This week, our panel discusses the what we can learn from Phillip Lindsay's surprising 2018 season, if the Bears defense can expose the Rams offense, profiling the best and worst matchups of Week 14, and underrated NFL players.
Matt Waldman: No one expected much from Phillip Lindsay. The only person I know who found him notably intriguing this time last year and leading to the NFL Draft was NFL.com's Lance Zierlein.
I didn't have a strong grade for him in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, citing concerns about him playing to his speed and working between the tackles. Although Denver did a great job creating perimeter runs that allowed him to function like a punt returner from the line of scrimmage, Lindsay deserves credit for running well between the tackles when called upon.
Much of the industry collectively missed on Lindsay as a fantasy option. What is there to learn?
Will Grant: The 'Miss' on Lindsay reminds me of the 2003 draft where the Cardinals took Bryant Johnson at 17th overall and Anquan Boldin at No.54 overall. Johnson was a high draft pick in most dynasty leagues and Boldin was undrafted in most of them. Yet after the first, Boldin had 10 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson barely made the box score with one catch for seven yards. Boldin went on to have a pretty solid career and Johnson had some very average stats.
The reality is that NFL players sometimes exceed expectations when the games count. Players sometimes come out of nowhere and the snaps count and turn into fantasy studs overnight. They also flame out when expectations are high. There are a lot of factors that go into a solid fantasy player.
What fantasy football players should take away from this is that the season doesn't end when the draft does. You need to read the stats and watch the waiver wire. Constantly. Each week players succeed and fail, and you can often find big value in players that everyone overlooks. Winning your fantasy league is about supplementing a good draft with constant vigilance of players you should drop or players you can add to make your team stronger.
Waldman: What I"m about to share is all in hindsight, but I communicate with Russ Lande pretty often, the current director of scouting for the Montreal Alouettes. Lande worked in the NFL as a scout for the Rams and the Browns. He was part of the Browns' staff the year that the NFL was evaluating Boldin,
Before Boldin's NFL Combine performance, the Browns had the receiver graded as a top-five overall pick. After Boldin ran a 4.71-second 40, his ranking on Cleveland's board plummeted. Cleveland had the 21st and 52nd picks in the first two rounds and when they passed on him with those picks, the Cardinals took Boldin two picks later at No.54.
It goes to show you how much weight certain metrics hold for teams. Further, there are times where knowledgeable scouts understand the application of speed, acceleration, and stop-start quickness but cannot convince management to separate them.
Maurile Tremblay: I did not have Lindsay ranked as a likely fantasy contributor heading into this season. That's a clear miss for me, and it's important to learn from one's misses. But it's important not to learn the wrong lessons.
When evaluating an unproven player's fantasy prospects, two of the rules I live by are: (1) the player's draft position trumps his college production, and (2) the player's depth-chart position trumps his preseason performance.
Both rules amount to giving deference to NFL personnel departments and coaching staffs who have better information than I do about how a player will fit into their team's plans.
Lindsay was very productive in college (he was Colorado's all-time leader in yards from scrimmage), but went undrafted nonetheless. He had an impressive preseason, but as preseason came to a close, Lindsay was still listed fourth on the Broncos' depth chart at running back behind Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, and De'Angelo Henderson.
Lindsay hugely outperformed my expectations. Is that a reason to revise the two rules I mentioned above? It's certainly a reason to reexamine them. But upon reexamination, they seem to hold up fairly well. In general, unproven running backs without a good draft pedigree who are third or fourth on their team's depth chart are pretty unlikely to make a fantasy impact.
Other running backs who fit that description this preseason, in addition to Lindsay, were: Mark Walton (Bengals), De'Lance Turner (Ravens), Matt Dayes (Browns), Devante Mays (Packers), Tyler Ervin (Texans), Damien Williams (Chiefs), Senorise Perry (Dolphins), Roc Thomas (Vikings), Jalen Simmons (Giants), Chris Warren III III (Raiders), Josh Adams (Eagles), Jeremy McNichols (49ers), Shaun Wilson (Buccaneers), David Fluellen (Titans). (I'm ignoring players on teams with a true Stud RB because they are even less likely to make an impact.)
