to the player's disappointing performance.
Anthimeria is a word I didn't know existed until writing this article. I was wondering if the act of using a noun as a verb such as "Tanehilling a quarterback," actually had a name.
Anthimeria, a word that if you use it in public, you're almost guaranteeing that others will find you pompous, insecure, and dull. Kind of like a cancer researcher I know who has a thing for dung beetles. It turns into an impromptu lecture about the insect's daily habits every time he's allowed outside the house or the lab.
Yes, someone like this exists and if it were up to me, no one would ever tell him that social distancing is ending in his state.
Tannehill was the fourth-most productive fantasy quarterback after Week 6 in 2019—averaging more than a point per week than the red-hot Dak Prescott. Of the top 12 producers during this span, only Drew Brees (25) and Lamar Jackson (25) had more touchdowns than Tannehill (22), and Tannehill's 69.6 percent completion rate was second only to Brees (74.5) during this stretch.
When a quarterback takes a teammate's job midseason, it often lifts the team in a tangible way.
Derrick Henry, the No.11 fantasy runner through the first six games under Mariota, earned 113 attempts, 415 yards (3.7 yards per carry), 4 rushing touchdowns, 6 receptions, 102 receiving yards, and a receiving score.
After Tannehill took over, Henry earned 190 attempts, 1,124 yards (5.9 yards per carry), 12 rushing touchdowns, 12 receptions, 104 receiving yards, and a receiving score. The next-best yardage performance during that stretch was Ezekiel Elliott's 866 rushing yards and only Christian McCaffrey (1,469) bested Henry (1,228) in yards from scrimmage.
During Mariota's reign of fantasy terror, there wasn't a Titans wide receiver or tight end with top-40 fantasy value. A.J. Brown's 14 catches for 273 yards and 2 scores put him 43rd on the list through Week 6. From Week 7 on, Brown's production jumped 40 spots to No.3 overall with 38 catches, 778 yards, and 6 scores.
Tight end Delanie Walker, Mariota's security blanket, was the No.12 fantasy producer at the position after Week 6. Walker suffered a season-ending injury a week later, but Jonnu Smith picked up the slack and became the No.12 fantasy producer at the position from Week 7 until the end of the season.
Despite strong performances down the stretch from Walker and Brown in the passing game, it seems notable that Tannehill's passing excellence during this span didn't produce more weekly fantasy values on the offensive roster.
Mariota delivered more targets to Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and Tajae Sharpe than Brown, but none of them earned consistent fantasy success as a result. Once Tannehill entered the lineup, Brown earned seven strong fantasy weeks to one quality week for Davis. Humphries had three relevant fantasy weeks with Tannehill, but only one where a touchdown wasn't the reason. Two of Sharpe's three fantasy-relevant weeks with Tannehill were also touchdown-dependent.
On the surface, it appears that Marcus Mariota was thoroughly "Tannehilled" in 2019, and now he's in Las Vegas hoping to do the same to Derek Carr —more on that later. Certainly, the "Tannehilling" of Mariota boosted the overall production of the Titans offense, but there's a strong argument that A.J. Brown deserves much of the credit.
An analyst can lean too hard on the stats and make a compelling argument that Brown did the most of any player to spark the Titans offense after Week 6. While true, this point could also lead to a false conclusion that Tannehill's play wasn't a significant factor.
This take would discount the fact that Mariota hung onto the ball too long—with and without pressure—whereas Tannehill exhibited greater decision-making. There's no doubt that Brown boosted Tannehill's production, but Tannehill earned more production per target with Brown than Mariota.
The Titans offense improved because Tannehill got rid of the ball faster, maximized the production of the team's most dangerous receiver, and as a result, opposing defenses couldn't focus as much on stopping the run with its schemes and box counts. Based on what I saw on film last year, the greatest singular difference between Tannehill and Mariota is that Tannehill performed with greater decision-making efficiency in the pocket.
When separating the play of quarterbacks at this level, it often comes down to one thing, and that one thing can change the fantasy fortunes of multiple players:
- Henry went from a fantasy RB1 to an elite fantasy back.
- Brown transformed from a bye-week option to an elite fantasy receiver.
- Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, and Tajae Sharpe were no longer worthwhile considerations for any format.
- Tennessee's quarterback became a strong fantasy starter.
