We’ve survived three weeks of football so far, and now is the first time we can assess the season-long trajectory without coming too close to being reactionary. Two teams are going on bye, Melvin Gordon is coming back and Saquon Barkley could be out for a long time. A lot is happening, but enough has already happened that we should critically assess the season and try to make sense of what is most likely going to happen versus our expectations. Although I can’t cover them all, my goal in this article is to review the most dominant narratives from the off-season and assess their progress.
So, here’s what we’ve learned so far in 2019:
Rookie Running Backs Aren’t Showing Up
Typical draft strategy for medium-sized leagues is to draft rookie running backs ahead of other positions. The occasional Kyler Murray or TJ Hockenson make it in there, but draft pedigree alone isn’t enough to draft Daniel Jones in redraft. As well, the fantasy community has a well-documented history of terrible rookie tight end performances, even in future hall-of-famers. Generally, we draft rookie RBs higher than other positions because running back opportunity is much easier to predict than other positions and their opportunity more closely correlates to fantasy success than other positions.
Here is a list of all rookies drafted within the first 192 picks (typical 12-team draft size), their ADPs, and their current place on fantasy leaderboards.
Of the fifteen rookies drafted within a typical 12-team draft, we see that ten were running backs, including the first five. We have one QB and TE apiece, and three WRs, one of which has been on injured reserve from the start of the season. Of the first five RBs drafted, only one has met his draft price. The two healthy WRs have significantly exceeded their draft capital, and both of the single-draft positions have slightly exceeded expectations, even though almost all of Hockenson’s points came within one game. Additionally, undrafted fantasy rookies Deebo Samuel, Marquise Brown, Daniel Jones, and Darrel Williams have all made a name for themselves.
Don’t despair with the RBs, however. Only Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery were drafted with the full expectation that they would receive the bulk of the work immediately, while Miles Sanders was expected to perform in a committee and Darrel Henderson was largely drafted over health concerns with Gurley. The other RBs were drafted purely as handcuffs, almost strictly as upside moves not expected to exceed draft capital.
I am, however, going to continue to play a bit of the bad news here. Josh Jacobs, our first RB drafted with the expectation of a full workload started strong but has seen reduced snap counts, carries, targets, and TDs in each successive game. He’s not in danger of losing the starting job, but the situation isn’t rosy.
David Montgomery’s usage has been sporadic. As we expected, teammate Tarik Cohen is drawing most of the targets while Montgomery is getting the bulk of the carries. What we didn’t see coming is the lack of Montgomery field time, as both Cohen and Mike Davis have seen more snaps per game. I fear that this trend will only continue. After trouncing Washington for one entire half of a football game, Chicago will now face what many expect to be the hardest schedule in the NFL. A continued negative game script means more Cohen on the field, and less Montgomery, who is already averaging less than half of team offensive snaps. I’d say sell high, but he’s garnered little trade capital.
Miles Sanders is indeed in a timeshare. Unlike Montgomery, however, he is actually leading his team’s RBs in snaps, carries, and targets. The opportunity is undoubtedly his. Although a little disappointing, Sanders is actually a buy-low candidate as he has no TDs. Yes, Jordan Howard is slightly more efficient and has all of the team’s RB TDs, but opportunity is more important than efficiency. Sanders is in the odd situation where if anything happens to the backup, his ceiling will skyrocket. He’s worth a roster spot in almost all leagues.
Finally, let’s skip to Alexander Mattison. Although his season total places him outside of Flex territory, he put up a good enough Week 3 performance for any team desperate enough to need his start. Given Mattison’s performance and Minnesota’s dedication to the ground game, the rookie could eventually provide standalone value, though I think it’s doubtful with his current usage. Instead, his performance coupled with Dalvin Cook’s injury history makes Mattison the league’s most valuable handcuff. He needs to be owned even in 8-team leagues.
Should You Have Waited on QB? Yes, You Should Have
A prevailing argument in fantasy football, especially more recently and by yours truly, has been to wait on QB. Do you think you waited long enough? Wait longer. Patrick Mahomes was the heavy-odds favorite to lead QBs and he currently has that position. However, he’s only 0.3 measly fantasy points per game ahead of the number two QB, Lamar Jackson, who was drafted in the tenth round as the 14th QB off the board. As the 14th QB, there were some medium-sized leagues where he wasn’t drafted at all.