Phillip Lindsay and (to a lesser extent) Josh Adams both became relevant in fantasy circles this season, but on the whole, it's not a group that was worth investing in before the season started. In terms of doing preseason projections, I don't think there's all that much to learn from Lindsay's success other than "anything can happen," which isn't very actionable advice.
Danny Tuccitto: In scouring the web for potential statistical canaries in the coal mine, I couldn't find anything in his college stats or workout profile that stood out in terms of telling analytics folks like me something we didn't already know about projecting running backs into the NFL.
What did stand out, however, was his preseason performance. So perhaps preseason does matter? These two articles are biased sources, to be sure, but the writing was on the wall about Lindsay by virtue of him
- Outclassing the backups he was playing against,
- Wowing both coaches and veterans, and
- Quickly working his way from undrafted free agent to guaranteed roster spot. (He got the fourth preseason game off.)
There's obvious hindsight bias here, as it's much easier to look back and notice these things than successfully wade through the ubiquitous muck of preseason puff pieces. That said, my point is that, if Lindsay isn't just a case of one-in-a-million variance, and therefore gives us a genuine learning opportunity, then the only lesson that can possibly be learned is to give more consideration to preseason wonders that fit the criteria I listed above.
Wood: At the risk of sounding trite, Phillip Lindsay reminds us that there are no absolutes and that systematic analysis still leaves us prone to errors. As Danny noted, nothing in Lindsay’s profile hinted at this. He went undrafted. He’s smaller than just about any successful rusher in the modern era. He was playing on a team with another rookie, Royce Freeman, who has a pedigree, and a high draft status. And beyond all that, I wasn’t high in the Broncos offense thanks to Case Keenum.
In algorithmic trading systems, one of the main risks is overfitting the models. Meaning quants try to account for so many variables that they end up breaking their system or at the very least creating suboptimal risk-adjusted returns. Spending too much time on figuring out how to account for Phillip Lindsay is tantamount to overfitting our projections process.
Waldman: I think the jury is still out on Lindsay as an NFL starter. This will sound crazy given that the Broncos lost two left guards and its starting center during the course of the year and Lindsay is earning a league-leading 6.1 yards per carry.
As impressive as it seems for Lindsay to do this well with losses along the Broncos offensive line, let's keep in mind that entering Week 13 contest against the Bengals' 31st ranked rushing defense, Lindsay still led the NFL with 3.18 yards before contact per rush. Lindsay is earning half of his yards before he's touched on every carry.
It doesn't take a football genius to understand that the Broncos are blocking well despite the injuries along the offensive line. The room he's earning on perimeter runs and cutbacks to the middle of the line has been impressive.
Where Lindsay deserves credit is his ability to stop and re-accelerate through a backside crease when the designed crease to the edge is occupied. This also requires good vision and strong footwork. A quick and fast player — two different physical qualities that are often conflated and then leads to an inaccurate analysis of the running back position — Lindsay is also earning huge plays in space on well-blocked plays that look more like punt returns than runs.
The @Broncos may have a legit RB in undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay. For a smaller back, he has all the tools. As you can see, he's also extremely fast. #DenverBroncos #philliplindsay pic.twitter.com/pyE6osqLeo— Steven Spaccarotelli (@sspac21) December 6, 2018
Even this cutback up the middle looks like a punt return. Lindsay's patience is an asset that contributes to this play but it's indicative of the space he's earning for a ground game that's thriving.
Not only can he get outside, he can also run inside. His patience setting up the blocks & explodes through the hole to take 40+ yards to the house. Love me some Phillip Lindsay. #DenverBroncos #PhillipLindsay @Broncos pic.twitter.com/VKm4h75jql— Steven Spaccarotelli (@sspac21) December 6, 2018
It's important to note that the loss of offensive linemen is not as impactful for the ground game as it is the passing game. I'm not saying that losing an All-Pro guard or center doesn't hurt an offensive line but most replacement-quality linemen are much better run blockers than pass protectors.
Look at Matt Bitonti's weekly offensive line grades from last week. He gave the league 22 As and Bs to teams in the run game and no team earned less than a C. In the passing game? 19 As and Bs but 5 teams earned Ds. The Broncos earned a B- as a run-blocking unit.