Mariota's benching rewarded fantasy players who exhibited patience with Henry and Brown as well as those who made quick decisions to acquire and start Tannehill and Smith from the waiver wire. Fantasy players who dumped Davis and Humphries soon after Tannehill's succession of Mariota minimized their losses—and that's also part of a winning strategy.
The potential that a quarterback gets benched is a significant factor that fantasy players should consider when planning for their drafts. How well we analyze the skill of the player, the likelihood of him getting benched, and the skill of the backup will not only help us determine a lot about the true value of the passer but also how patient we should be with the surrounding talent.
In fact, we might discover that there are hidden values and/or risks with surrounding talents based on the quarterback depth chart. It's unlikely that Henry or Brown would have thrived if Logan Woodside became the Titans' starter.
Or, to make this scenario more realistic, if Woodside was the only alternative to Mariota, the Titans would have had more incentive to stick with its struggling incumbent, and the surrounding talent would have likely remained mired in the mediocrity of Mariotaville.
2020 Quarterbacks at Risk of getting TAnnehilled and the projected offensive fallout
Let's examine these 12 passers in order of least likely to most likely. I'll explain why there's a chance the starter will be benched, which offensive skill players stand to benefit or decline due to the change, and how to approach these players when formulating a draft plan.
12. Unlikely, But There's a Chance: Aaron Rodgers
The Packers would be idiots to bench Rodgers for the raw Jordan Love, but we've seen stranger things happen when relationships go sour. As good as Philip Rivers has been throughout his career, I would have preferred Drew Brees (and I have receipts).
The same was probably true for Marty Schottenheimer, but A.J. Smith and Schottenheimer couldn't work well together. As well as Rivers played, Smith force-feeding the young Rivers into the equation probably cost the Chargers that extra layer of experience that might have been the difference between being the runner-up to the conference champion and a Super Bowl participant.
Aaron Rodgers hasn't performed to statistical expectations in recent years, and there are film analysts also critical of Rodgers during this time. The dangerous part about this analysis has been a tendency to oversimplify the complexity of split-second decision-making that isn't as clear cut as the criticism makes it. Rodgers is still capable of elite production, but he needs more help—if he had one more veteran receiver like Baker Mayfield, who has two proven weapons, he'd be an elite producer.
Rodgers has a reputation for having a demanding, aloof, and spiteful personality that leads the media to question his leadership. Matt LaFleur is an inexperienced NFL head coach whose desire to use his offensive system is in danger of getting him accused of being too rigid with "his way" rather than getting the best from Rodgers.
It doesn't help that none of the receivers or tight ends that the Packers have acquired during the past three years have emerged as reliable and productive starters. That the only skill talents Green Bay drafted in 2020 is an H-Back that will be asked to play a fullback role and a big running back.
When former nemesis-turned-friend Brett Favre is voicing his displeasure with the Packers brass for not adding the receiver stable to give Rodgers more weapons during the 2020 NFL Draft, it's a sign that there could be a cold war happening between the Packers management and its on-field leader. Even if LaFleur said the right things to the media last week, the words and actions of the ball club don't match up.
If there's an undercurrent of conflict, both parties have a role. By most accounts, there are documented reports that Rodgers can be a difficult personality, but a skilled NFL coach should be figuring out how to get the most from one of the most talented quarterbacks in history. If it means altering one's system to the talents of the player and adding another top receiver or two, the adjustments should be a priority.
Instead, Green Bay wants to operate a far more structured system with greater emphasis on the run. This could work for Rodgers, but it appears that the way LaFleur and the front office are implementing their plan has generated some quiet issues for Rodgers.
While unlikely that Rodgers' behavior becomes so boorish that it forces a benching and hasty trade to another club, we've seen relationships deteriorate under pressure. If this happens and Jordan Love becomes the starting quarterback, wave goodbye to any degree of consistent production from any running back, wide receiver, or tight end on the roster.
Love's recklessness in the red zone and inside his own 20 will shorten drives, generate turnovers, and lead to insurmountable deficits where the best-case scenario for fantasy players is garbage-time yardage between Love and underneath receivers like Jamaal Williams, Jace Sternberger, and Allen Lazard. Forget about the ground game if Love is under center—he's mobile, but not so dynamic that he'll consistently generate opportunities for running backs with the threat of his legs.
With Love: Whoever functions as the check-down options—likely the backs, tight ends, and Lazard—with Rodgers will likely see more from Love. Of course, this is if Love can display a level of discipline that usually eludes immature and overly aggressive decision-makers. If not, we'll see a lot of forced targets for primary options and with little chance of consistent production.
