Welcome to Week 8 of the 2021 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid and oddball panel of fantasy pundits discuss and debate players who get too much love and too much hate, rookie running backs, quarterbacks you normally wouldn't start that have favorable Week 8 matchups, and candidates who could make a second-half surge.
- Rookie Running Backs
- Bottom of the Barrel QBs with Favorable Matchups
- Second-Half Surge Candidates
Matt Waldman: Name a player in the fantasy industry who gets too much hate and one that earns too much love.
Chad Parsons: Leonard Fournette is one who has received plenty of ire from the fantasy community over the years. Part of it is having the injury-prone label for a stretch. Side note: one of my favorite quotes (do not remember the source to credit) is, "A player is injury-prone until they are not,' which is exactly what happened with Fournette.
On a per-game basis, Fournette has always been productive with three straight top-12 aPPG seasons to open his NFL career, then a down 2020, and now he is the unquestioned lead back for one of the best offenses in the league. All this is in the package of a top-five-drafted running back at 26 years old. Yep, let us generally underrate that profile.
Dan Hindery: Marquise Brown gets too much hate in the industry. A few years ago, he was drafted seven spots ahead of N’Keal Harry as the first wide receiver off the board. Harry ended up being a consensus top-four pick in dynasty rookie drafts while Brown typically fell to the end of the first round and sometimes even dropped into the second round. Brown was a solid fantasy producer given just how low volume the Ravens offense was in 2019 and 2020 but suffered from an over-emphasis by many on his drops.
He was mostly an afterthought in drafts this offseason. However, now that the Ravens' passing offense has started to become more prolific, Brown has developed into a fantasy force, ranking as the WR6 through seven weeks. He has outproduced D.J. Moore, Terry McLaurin, DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and other higher profile wide receivers to date. However, he does not get anywhere near the same amount of love that any of those other wide receivers do.
DeAndre Hopkins is a great player but is getting too much love in the sense that he is going to be less productive than his rest of the season rankings indicate. Thus far, Hopkins has been propped up by a touchdown rate of 14.9% that is nearly three times his career average. If the touchdown rate drops back closer to his career averages, Hopkins has no shot at producing WR1 fantasy numbers given his current usage.
He is seeing just 6.7 targets per game and that does not feel like a fluke. The Cardinals have plenty of other weapons with the emergence of Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk along with the additions of veterans A.J. Green and Zach Ertz. In addition to increased target competition, the fact that the Cardinals defense is evolving into one of the NFL’s best means this offense might not be involved in many shootouts the rest of the way.
Dave Kluge: Dan did a great job covering Marquise Brown. I agree with everything he said but want to add a few other nuggets of info that I found interesting. Dating back to last year, Brown has 12 touchdowns in his last13 games. He also has the fourth-most plays of 20-plus yards, behind Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase, and Davante Adams. He burned a lot of fantasy football players as a rookie, and those scars are still fresh. But he’s playing at an elite level now and should be regarded as a WR1 going forward.
A guy that gets a bit too much love is Nick Chubb. From a pure talent aspect, he’s one of the best running backs in the league. Unfortunately, though, Kareem Hunt is in Cleveland and takes a lot of valuable passing down work. In PPR leagues, Hunt is outscoring Chubb due to an extra three targets per game. Chubb can still pop off for some big weeks, but his non-existence in the passing game and 44 percent share of red zone touches give him a limited ceiling. He’s a much more valuable asset to the Browns than he is to any fantasy football roster.
James Brimacombe: The Buffalo Bills running backs in Zack Moss and Devin Singletary. The Bills are known for a solid offense that can score points quickly and often but when you think of the Bills you think of Josh Allen putting up massive passing numbers and scooping up all the red zone rushing touchdowns. Through six games it has been Moss with three rushing touchdowns and Singletary with one and Josh Allen with two. I can see a scenario with the Bills looking to take more of a backseat on the Josh Allen rushing attempts to save him for a long playoff run and unleash him more near the end of the season and in the playoffs. If that is the case Moss and Singletary should continue to see upside with the potential rushing scores.
Antonio Brown would be my choice when it comes to a guy that I think gets too much love in the industry. Don't get me wrong Brown has had an amazing career and continues to put up stats when on the field with Tom Brady but I just like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin more and as good as Brown once was I think it is too hard to predict when Brown has his big game.
Drew Davenport: I think Mark Andrews gets too much hate. Fantasy managers get too wrapped up in the games when he disappoints without realizing that most tight ends not named Travis Kelce have the same issue. But when Andrews is on, he's ON. We saw that a few weeks ago when he posted 41.7 PPR points against Indianapolis and then followed it up with 17.8 points the next week.