The league gave Denver eight games with teams ranked 22nd or worse in rushing defense in terms of yards allowed: Oakland (twice), Kansas City (twice), Cleveland, Arizona, New York Jets, and Cincinnati. The Broncos have or will face three more teams with defenses in the bottom half of the league this ranking: the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks.
Baltimore, Houston, and the Chargers are the No.3, No.5, and No.11 defenses in rushing yards allowed. Here are Lindsay's outcomes from those games:
- Baltimore: 4 rushes, 20 yards, 2 targets, and no catches — he was ejected near the two-minute warning of the first half.
- Houston: 17 rushes, 60 yards, 2 catches for 24 yards — 22 rushing yards came one play on a pitch to left end.
- Chargers: 11 rushes, 79 yards and 4 catches for 27 yards — 41 of his rushing yards came on a fake punt.
I recognize that it is far from conclusive that Lindsay only thrives against softer NFL defenses but 13 games of data suggest that Lindsay has benefitted from a soft schedule. We all understand that you don't discount big plays from a runner's totals — I'm highlighting them to share the context in which they came in the tougher games above.
There's no doubt that Lindsay is quick, fast, willing to hit a crease and get under defenders for whatever he can get up the middle, and he can catch. These all made him a possible satellite back of worth when I studied him in the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. He's played well, Denver's line has played well against most of its opponents (as soft as it has been), and Lindsay's big-play capabilities can't be discounted.
However, many of us are not too old to remember Steve Slaton, who, a decade ago in 2008, was the No.6 fantasy running back during his rookie year with the Houston Texans. A 5-10, 195-pound runner, Slaton earned 268 carries for 1282 yards, 9 touchdowns, 50 receptions, 425 receiving yards, and a receiving score.
The next year, Slaton started 10 games and neared 131 carries for 437 yards, 3 touchdowns, 44 receptions, 417 receiving yards, and 4 receiving scores. The following year he started 1 of 12 games, earned 19 carries for 93 yards and 3 receptions for 11 yards. Slaton finished his career in 2011 with 17 carries, 64 yards, and a touchdown for the Texans and Dolphins.
Slaton and Lindsay are similar runners, although Slaton often leaned hard on his spin move and I haven't seen Linsday use one nearly as often. A closer work as Lindsay's workload, tape (I watched a number of his games this evening on NFL Game Pass), and strength of opposition indicate that we need to see more before we make a conclusion about him as a long-term prospect.
The same was true of Slaton, Dak Prescott, Nick Foles, and many other players who earned statistically strong seasons as first-year options. Many analysts also bagged on the likes of Le'Veon Bell, and Jared Goff after their rookie years and questioned the legitimacy of Todd Gurley as a top talent when the Rams offensive line struggled during his second year.
As someone who studies rookies for a living, the greatest insight I can give from the recent lessons of players mentioned above is that one year is not enough to evaluate any player. You will hear people huff and puff about how they knew after one game, one half, or even a single play that a player would be a study.
Listen, I thought Patrick Mahomes II had the potential to be awesome and I believe he will remain awesome. Even so, I still understand that he's only started 14 games in two years and if I'm going to be exacting with my analysis, I have to make room for the idea that we haven't seen enough to deliver a definitive conclusion.
This weekend, I mentioned on Twitter that I missed on Lindsay but that I'm still guarded about his long-term outlook. Both things can be true. Here's an excerpt of my scouting report on Lindsay:
Lindsay has good long speed and runs with intensity for his size. He’ll alter his stride to patiently set up gap plays like counter as well as inside and outside zone. With his speed, he’s well-suited for the counters and wind-back plays Colorado used.
He’ll hit the hole with a decisive burst or set it up and jump cut to the open crease. He understands angles and is able to spot when the defensive leverage is ripe for him to bounce a run outside. However, Lindsay often needs multiple steps to cut downhill on perimeter runs,
and he doesn’t win there as much as one might expect for a back of his speed.
When he does win, he’s fast enough to force defensive backs playing outside contain to re-calibrate their angles and give chase. Despite forcing safeties to change their angle of attack, these defensive backs often recover and catch him if he doesn’t have the runway to fully build up his speed.