Fantasy Strategy: Rodgers should be a safe addition, especially as the 10th-12th fantasy quarterback available in drafts. It's a solid value for him because he can be paired back-to-back with another promising quarterback to form a high-end committee if one of them doesn't emerge. If Love takes over, Adams could be one of those rare and immediate, sell-low propositions before you get stuck with a 2019 Corey Davis situation.
11. Low-Odds Benching, But if the Organization Is a Reflection of its Fans...Dak Prescott
Fantasy football's No.2 passer in 2019, Prescott came within 99 yards of 5,000 through the air, and he completed 65 percent of his passes—the third year out of four with at least that high of a rate. Despite his production, analysts and fans pick apart Prescott's game, because he doesn't earn his production according to the Daughters of the Unitas Federation—a society of fans, former players, and analysts committed to preserving the heritage of quarterbacks that look and play like Unitas on the field.
Prescott is the present and long-term future of the Cowboys offense. Even if Andy Dalton's acquisition will allow the big-box sports-talk shows to manufacture drama. You know I'm right. You can totally imagine a "should Dalton replace Prescott" narrative after Prescott delivers a 240-yard, 2-touchdown, and 2-interception outing in a loss to a team that Vegas had as a 7-point underdog in prime time outing.
The Daughters of the Unitas Federation will nitpick and gaslight Prescott's performance and praise Dalton has a tested decision-maker who will performer better within the structure of the offense—implying that Dalton is smarter. I don't expect the Cowboys to listen to this drivel with one scenario as the exception: If elimination from playoff contention is 1-2 games away and the offense isn't scoring enough points regardless of Prescott's overall stats.
At this point, Jerry Jones would get desperate enough to make a change and because new Head Coach Mike McCarthy earned a reputation as a predictable offensive administrator in Green Bay, there's a chance that this nightmare could unfold where management scapegoats Prescott. Like I said, doubtful but just inside the wide range of what is possible for this organization.
With Prescott: All three starting receivers—Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb—are 1,000-yard candidates this year. Ezekiel Elliott is still in his prime and between Elliott, Blake Jarwin, and the reserve receivers, Prescott can deliver another 2,000 passing yards their way.
With Dalton: Despite my grousing about the Prescott Deniers, Andy Dalton could produce as a top-12 fantasy quarterback behind the Cowboys offensive line. Expect all three receivers to continue having success if Dalton supplanted Prescott. I would expect a better connection with Lamb and Cooper than Gallup because Dalton works the slot receivers well. Dalton may not produce to the elite standard originally expected of Prescott but he'll be good enough to support two of the three receivers who were expected to deliver weekly fantasy production.
Fantasy Strategy: Because you should expect little change in production with the surrounding talent if Dalton gets the nod, you should label the Dallas receiving corps as one of the safest groups for summer drafts. Dalton has also supported multiple fantasy tight ends in the past, and Jarwin is the type of option who could develop a red-zone connection with Dalton.
10. Not the Plan, But a Rough Start Could Tip the Scales: Teddy Bridgewater
Considered a polarizing prospect since he entered the NFL, a near-fatal injury derailed Bridgewater's promising trajectory with the Vikings. Bridgewater backers would likely agree with the idea that if Bridgewater didn't get hurt, he could have been a better version of Case Keenum during Keenum's Cinderella playoff run. Bridgewater's skeptics will likely argue that Keenum is, at best, a fair comparison, and it isn't the stuff of franchise passers.
New head coach Matt Rhule hired LSU offensive coordinator Joe Brady to run the Carolina offense and if you can simply look at traits—there are a lot of similarities between Bridgewater and Joe Burrow. Both have excellent mobility in the pocket and move the chains as runners, both work well to find their second and third options when the first read doesn't break open, and neither has the top-end velocity to deliver the power throws in many NFL offenses.
In theory, Bridgewater is an excellent fit with the Panthers receiving corps because D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel excel with routes that break across the middle of the field or back to the quarterback. These timing routes allow them to rip off big gains after the catch. Bridgewater has a slightly better eye for the middle of the field than Cam Newton, which should bode well for his rapport with Moore and Samuel.
The addition of Robby Anderson has a boom-bust element because Bridgewater's vertical accuracy has always been a weakness to his game—an area where Burrow has an edge on the veteran. However, Will Grier is an excellent vertical thrower and Anderson is his kind of receiver.