The tendency is to focus on the weeks he slumps a bit, but in reality, his usage metrics are all up this year. He's on the field with more snaps than he was last year, as he's dipped below 63% snap rate just once this year compared to regularly being in the low 60s to upper 50s in his snap percentages in 2020. He's also the only tight end logging any meaningful amounts of routes run with Josh Oliver barely cracking 20% of the Baltimore dropbacks in a route before hitting 32% this past week. Andrews is an elite fantasy tight end who garners far too much criticism for perceived inconsistency.
A guy who gets too much love has to be Antonio Gibson for me. It isn't that I don't believe in the talent, but the runaway optimism for his potential seemed to be over the top last season and this summer. He had never been asked to carry the load in college, and once he did he's had a series of nagging injuries that have dogged him. On top of that, J.D. McKissic isn't going anywhere as the receiving back in Washington and Gibson's role even when healthy at the beginning of 2021 was clearly limited by McKissic's presence.
Waldman: Justin Herbert gets too much love. This is an easy one even if it ultimately proves correct because fantasy people may hear the words coming out of the mouth of scouts who will explain that quarterbacks typically need 2-3 years of starts for us to truly see the long-term value of a passer but like team executives and media, they don't listen.
What we don't take into account is how opposing defenses scout and prepare for young quarterbacks. For the first 4-6 games, young quarterbacks typically earn the benefit of an opponent focusing their game plan on the offense they saw before the quarterback became the starter. If this isn't the strategy, then it's usually tried-and-true methods that coaches believe will test young passers — heavy blitz packages, zone blitz looks, and specific hybrid coverages where the team employs zone on one side of the field and man-to-man on the other in an attempt to get the quarterback to think he's seeing zone or man across the entire secondary.
After the first 4-6 games, teams get enough tape to begin formulating game plans to test the quarterback based on their past performances. However, they rarely throw everything into the game plan, and for logical reasons: A) they often lack the personnel to execute every idea at a high level. B) What the coaches have seen on tape may not be enough to devote an entire game plan against the quarterback because they only saw a small sample of plays and going all-in on something to stop a quarterback and then discovering the quarterback can handle the strategy will kill the entire game plan. C) There may be 2-3 things that opponents suspect can work against a passer so they try those things on a limited level.
This thinking occurs weekly for the next 6-8 weeks and teams learn from observing the quarterback's performance against opponents who tried new things. It often takes a full season, if not a longer, for opponents to develop an understanding of what a quarterback does and doesn't do well. Scouting a quarterback's college tape doesn't help a lot because there's a significant and immediate acclimation process for young quarterbacks when it comes to targeting "what is open" between the two levels of football and the defenses they face are often far more complex in the NFL.
As a result, a young quarterback can look promising for a year or two, and then his production stagnates. Fantasy and media will often label this a regression in play and base it purely on the statistical output, but the truth is that defenses have incrementally figured out what these quarterbacks can't do and if they have the personnel and scheme to execute, these quarterbacks struggle. They would have struggled if these game plans were thrown at them two years prior, but it was a process for the opponents to arrive at these strategies.
So, as much as I like what I've seen from Herbert and I'm confident he can remain a good starting quarterback with fantasy QB1 value during his career, I'm not all-in that he's an elite option long-term because I believe as much in the NFL's process that gradually exposes the flaws of young passers as much as I believe in Herbert's talent.
Ezekiel Elliott, in a way, had been earning too much hate. This has to do with the Running Backs Don't Matter analysts who, with their limited form of analysis of the position, don't account well for the relationship between a top runner and his offensive line. Yards before contact and yards after contact and EPA give you a slight approximation of the skill of a running back and because it looks as true from an angle or two but remains flawed. It's like a magic trick where a kid lets go of a whole zucchini in front of his face and it appears suspended in mid-air until you turn the angle of the camera to reveal that the kid has a fork in his mouth that is attached to the vegetable.
Elliott still made elite-level decisions during the years where his production wasn't meeting expectations due to offensive line play and injuries to key skill talent at quarterback, tight end, and receiver. The problem is that there aren't analysts who recognize that Loss Mitigation, in specific game situations, is as valuable as yardage gained.
A skill of underrated importance for RBs is Loss Mitigation.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 27, 2021
This is the ability to identify stunts, penetration, unblocked defenders, and other things that go wrong for the OL and create ways to limit what should be a loss, on paper.