Take a look at the ridiculous list of the top-performing QBs so far this year. It includes Dak and Russell Wilson ahead of Watson, who is tied with Tom Brady. Josh Allen cracked the top ten and Derek Carr was outplaying Rodgers before the Thursday game. Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Nick Foles, and Ben Roethlisberger are done. You could have thrown a dart at a board of QBs and fared better than August QB ADP.
Wait on QB.
Wait on QB.
Wait on QB.
The Rams Backfield
During the pre-season, I was one of the biggest supporters of a Todd Gurley draft pick. Apart from Kelce, there was no other player I wanted more in Round 2 than Gurley. I felt that people were overreacting to his injury progress over the season and felt that this former fantasy MVP was far too under-drafted.
As the 8th-overall drafted RB, Gurley is currently the 26th ranked in PPR and 25th in half. Gurley, an automatic start each week, is only barely worthy of a flex spot through the first three games. Should owners worry? Absolutely. Part of it is touchdown luck splitting off to Malcolm Brown, but it’s clear that Gurley is not the RB he used to be, and he’s not even the RB we drafted his as. With 68.6% of offensive snaps 60% of non-QB-carries, Gurley is still a workhorse. But his snap share is lower than it’s ever been and his goal-line work is almost entirely missing. His backup, Darrel Henderson isn’t taking the bulk of the relief work and doesn’t even appear to have handcuff value at this point. What we’re left with is a running back with little trade capital, who you will never bench, and will simply never be worth his draft price. I do, however, think a turnaround in TDs will at least bring up him to an RB2 later in the season.
Le’Veon Bell’s holdout devasted fantasy owners last year, and it caused a substantial drop in the ADP of 2019 holdouts Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott. With rosier news and a significantly higher likelihood that his holdout wouldn’t last long, Elliott dropped to the eighth overall pick, but rose to fourth overall, which is where I had him regardless of his holdout. Melvin Gordon was in a different situation, and so fantasy drafters were waiting until the late third to grab him, and many experts thought even that was too early.
The contrary turned out to be true… at least we think. So far, Zeke has been performing about as well as expected, which is top three in the league. His holdout resulted in zero games missed with one slow week to catch back up with the team followed by two hundred-yard games. He’s good to go.
Gordon has missed all of the action so far, but at the time of this writing, his holdout appears to be at an end, and he should be back in the mix in week five. Although many thought Justin Jackson was the two-down back to replace him, it instead allowed Austin Ekeler to beast his way to third overall. Gordon is returning and we have to deal with that situation. The first thing owners should realize is that this does not make Ekeler a ‘sell high’ player. Gordon’s coming back and everybody knows it. If anything, Ekeler is now a buy-low target because this is going to annihilate Ekeler’s trade value. Ekeler has and will continue to have standalone value, so he’s worth holding or buying. As well, if Gordon gets hurt, we know exactly where Ekeler’s ceiling is.
The most important thing fantasy drafters need to take away from the holdouts is not to avoid them. A lesson I learned long ago was to impute replacement player games for injured, suspended, or holdout players. When you add back in the production you get from replacement players, injured or suspended players frequently outplay their ADP. Yes, it’s a headache managing a team while a stud occupies a bench spot, but I promise it’s worth it. Drafters who targeted the 2019 holdouts will be winning plenty of championships.
Quick Notes from Around the League
Keenan Allen (ADP: WR11) is the current point leader and is on pace for an unattainable 224 targets.
Lamar Jackson (ADP: QB14) is just barely behind Mahomes and is on pace for 917 rushing yards.
Dante Pettis (ADP: WR43) is averaging two targets per game and is fourth in snap share among team WRs.
Kelce: 8 targets per game, Kittle: 7, Ertz: 9.5, Darren Waller: 9.7
Once-touchdown-starved Julio Jones (ADP: WR3) has four TDs in three games.
Cooper Kupp (ADP: WR21) has more targets, catches, TDs and a higher catch rate than Cooks and Woods drafted six and five spaces, respectively, ahead of him.
Davante Adams: 0 TDs on 36 targets; Total RB TDs: 5
Current Fantasy MVP: Dalvin Cook (ADP: RB10, 17 overall)
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