Carolina cut Newton and Kyle Allen loose, which gives Grier a shot to earn the No.2 role if he can beat out the underrated P.J. Walker—a mobile signal-caller who has bounced from Seattle to Indianapolis to the XFL and Carolina during his two years in the NFL. Walker played under Rhule at Temple, so there's a real shot for Walker to have an open competition with Grier for the backup role.
Grier performed better last year in relief of Allen than his stats appeared. He's an accurate passer who also fits Brady's LSU offense. Drafted in the third round last year, the Panthers' front office will likely remain invested in giving Grier a true shot at development within the organization.
Add it all up, and Carolina's quarterback depth is one of the most underrated short-term and long-term stories in the NFL.
With Bridgewater: Fantasy players should have confidence in Moore, who, despite the analyst community's love for Samuel, is the better inside route runner and playmaker with the ball in his hands. Samuel appeared on the brink of emerging last summer, but it never translated to the field. Bridgewater has the skills to make it happen in 2020.
Anderson is an excellent vertical receiver but if he's pigeon-holed into this simplistic of a role, he won't be a good fit with Bridgewater. Expect boom-bust production from Anderson in Carolina if Bridgewater starts the entire year and hasn't improved his deep accuracy. Ian Thomas will get his shot to emerge and based on Bridgewater's work in Minnesota, I'll bet any issues with tight end production in Carolina will be on Thomas more than Bridgewater.
Christian McCaffrey will remain a total-yards beast.
With Grier or Walker: Both Grier and Walker have promising vertical accuracy that would help Anderson play to his potential. Walker is better at buying time outside the pocket than Grier, which could also help generate big plays off-script with all three starting wide receivers. The greatest question mark will be their rapport with Thomas and their ability to read defenses well enough to play aggressive football before pressure arrives—and expect pressure to remain an issue in Carolina despite the addition of Russell Okung.
Fantasy Strategy: Moore and McCaffrey don't have hidden trap doors with their ADPs due to the potential for a change in quarterbacks, which makes them the safest options in the Panthers offense for fantasy players. Samuel's outcomes have greater variability but as long as the analyst-generated hype doesn't reach 2019's fever pitch, his ADP could be palatable enough to deal with the downside. Right now, he's considered a WR5 on fantasy depth charts, which makes him worth your consideration.
Anderson is the player I'd rather let someone take the risk. His ADP is low-end WR4 on fantasy depth charts and he has greater variability than Samuel, who is a known commodity for a wider array of targets than what we've seen with Anderson in New York. Thomas' variability also makes him a player I'd rather acquire during the season from waivers or not at all.
9. NOT THE PLAN, BUT A ROUGH START COULD TIP THE SCALES: DANIEL JONEs
I don't believe in Daniel Jones's long-term outlook, and I didn't see anything from his rookie performance that changed my perspective. Give him time and quick-hitting plays with one real option, and Jones looks like he belongs. Ask him to buy time and throw the ball, and his accuracy drops and his clock for pressure has a setting that's too long for the NFL.
That data last year supports the film: Jones led the league in efficiency with run-pass option plays (RPOs) and completed 64.6 percent of his play-action throws. Both throw types are essentially one-read plays without the need to buy time.
When forced to hold onto the ball, Jones only completed 48.8 percent of his passes that traveled at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage—the second-worst mark in the NFL last year. His completion rate on dropbacks without play-action passing was not much better at 51.3 percent.
Jones also fumbled the ball 18 times in 13 games, which was worst in the league. Although some of these fumbles could have been avoided with better ball security, this issue is also indicative of a player who doesn't have a feel for when to leave the pocket or get rid of the ball.
Now, the Giants are asking Jones to learn his second offense in as many years in the NFL—ask Baker Mayfield how much he would have preferred scheme continuity in hindsight—and Jones faces a league that has seen his flaws and test him while he's still learning a scheme with what will likely be an abbreviated period of meaningful preparation. Are you feeling me here?
Jones was the No.11 fantasy quarterback on a per-game basis last year, and there's a compelling argument that Jones' struggles are due to an underperforming offensive line. Facts. Remember when Marcus Mariota was the No.11 quarterback on a per-game basis as a rookie for the Titans in 2015? Remember when Blake Bortles was the No.4 fantasy quarterback in 2015?
What about Mitchell Trubisky's 21.8 points per game in 2018 that placed him a spot behind Drew Brees as 9th in the league on a per-game basis ahead of Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, and Cam Newton? Yeah, I bet you didn't remember that, either.