This keeps the playbook from contracting.
In addition to Loss Mitigation, few analysis firms have differentiated the weight and value of tackle attempts. At the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, I track tackle attempt types and the position type attempting the tackle for my running back metrics.
This helps readers understand that Saquon Barkley getting slapped in the thigh pad on the way a 78-yard touchdown run is not a valuable demonstration of yards after contact whereas Nick Chubb bouncing off a direct hit from a defensive tackle in the backfield and gaining 7 yards with a defensive end wrapped at his waist and getting dragged while pushing a weakside linebacker for 5 of those yards is a far better indicator of power and balance.
Until firms and individual analysts appropriately track and value tackle types, the positions of tacklers, run scheme design of the play, missed blocks, and how down-and-distance and field position impact the decision-making of the runner, this limited data leads people to believe that 40-50 running backs can deliver elite fantasy production if the scheme is good enough. It also encourages editorializing that players like Elliott have "slowed down" and lost something physically when what's often the case is that better line play allows them to be more decisive and worse line play forces them to do more or hesitate before they reach the line of scrimmage.
Elliott was a top back when he arrived in the league and he hasn't lost his talent or seen a significant decline in skills despite the production dip due to circumstances beyond his control.
Rookie Running Backs
Waldman: Consider these four running backs for the two questions below.
Which player do you want for the rest of the year? Which player do you want most for dynasty/keeper formats?
Schofield: The player I want for the rest of the season is Herbert. As Justin Fields continues to struggle, and the offensive line continues to struggle to protect him, and the coaching staff continues to struggle to put Fields in the best position to succeed (you can probably glean my thoughts on that situation...) Herbert remains a bright spot. Particularly due to his vision and one-cut ability on zone designs, which have been successful for the Bears offense.
Long-term, the player I'm eying is Carter. I think the Jets put a solid plan in place for an offense rooted in outside zone/wide zone concepts, that blew up due to injuries along the offensive line, failures of roster construction upfront, and ineffectiveness on defense that has often turned them into a one-dimensional offense due to negative game scripts. Long-term, however, I think he is perfect for what they want to be as an offense.
Kluge: Carter has the most stand-alone value this season, but Hubbard’s upside is the highest. In the four games, he’s started in place of Christian McCaffrey, he’s seen 20.3 touches per game. There are only five running backs averaging more touches per game than Hubbard: Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, and Najee Harris. Hubbard has struggled to find the end zone so far, but a regression to an average touchdown rate would put him in the RB1 conversation, similar to what we saw from Mike Davis last year.
For dynasty though, I’m most interested in Gainwell. He comes out of the running back factory that is Memphis and is a very skilled pass-catcher. The Eagles have yet to show any long-term commitment to Miles Sanders, and next season could be his last year in Philadelphia. That would open the door for Gainwell to take on a significant role, and he has all of the talent to make the most of it.
Brimacombe: Rest of the season, I want as much Carter as possible as I think the Jets are not a great team but Carter might be the only bright spot and one that they will look to get more involved and see what they have with him going into next season. It is never a great thing to have a running back that will have a negative game script in every single game but if the opportunity is there for Carter I think he pushes through and gives us some production much like James Robinson in a similar situation.
For Dynasty I like what I have seen in Gainwell as he has been a trusted asset from day one for the coaches and has been on the field in a lot of key situations and has also seen goalline work. The Eagles are a young team with lots of young assets so taking a stand on Gainwell right now should pay off in the next couple of years. Miles Sanders also continues to battle injuries and workload questions so buying low on Gainwell right now makes a lot of sense.
Hindery: I will take Carter both for the rest of the season and for dynasty purposes. The rest of the season question is difficult because it is so dependent upon the injury return timelines of injured starters Christian McCaffrey, David Montgomery, and Miles Sanders. As long as McCaffrey is sidelined, Hubbard is the top weekly option from this group. However, Hubbard will likely be useless in the fantasy playoffs while backing up McCaffrey. Carter has none of those concerns because he is the clear top option in the Jets backfield. Longer-term, Carter is likely to be joined by a bigger back next offseason. He does not profile as an every-down back. However, given his usage as a pass-catcher, he could have PPR value even in a part-time role.
Parsons: While Carter is already the lead back without an injury, I will take Herbert in redraft. The Jets are a struggling offense and Carter is closer to just a guy in my evaluation. Herbert zoomed past Damien Williams in Week 7 with both healthy and looks the part of a quality injury-away option. David Montgomery will be out longer than Christian McCaffrey as a tiebreaker. Plus Sam Darnold devolving into a concerning offensive centerpiece erodes Carolina's offensive advantage they may have had over Chicago in a meaningful way earlier in the season.