Lindsay often resorts to pace alteration to set up defenders in pursuit and then run by them. It’s a good ploy but telling that his acceleration is good but not as good as his long speed.
At his weight, power will never be his game. He lacks the strength to truly push a pile without help. He can slide off indirect contact by defensive ends to his upper body and lean through it for another yard but that’s about it. He can earn a little more against linebackers and defensive backs when he’s earned downhill momentum into the collision. When wrapped, Lindsay finishes with good body lean.
He’ll mitigate penetration with his quickness, identifying the angle to reach open space or the soft-spot of a crease to push. Despite his long speed, he’s not sudden. Defensive linemen and linebackers often catch Lindsay from behind in pursuit before he reaches a crease.
Expecting a back of his size to become a competent NFL blocker is a stretch. However, Lindsay does a good job of squaring his target and delivering an uppercut punch.
He has a tendency to leave his feet while delivering his punch and damages his ability to maintain leverage while moving with the defender during the second strike/follow-up phase of a block. At the same time, leverage is only so effective when there’s a massive size disadvantage.
When setting up blocks at the edge, Lindsay will get square and hip-to-hip with a teammate, minimizing the effectiveness of his opponent’s inside or outside move when double-teaming with his teammate. He times his cut blocking well and will work across the legs of and linebacker to drop him at the point of contact.
However, Lindsay has moments of indecision between cutting and using a stand-up technique, which leads to failed assignments. His receiving game is promising and the linchpin of his NFL potential. Lindsay runs an effective double-move in the middle of the field to fake out linebackers on routes in the flats or up the seams. He’s targeted on vertical routes up the sideline and adjusts well to them.
What I've seen from the NFL tape isn't that different from what I saw of him at Colorado State. He still gets run down from behind if he doesn't get a long runway and he's not powerful or a strong blocker.
The key area where I missed was his stop-start agility and acceleration. Lindsay's 3-Cone Drill was a pedestrian 7.12 seconds and he didn't run the 20 Shuttle. Both are key stats for acceleration in a more realistic football sense than the 40-yard dash.
For me, this is where the data really has an impact on film study because no one sees speed, acceleration, and stop-start quickness on the field as well as they think they do. As a good example this year, Nick Chubb earned the "his injuries wrecked his speed and acceleration" analysis that biased their view of him on the field and even throughout the Combine workouts where his key metrics were not far from Saquon Barkley.
Without the 20-Shuttle and 3-Cone Drill, two of my most important metrics for running backs, I had to lean on my eyes and I underestimated Lindsay to be safe. I gave Lindsay a 69 as my overall grade, which is a developmental project and special teams option. A 70 would have earned him a label of an occasionally used offensive contributor as a reserve.
If I had the above data, his grade could have been at least 4-8 points higher and possibly 12 points higher if he tested top category. To give you an indication of how that would have changed my rankings, Lindsay could have been ranked in the same range as John Kelly, Chase Edmonds, and Jordan Wilkins — contributors with upside. At best, he could have been close to Rashaad Penny, my No.9 back.
From an evaluation standpoint, I worked with the data that I had and did the best that I could with missing information on physical abilities that are problematic to pinpoint accurately without it.
From a fantasy standpoint, I didn't take the preseason drumbeats about Lindsay with the gravity that I should in hindsight. However, as Wood pointed out with overfitting — a common occurrence in the football data landscape — projecting one year of success in this scenario is not something anyone should sweat.
I can live with my decision from both perspectives, whether next year proves we needed more data or not.
Bears Defense vs. Rams Offense
Waldman: IOne of the compelling parts of the NFL stretch-run is that quarterbacks get tired arms and defenses are far more familiar with its opponents' schemes and find ways to foil them.
The Lions limited Jared Goff to roughly 200 yards, a touchdown, interception, and a fumble in Detroit. Robert Woods led receivers with a 5-67-1 line and only Todd Gurley performed to expectation with a 23-132-2 line while adding 3-33 as a receiver.