Stats can be such shiny little baubles of Play-Doh.
Are you feeling me now?
Jones may develop into a viable franchise starter, but history indicates that we should evaluate quarterbacks for at least 18-24 games before we make that determination. Jones is halfway through that period and the results are mixed, at best, and don't provide definitive answers to the flaws seen on his tape at Duke.
Add Jason Garrett to the equation as the offensive coordinator, and we should continue to see a heavy dose of play-action and RPOs. The play-action benefits the vertical prowess of Darius Slayton and Evan Engram and the RPOs exploit the skills of Golden Tate—a YAC leader—Sterling Shepard, and Saquon Barkley. The bigger question is if Jones and the offensive line can execute the hard stuff.
With Jones: Expect another decent fantasy year that will generate another year of belief from Giants fans, fantasy players, and football analysts that Jones is developing on schedule. Of the receivers, Tate should be the steadiest fantasy option and Slayton will have the most variable outcomes among the viable fantasy starters.
Engram performs as a fantasy starter when he can stay healthy, so you're hoping for his first full season as a pro when drafting him. Think about that statement for a moment.
Shepard? I liked him as a prospect but I've soured on him. He's at his best in open zones where he can catch the ball in stride, but he's not a big-play threat after the catch unless the defense has massive holes with its talent. As Stringer Bell says in the Wire, "Nobody gets excited about a 40-degree day," and Shepard's 500-800 yards per year in 10-12 healthy games is a 40-degree day for fantasy players.
Saquon Barkley will continue to thrill with dazzling highs (seven games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage) and chill with trap-door outputs (four games with less than 70 yards and no scores, including 1-yard and 10-yard rushing performances in that mix) until there are consistent quarterback and offensive line play. He's worth the highs, but the lows mean you better have a deep roster and a good handle of the waiver wire, especially during bye weeks where you're missing starters who can compensate.
With Colt McCoy or Cooper Rush: Neither player has Jones' arm, but both have greater pocket savvy. They'll execute the same things that Jones does well but not with the same range in the vertical play-action game. Shepard, Tate, Engram, and Barkley could see more love with either of these two passers while we see a decline in production with Slayton.
Fantasy Strategy: Tate is the safest play on this roster among the receivers because of the offensive system and his YAC prowess. Slayton could take the next step but his volatility is high for his ADP because of the new system and Jones' pocket issues that could lead to game-ending punishment if uncorrected (and I doubt we'll see massive improvement). Barkley is worth the risk, but his volatility is higher than it should be for an elite back.
8. NOT THE PLAN, BUT A ROUGH START COULD TIP THE SCALES: PHILIP RIVERS
The Colts signed Rivers to a one-year deal but kept Jacoby Brissett, drafted Jacob Eason, and even Chad Kelly remains on the roster for now. There are a lot of ways to view these moves until we see how it plays out this year. The way I see it: Rivers is the immediate present, Brissett is the hedge if Rivers' game is stuck in the past, Eason is the future, and Kelly is the wildcard who has performed well enough during the preseason to challenge for the No.2 role but is likely the odd man out.
Presuming Rivers has enough left to perform for the next 1-2 years, he should mesh well with Frank Reich's staff. Reich coached with the Chargers prior to his hiring in Indianapolis and there are elements of this offense that share commonalities, especially the playing styles of the personnel.
Parris Campbell has a style similar to Keenan Allen as an athlete, and the Colts want to use him in the slot. T.Y. Hilton is a far more refined receiver in the mold of Travis Benjamin and Michael Pittman, Jr. brings that Michael Williams, Kassim Osgood, and Vincent Jackson vibe that allows Rivers to work the boundaries.
Even the Jack Doyle-Trey Burton duo at tight end bears similarities to an aging Antonio Gates-Hunter Henry combo. Rivers' veteran leadership should help these options mature into consistent and productive professionals.
With Rivers: Look for Hilton to remain the primary option with Rivers as Campbell experiences a massive amount of growth and a significant rise in production that makes Campbell no worse than a borderline fantasy starter. Pittman will fall right in line as the Williams-Jackson clone and provide borderline starter production.
The wildcards are the tight ends. Burton and/or Doyle could become red-zone and third-down favorites—especially with Rivers' skill to read defenses and find holes that Brissett's lack of starter experience relative to Rivers may not.