In dynasty, give me Hubbard. I trust his prospect profile and two-way production more than Herbert. Also, I view both as injury-away running backs and not overtaking the current team starter when both are healthy.
Davenport: In dynasty/keeper formats the player I want is Carter. His role has grown recently and he has the clearest path to becoming a long-term alpha with his usage. Tevin Coleman isn't someone to be worried about, and while Ty Johnson is young he hasn't played more than 40% of the snaps since Week 3. The opportunity to take the reigns as the Jets back of the next 3-4 years is opening up for Carter right now.
For the rest of this season, I prefer to hold on to Hubbard. Christian McCaffrey is obviously going to make Hubbard an expensive handcuff the minute he comes back healthy, but therein lies the whole issue. Mike Davis managers remember last year that McCaffrey's return was foretold multiple times before he was re-injured, that he sat longer than anticipated, and then eventually was shut down. Yes, that was last year. But Hubbard has solid RB2 value if McCaffrey continues to have these nagging injuries. Finding an RB2 at this point in the year is hard to do so Hubbard should be hoarded the rest of the season.
Waldman: In re-draft, I'll take Herbert for two reasons: 1) I don't think any of the backs beyond him have strong offensive line play or will earn a stranglehold on the starting job down the stretch. And 2) He's the second-most talented back on the list behind Carter, who is currently tasked to run the ball in an environment not far off from being dropped by helicopter into a stampede of buffalo.
In dynasty leagues, I'm rolling with Carter and Herbert in this order. If you just go by metrics profiles and overvalue speed, you'll likely find Hubbard at the top of your list. He's not far behind Herbert, so I can appreciate his potential to become a better decision-maker over the next 2-3 years and if the team is willing to put up with his inability to mitigate losses as well as Carter and Herbert and other backs with this skill, they'll be rewarded with big plays.
That said, Carter and Herbert understand how to mitigate loss, they are more versatile and productive with a variety of run schemes, both are superior receivers when measuring the techniques and craft of running routes and catching the ball, and things change fast in the NFL: injuries, coaching regimes, and front office personnel. The one constant is talent and while it doesn't always work out, I'd rather lean on that in a situation where none of these backs in the comparison are true starters or promised as such. The closest is Carter and Herbert's talent isn't that far away.
Bottom of the Barrel QBs with Favorable Matchups
Waldman: Consider these four matchups with quarterbacks who have performed poorly this year.
- Daniel Jones vs Kansas City
- Sam Darnold vs Atlanta
- Teddy Bridgewater vs Washington
- Ben Roethlisberger vs Cleveland
second-Half Surge Candidates
Waldman: Name two players you believe are about to go nuclear in the second half of the fantasy season. Or to tone down the clickbait, at least have a notable surge in production.
Davenport: Brandin Cooks is a candidate for a second-half surge. When Tyrod Taylor got hurt Cooks was off to a huge start. When Cooks promptly posted 20.7 PPR points against Carolina in Week 3 with Davis Mills at quarterback people started to believe that maybe the backup wouldn't tank Cooks' fantasy value. Unfortunately, that fear was realized. He's failed to top 10 PPR points in 3 of his last 4 and is averaging only 10 points per game over the last month. But Taylor is about to be back from his injury and this is a good sign for Cooks to return to the production he started off the year with. In addition, he faces some truly poor pass defenses over the next two months including contests against Miami, Indianapolis, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. Cooks is ready to take off.
The other guy I'm looking at is perhaps low-hanging fruit, but Dalvin Cook's prospects the second half of the season are particularly bright. He was battling a high-ankle sprain recently, but he played 74% of the snaps in Week 6, emerged unscathed, and then had a bye week. It couldn't have come at a better time because he should be the healthiest he's been since Week 2. Now here's the fun part. He has two somewhat difficult matchups with Dallas and Baltimore (off a bye) in Weeks 8 and 9. Monitor the frustration of Cook's managers and see what the price is if he struggles because he'll then face only ONE reasonably good run defense (Pittsburgh) from Week 10 until the end of the season. He's set up to smash the final two months of the year.