The Lions defense used stunts to stifle the Rams' screen game and outlet receivers while overloading the middle of the offensive line to get pressure on Goff. Detroit also played a physical brand of football at the line to slow the Rams' receivers when in bunch sets--which is often.
The Bears have a tougher defensive front and arguably a better back-seven than Detroit. Let's talk about this game because Rams players seem like must-starts for Week 14 and the offense didn't have a great performance as a whole.
A. Do you expect the Bears defense to adopt the Lions' game plan and have similar success pressuring Goff and limiting the passing game?
B. Who is a must-start?
C. Who will you be wary of starting?
D. Who will you avoid starting?
Tuccitto: Vic Fangio is a scheme-first defensive coordinator, so I'll say this. In terms of coverage, I don't think he's going to be having his defenders playing as physically against Rams wide receivers as much as Detroit did.
In terms of pass rush, he loves stunts, so his game plan will resemble Detroit's in that sense. And if interior pressure is the key to slowing Goff down (not unlike other quarterbacks), then the Bears should be able to bring plenty of that even without stunts, what with Akiem Hicks ranking among the Top 15 among interior defensive lineman with respect to both pass rushing grade and total pressures according to Pro Football Focus.
The Bears defense and special teams are a must-start and I'd be wary of Todd Gurley. Its worth noting that, according to Pro Football Focus, Prince Amukamura is the best cornerback in the NFL when it comes to helping in run defense. That's important given the Rams' second-ranked frequency of outside running.
Despite the matchup, I don't avoid starting players on great offenses. I hold my nose and worry incessantly about it, but I don't "fade" them completely.
Tremblay: The Bears will certainly be aware of what the Lions did that worked against the Rams. More importantly, the Bears have the personnel to disrupt the Rams' passing game and likely create turnovers — which the Bears excel at. The Rams have averaged about 35 points per game this season, but I'd put them over/under at about 24 this week. The combination of the Bears' pass-rushing ability plus their aggressive secondary will force Jared Goff into making mistakes.
As for Gurley, he's matchup-proof and a must-start. Beyond Gurley, I don't consider anyone in this game to be a must-start, including Goff (whom I currently have ranked as QB18 this week). I consider Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks to be risky (but worth considering), and I would avoid everyone else from this matchup.
Wood: Can they slow down the Rams passing attack? Absolutely. Am I expecting them to have that level of success? No. While Matt Nagy is acquitting himself well in his first season as a head coach, he’s no Sean McVay. I believe McVay will have the Rams offense back on track and the Bears will be unable to press their usual speed advantage against an offense that’s incredibly efficient after the snap.
I believe Chicago will try to adopt some of the Lions' methods but I don’t think the Rams will have trouble containing Fangio’s pressure packages thanks to Todd Gurley.
Goff is never a MUST start and I'm not thrilled about counting on him this week as a low-end QB1 at best. However, I have trouble believing you have better options than Brandin Cooks or Robert Woods if you made it to your league’s playoffs. And Gurley is obviously the must start of must starts.
Waldman: Hey, I'm in the playoffs in the league you created with your "aces, deuces, jacks, and kings are wild," lineup and scoring rules and I have one of these guys!
Wood: You're always the exception that proves the rule.
Grant: From the second half of the season opener to the loss in Miami after their bye week, the Chicago secondary has been extremely vulnerable when they don't get pressure on the quarterback. This is going to be a cold, possibly snowy game at Soldier Field and the Bears' defensive success will rise and fall on their ability to pressure the quarterback. If the Bears don't post four or five sacks in this games, the Rams are going to win.
The Rams don't have a great defense, and while I don't think he's a must-start I think Tarik Cohen has the potential for a really big game against the Rams. Los Angeles has been vulnerable to running backs like Mike Davis or Alvin Kamara who catch the ball well out of the backfield. Cohen is a key component for the Chicago offense this season and I expect a heavy dose of Cohen to be a necessary component if they expect to win.
I think Goff has the potential for another down week. If the Bears can get pressure on him as Detroit did, he could be facing another sub-200 yard passing day.
Todd Gurley is a must-start if you have him, but expect this to be a below-average week from him. The Bears don't allow rushing touchdowns and Gurley's stats are going to take a hit this week.