With Brissett: As is the case in Dallas, the Colts have enough proven talent at the top of the quarterback depth chart that if Brissett takes over, fantasy players should continue to rely on Hilton, Doyle, and to a lesser extent, Burton. They should also see growth from Campbell and Pittman, but less production upside.
With Kelly: I don't think Eason is starting this year unless disaster strikes the depth chart. Kelly will likely get cut if Brissett keeps his job and brought back as an emergency option during the season if necessary and unsigned. If Kelly is the quarterback, you'll see more aggressive throws to all the receivers and a willingness to spread the ball around like Rivers but with a higher rate of mistakes due to inexperience.
That said, I'll maintain that Kelly will outperform Brissett in a game situation if ever given a true shot. As odd as this may sound to many, I believe Chad Kelly got the Colts gig as a personal favor from Reich to Chad's uncle and Reich's former teammate Jim. I don't think most teams see Chad as a stable personality capable of handling the starting role off the field.
If this weren't an issue, Kelly would have earned a serious shot to compete with Brissett last year based on his preseason performance. This didn't happen and will unlikely be the case this year. It's likely the Colts cut ties with Kelly with the hope that two years with the team and no drama will give Kelly a shot to join a new squad.
Fantasy Strategy: This is a stable offense that reaches the zenith of its collective potential under Rivers. If Rivers disappoints, the talent and experience of Brissett, and even Kelly, decreases the volatility of the ADPs for the surrounding talent.
7. Confidence is lip service and someone's lurking in the front yard: Derek Carr
Jon Gruden is an inveterate tinkerer with personnel and often to the detriment of his teams. That said, even if Carr had a career season, you can probably hear Gruden obsessing about the fact that Carr is a fair-weather starter—good on-script, bad off-script.
Give Carr structure and he's capable of excelling. With a big offensive line, a stout and productive running back entering his prime, and a diverse receiving corps, Carr should help this team win ball games if the defense can take another step forward.
If not, perhaps Gruden and Mike Mayock acquired Marcus Mariota as a potential reclamation project. Gruden has a reputation as a coach who grinds down quarterbacks. And the Raiders staff may see Mariota's big-play potential with his legs and passing potential as a cheaper answer.
What they may refuse to see is that Mariota is also a lot like Carr in the sense that he's not a good quarterback under pressure and possesses below average feel for the pocket. Mariota is also a task-oriented thinker whose lack of improvisational smarts belies his athletic ability.
With Carr: What we know about these quarterbacks is that if Carr and company can build on last year's campaign, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, and Darren Waller each have production potential between 800-1,100 receiving yards. You can also add Henry Ruggs to that list with a similar range. Jason Witten is likely in the range of 400-600 yards and 4-6 scores if he takes over Foster Moreau's red-zone role.
The fantasy community's degradation of Darren Waller's projected 2020 followup to his 1,146-yard, 3-score season due to Witten looks questionable to me. Waller may not earn the red-zone targets that Witten does, but I'll take 80-90 receptions and nearly 1,200 yards from Waller again and as promising as Ruggs is, don't expect the rookie to hurt that total.
With Mariota: Waller will be Mariota's Delanie Walker, Renfrow will get a fair bit of attention but if pressure is a problem—and it likely will be if Carr gets benched or hurt for Mariota to be in the game—then don't expect enough quick-thinking solutions that involve Renfrow. Tyrell Williams and Henry Ruggs will also become inconsistent contributors.
Fantasy Strategy: Waller has the least volatile ADP of the receivers in Las Vegas. If fantasy analysts continue to display skepticism, it could drive down his cost 2-3 spots. Regardless, Waller is worth taking as one of the top-five TEs on the board whether Carr pays out the year or Mariota earns time. The rest fo the Raiders have a lot greater ADP volatility if Mariota enters the huddle.
6. CONFIDENCE IS LIP SERVICE AND SOMEONE'S LURKING IN THE FRONT YARD: BAKER MAYFIELD
Mayfield's pocket flaws and placement issues were more prevalent in 2019 after learning his second NFL offense in two years and playing with a banged-up line and injured Odell Beckham, Jr. Cleveland now turns to Kevin Stefanski, who will install the outside zone run game, multiple tight ends, and a heavy play-action and rollout passing game as the offense.
This offense should get the best from its great running backs while simultaneously protecting and boosting Mayfield's potential as a passer. The Browns made another smart move by bringing Case Keenum into the mix. Keenum didn't run this offense while delivering his career-year in Minnesota, but Stefanski was Keenum's quarterback coach during that Cinderella season.