Parsons: He is already two games into the said surge, but Kyle Pitts is a low-hanging fruit answer among tight ends. Pitts has gone 16-282-1 over his last two games and is a game-changing mismatch player. Also, Calvin Ridley has been on the middling-to-invisible scale for the Atlanta passing game as a corresponding element. Pitts could finish as the TE1 overall over the second half of the season with questions in San Francisco (plus George Kittle injured), Stronger competition for targets for Mark Andrews, upside questions for Detroit's offense (T.J. Hockenson), and Darren Waller has simmered from recent years with stronger wide receiver play for the Raiders. Other than Travis Kelce, the competition for Pitts is not as big of an obstacle as it appeared in August.
Saquon Barkley is currently outside the top-24 in PPG among running backs thanks to a sluggish season start and partial games on his ledger. In Weeks 3-4, a closer-to-full-health Barkley emerged. The result? 50 PPR points in two games. The Giants offense is (no pun intended) a sleeping giant down the fantasy stretch run with all of their injured players, including Barkley.
Schofield: As Chad pointed out, Kyle Pitts is one easy answer. Matt and I talked about this on the RSP Quick Game podcast Tuesday, but a shift occurred this weekend in Atlanta's win over Miami. Early in the game, Miami felt comfortable putting strong safety Eric Rowe in single coverage over Pitts when Atlanta isolated the rookie to one side of the field in a wide alignment. But after Pitts burned Rowe for a big gain, when the Falcons turned to that same formation late in a one-score game, you saw Miami put Xavien Howard in single coverage over Pitts and Pitts still got open and made a huge play on a vertical route.
The Pitts leap is upon us, so it is a good time to get on board if you can. Earlier this season Matt Ryan saw down with Doug Farrar of USA Today and talked about Pitts, saying that he wasn't quite there yet, but when it clicks for him, watch out. It's clicked.
Another player to watch is Nelson Agholor. We are seeing Mac Jones start to push the ball downfield more, and Agholor is suited for that kind of role, given what we saw from him a season ago in Las Vegas. While Jones might be someone to think about long-term, Agholor is a player to watch right now. Because in typical Patriots fashion, that team seems to be putting things together as the calendar pushes into November.
Hindery: It typically takes a young tight end a few seasons to emerge. For Pitts, it just took a few games. I don’t think this genie gets put back in the bottle. Pitts is one of the more physically dominant pass-catchers in the NFL regardless of position and has now established himself as a true focal point of the Falcons offense.
Ja’Marr Chase has been incredible to begin his rookie season. He has already gone nuclear and already has a case as the NFL’s best wide receiver at age 21. However, in recent weeks, Chase has noted he has been seeing “cloud” coverage as opposing defenses devote more and more attention to stopping him. This is going to lead to many favorable one-on-one matchups on the other side of the field for Tee Higgins. We saw Higgins get 15 targets in the shocking Week 7 blowout of the Ravens. For this Bengals offense to truly emerge as elite, Higgins is going to have to be able to exploit single coverage. I think he does so and the Bengals end up with one of the most potent 1-2 combinations in the NFL.
Kluge: I mentioned Kadarius Toney in my blurb about Jones, but he has many strong indicators for a potential breakout. His 46.4 percent target share in Week 5 was the highest of any player this season. Prior to leaving Week 6’s game with an injury, he was looking to be the engine of the Giants’ offense. He saw three targets despite leaving the game early in the first quarter. It’s time to set aside preconceived notions from the offseason and recognize that Toney is having no issues adapting to the NFL.
Despite seeing the 11th-most targets per game of any wide receiver in the league, Keenan Allen is the current WR30 in PPR scoring. Mike Williams has looked fantastic in his fifth year, but Allen is a savvy veteran who will demand an elite target share. Historically, Allen is no stranger to starting the season slow and finishing strong. There shouldn’t be any expected dropoff in age, seeing as how he’s just 29 years old. Allen can easily outproduce his current numbers and finish the season strong once again.
Brimacombe: We are already seeing the breakout of Michael Pittman Jr happening as he is slotted in as the WR20 so far. I can see a scenario where he builds on his momentum and continues to work his way up the ranks as the Colts look for his big-play ability each and every game. Pittman doesn't have the high profile just yet but will by the end of the year. I think we will be looking back on him as one of the top 15 players at the position and in an offense that will need him to produce on a weekly basis.
Moss is another name that I like to keep tabs on. He plays in one of the most elite offenses in the league, has a star quarterback running the show, and is usually an afterthought when we want to plug in a running back into our lineups. We are seeing the Bills try to limit Josh Allen's running and with that, I can see a scenario where Moss sees more red zone opportunities and he can add to his four touchdowns in five games productions.