Week 14's Best-Worst Matchups
Waldman: What's the best (most favorable) and worst (most challenging) fantasy games in he NFL for Week 14? Share that match up and answer the following:
A. Outside of obvious starters in a 12-team 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 flex, 1 TE format, who are players not performing to starter levels (you can consider flex-level options) for the entire year that merit a potential start based on your best fantasy game of the week?
B. Outside of known flex plays and options who are performing below starter expectations, which starters in your worst fantasy game of the week remain must-starts?
Tremblay: My favorite game for fantasy purposes this week is Carolina-Cleveland. The teams are evenly matched enough that I don't think either team will go away from their running games. Both Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb are set up for huge games, I think. I'm less optimistic about the teams' respective downfield passing games, but the game's shootout potential makes Jarvis Landry, Devin Funchess, and D.J. Moore all worthwhile starters in the flex position.
My least favorite matchup this week is between Tennessee and Jacksonville. It's a division rivalry featuring two teams whose defense are much better than their offenses. Marcus Mariota and Cody Kessler will both struggle. Leonard Fournette is still a fantasy starter, but as a middling RB2 rather than the RB1 he often is. I'd avoid both Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis on the Titans. Nonetheless, as both QBs lock onto their number one targets, I'd still be happy to start Dede Westbrook and Corey Davis as borderline WR2-WR3s.
Wood: New Orleans and Tampa Bay should be a fantasy bonanza, and Vegas agrees with a 55.5 projected total. The Jets-Bills is a fantasy quagmire unless you’re comfortable betting on Josh Allen rushing for 100 yards every week so there are no must-starts in that game. Given the sorry state of the Buccaneers secondary, it’s worth rolling the dice with Tre'Quan Smith in spite of the goose egg from last week. And on the other side, with DeSean Jackson likely out, Chris Godwin is a potential top-20 receiver down the stretch.
Grant: I like the Bengals at the Chargers this week as a place where you might find some players that you wouldn't consider starting normally. With Melvin Gordon III sidelined this week, Austin Ekeler is almost a 'must-start' against the weakest run defense in the league.
Justin Jackson has also been impressive in short spurts this season and if the Chargers dominate the Bengals like they are expected, Jackson should get some decent stats as well. Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams also become potential flex plays this week against a soft Bengal defense when the Chargers need to win big to keep pace with the Chiefs and Patriots.
Waldman: I'm actually toying with the idea of starting Jackson this week because Chargers coach Anthony Lynn — a former NFL running back — believes Ekeler is wearing down due to his special team's workload and the role he plays on offense when Gordon is healthy and that Jackson will earn more carries.
What Lynn says may be true, but it could also be coach-speak to keep Ekeler feeling confident and not jumping to conclusions about the possibility that Jackson is a better running back. I think Jackson is but if you've ever managed people for a substantial length of time, you know that if you make a significant change to the roles of teammates in a competitive environment you don't want to discourage the teammate who may lose some of his opportunities to another who is still relatively untested — even if you're excited about his performances.
It's possible you'll need to lean on that established teammate once again and you don't want to send him the wrong message. Ekeler is a good player but Jackson showcased some of his upside two weeks straight and it confirms what the team sees in him. Considering that the Chargers have a better offensive line than the Broncos and I liked Jackson more than Lindsay when evaluating them, I think the Chargers' rookie is a good risk if you need to take one this weekend.
I agree with Wood on the Saints-Buccaneers game. Peyton Barber had a decent week against the Saints earlier in the year and I think he can do it again. Godwin should face Eli Apple, who gave up significant gains to Michael Gallup last weekend. Barber is worth rolling the dice and Godwin is the must-start. Humphries is a solid flex in PPR and Evans has a difficult matchup with Marson Lattimore but he's capable of delivering.
The Saints offense should rebound in a huge way. The Buccaneers are no match for Thomas and Kamara. They are must-starts. Ingram is a solid start and I'd roll the dice on Tre'Quan Smith. If you're in a deeper league Keith Kirkwood and — if he's still slated to earn significant playing time — tight end Dan Arnold also deserves consideration if you're in a league like the home poker game that Wood created for us at Footballguys.
Wood: Wild Man...