Keenum will provide sound tutelage if Mayfield is receptive and quality competition if Mayfield doesn't take another step forward. Cleveland's personnel is too talented to underachieve yet again and the onus is on the offense to do its part. The Browns upgraded the line and if Mayfield makes timely and accurate throws in the pocket this year, this front office can move on with Keenum and compete for a postseason spot.
With Mayfield: If he improves, Mayfield should support a 1,000-yard season for Beckham and no worse than 700-900 yards for Jarvis Landry. Both receivers at 1,000 yards last year but the Vikings offense targeted its receivers much less in Stefanski's offense.
Expect an even split of production for Austin Hooper and either David Njoku or rookie Harrison Bryant where both tight ends earn between 350-450 yards. One of these tight ends could have a higher ceiling if neither Nick Chubb nor Kareem Hunt becomes as productive in the passing game as Dalvin Cook did in Minnesota with 519 receiving yards.
Considering that Chubb and Hunt had 73 receptions for 563 yards and a score nearly split evenly between them last year, don't count on the tight end production coming at the expense of the backs. If Mayfield takes a step forward, he'll be more efficient with his touchdown-to-interception ratio, but 4,000 yards passing will probably be his ceiling rather than his floor.
With Keenum: Cleveland's offense only becomes a pass-heavy unit if Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt get hurt and the Browns can't find a viable starter talent off waivers. It means Keenum's upside is about the same as Mayfield's and the workload will look similar. You may find that Keenum favors one receiver or tight end over another but the distribution shouldn't be dramatically skewed.
Fantasy Strategy: The receivers and tight ends will have low volatility with their ADPs, but this run-heavy offense will also have less production upside for its receivers and tight ends than many in the league. Beckham is a fantasy WR1 talent with a fantasy WR2 ceiling in this system, Landry is a fantasy WR2 with WR3 upside. The tight ends will be touchdown-dependent when it comes to weekly fantasy value, which makes them less consistent plays.
Other than Chubb and Hunt, Beckham and Landry are worth acquiring but likely overpriced by a tier at this point.
5. CONFIDENCE IS LIP SERVICE AND SOMEONE'S LURKING IN THE FRONT YARD: JARRETT STIDHAM
The New England Patriots are treating Stidham as its long-term answer at quarterback. Of course, they are! It's the first NFL season where Stidham will start at a game and actually have more than six snaps in a contest. He has only thrown four passes in his short career.
The Patriots are in rebuilding mode, and Stidham will get this year to prove that he's worth building around. If he doesn't show enough, New England should have a high enough draft pick to acquire a top quarterback prospect. If not, the following quarterbacks could become free agents in 2021:
Mahomes and Watson have club options, which means the organization has the first option to negotiate an extension with them. It's far more likely that Watson will be available than Mahomes or Prescott, and Watson's age and abilities could be appealing to New England.
With these options in mind, it's easy to go all-in with Stidham this year. It's harder to know what to expect from him and which targets he'll favor. Julian Edelman is the best receiver, but he turns 35 this week and it makes him a year-to-year value.
Mohamed Sanu can play multiple receiver positions, but he's at his best in the slot like Edelman. So are N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Marqise Lee, Damiere Byrd, and Jeff Thomas. There isn't an experienced NFL veteran receiver on this roster whose best fit is flanker or split end. None of these players are in their prime, either.
Matt LaCosse, currently the Patriots' starting tight end, might not even make the active roster by fall, and the most promising options are rookies. Experience and rapport are no longer the strengths of this offense. Even if Brian Hoyer takes over for Stidham at some point, the volatility of the surrounding talents' ADPs is high and their ceilings are at least a tier lower than what we would have projected with Tom Brady at the helm.
Fantasy Strategy with Stidham or Hoyer: Monitor the most productive options in camp and hope they have low ADPs. Otherwise, you should avoid Patriots receivers outside of Julian Edelman and he's likely overvalued.
4. Open season: Dwayne Haskins
New arrival Ron Rivera has no emotional or long-term career investment with Haskins, last year's first-round pick. Rivera brought 2019 Panthers starter, Kyle Allen, with him to Washington. There's also the remote possibility of Alex Smith, who is working out after a disastrous leg injury that has threatened his career.
Rivera has already declared an open competition between Haskins and Allen. Despite the loss of Trent Williams to the 49ers, the Washington offensive line is promising when healthy and Haskins already has experience working with Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, and Stephen Sims, Jr.