Waldman: I'll lay off. As for worst matchups, I agree with Maurile about the Jaguars-Titans game to the extent that I'm not a believer in the Titans offense if the Jaguars shut out the Colts. I think Jacksonville's offense could be a little more success against the Titans defense, but only Dede Westbrook comes to mind as a potentially surprising top-20 producer.
Wood's thoughts on the Bills-Jets are sound in terms of the Jets offense and most of the Bills. However, Josh Allen is earning a lot of yards on the ground that could supplement mediocre passing totals to the point that he could be a strong QB1. He was the No.2 quarterback in fantasy leagues last week against the Dolphins. I might roll the dice with him in two-quarterback formats or if you have a weaker quarterback with a bad matchup.
Waldman: Last week, I asked the panel to share a player that they thought was overrated based on the high public opinion for said player. This week, I want you guys to tell me who you believe is underrated based on the way he's perceived among fans, media, and the fantasy community.
Wood: Here’s one you aren’t expecting, Trey Burton. He’s been a bust as a fantasy star, but he’s more than lived up to his contract as an all-around player. Did you know Burton is the highest graded run blocker at the position, according to PFF? And he’s in the lead by a substantive amount. He also ranks in the elite tier as a pass protector this year and is solidly in the second quintile as a receiver. For a team built around a balanced offense and keeping young Mitchell Trubisky safe in the pocket, Burton is getting the job done.
Grant: Each week I see people line up to bet against the Cleveland Browns. They are consistently underrated and people almost take disappointment for granted from them. Yet for a rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield has put up some pretty solid games.
Of the 10 games he's played, he had more than 250 yards passing in half of them. Last week against the Texans, he had three interceptions and was a big part of why they lost, but he also put up nearly 400 yards passing.
In the previous two games, Mayfield had seven passing touchdowns with zero interceptions. He's still a rookie. He still makes rookie mistakes. With the draft picks and salary cap space that the Browns have going into 2019, it's very possible that Mayfield could be a top-12 fantasy quarterback next season.
Tremblay: I'll put in a vote for James Develin of the Patriots. As a fullback, he's not a household name. But he's a tremendously versatile player on a team that knows how to exploit versatility, and he's a huge part of what makes the Patriots' offense go. He's a sledgehammer when lined up in the backfield as a lead blocker. He can also move closer to the line of scrimmage and effectively become an H-back, where he adds something closer to in-line blocking ability. He doesn't get a lot of touches, but when called upon he's also an effective runner and an effective receiver.
His versatility allows the Patriots to create matchup problems with the team's other skill-position players, so while he doesn't get a lot of headlines himself, Develin is a sterling example of a teammate who makes the players around him better.
Waldman: Peyton Barber is underrated. Most see him as a mediocre talent, but he has excellent balance, good quickness, and terrific cutting ability. He also possesses fantastic vision. He's a young back on a team with a struggling offensive line and a defense that needs a lot of help — even when the veterans return.
Few people say Tevin Coleman is overrated or Ito Smith isn't promising but only the Falcons have allowed more Stuffs (tackles for loss) than the Buccaneers and I know that Barber has the superior change-of-direction to either Atlanta back. The Browns are 30th in the league in Stuffs, but Nick Chubb has shown a ton of promise.
According to Football Outsiders, Buccaneers are bottom-five in the league on runs in every direction but left tackle where they're 16th. Matt Bitonti grades the unit's run blocking with a C and pass protection with B-. If Barber had a better line, I think people would realize that he's not a mediocre talent.
Tuccitto: Marcus Mariota is perceived as an injury-prone game manager. I think he's much more than that. For instance, even with Tennessee's plodding offense ranking 26th in DVOA, Mariota is still 13th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt this season (ANY/A). If we regress his career stats to league average, then he's 15th among active quarterbacks in terms of my True ANY/A stat.
Whether or not one believes he's "injury prone," or a "game manager" is, in my opinion, mostly due to the offenses he played on in his first three seasons. And then this season, when he finally got a competent offensive coordinator, he damaged a nerve in his throwing elbow in Week 1 because it got hit by another player's helmet. (That sounds more injury-fluke than injury-prone.).