Allen outperformed Haskins statistically in 2019, but not by enough to declare him the favorite in the competition. If Alex Smith can perform as he did during his first 10 games in Washington, he would be the best option.
With Haskins: Haskins has the most growth potential. He and McLaurin could make additional strides with their development, and it might light to McLaurin becoming an elite producer. If he remains a No.3 fantasy WR with his ADP, he's worth the risk.
With Allen: McLaurin's route running translates well enough to work well with Haskins or Allen.
Fantasy Strategy: McLaurin is the only valued fantasy starter in the passing game at this point and the volatility of his ADP will remain low because of his route running. The rest of the receiver and tight end depth charts are a wait-and-see proposition for the end of the draft or free agency.
3. Open Season: Mitchell Trubisky
Trubisky has never overcome his flaws as a decision-maker. The Jaguars are fortunate that Chicago GM Ryan Pace is desperate to win this year in order to keep his job, and he was willing to take on Foles' overvalued contract. The Bears restructured the deal but it's still guaranteeing Nick Foles, a career backup with low-end starter skills, at best, $8 million per year.
Trubisky's flaws are difficult to mature past if he hasn't shown the ability to do so by now. If Foles can perform well in the Bears' system, it might afford Pace another year in 2021 to turn things around.
Look for Foles to win this job in camp or the first game of the season where Trubisky commits a red-zone interception or takes a bad play inside his own 20—likely sometime during the opening month. The greatest potential beneficiary is Allen Robinson. The rest of these supporting talents have much to prove, whether it's older players like Jimmy Graham and Ted Ginn Jr, Jr., or the unproven youth of Anthony Miller, Riley Ridley Cole Kmet, and Adam Shaheen.
Fantasy Strategy: Whether it's Trubisky or Foles, Robinson is the least volatile receiver or tight end on the team and deserves starter value. The rest are picks for the second-half of drafts, at best.
2. Just a matter of time: Ryan Fitzpatrick
It's just a matter of time before Ryan Fitzpatrick steps aside for Tua Tagovailoa to take over the starting job in Miami. We know Fitzpatrick developed a strong rapport with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. Before his injury, Preston Williams had three weeks with a total of 15 receptions, 196 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
Fitzpatrick's final 10 games of 2019 placed him No.3 among fantasy quarterbacks. As we've seen in the past, he's capable of hot streaks where he's delivering elite production, and all three receivers mentioned win above the rim and in the vertical game.
Fantasy Strategy: Parker, Williams, and Gesicki will be the primary trio of options with fantasy relevance for Fitzpatrick or Tagovailoa—and in that order regardless of the quarterback. Fitzpatrick and his receivers when playing with him will have more fantasy upside this year than they will with Tagovailoa in the lineup, but that's only for this year. All three receivers have low volatility with their ADPs as long as Tagovailoa is ready to back up Fitzpatrick.
Even Josh Rosen showed rapport with Parker and Williams. If any of these three options start, these options are worth having and using despite less upside for each receiver for each level down the quarterback depth chart.
1. Just a matter of time: Tyrod Taylor
Taylor and Anthony Lynn worked together in Buffalo in 2016, which was Taylor's best fantasy season as the No.15 quarterback. And from 2015-2017, Taylor only supported fantasy starter production for one receiver or tight end for one season—Sammy Watkins in 2015. It wasn't good.
The ground game was king and Taylor found his backs with check-downs. LeSean McCoy earned 110 receptions for 804 yards and 3 scores from Taylor between 2016-17.
Justin Herbert will challenge downfield more often and he has a track record of targeting tight ends in ways that Taylor was criticized in Buffalo for not doing. Unless the Chargers start hot during the opening 5-6 weeks fo the season, expect Herbert to take over midseason as the starter.
With Taylor: Austin Ekeler is the best bet. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry will suffer under Taylor and offer various degrees of buy-low opportunities if the Chargers are at or below the .500 mark to begin the first month of the season.
With Herbert: Expect Ekeler's production to remain stable. Allen and Henry should earn consistent production at a tier lower than their previous season's value under Rivers, making Allen a fantasy WR2 and Henry a bye-week option.
Fantasy Strategy: Ekeler is worth the investment. Allen is worth drafting if he remains a fantasy WR2 in value. I'd rather shop for the rest at a bargain 4-6 weeks into the season than draft them at their preseason values.
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