A slump, a reinstatement, a pivotal NFC contest loaded with fantasy starters, and second-half surprises comprise our Week 13 Footballguys Roundtable:
- Kareem Hunt's slump.
- Josh Gordon's conditional reinstatement.
- Vikings-Falcons matchup.
- Second-Half Surprises.
Kareem Hunt's slump
Matt Waldman: Hunt has been the No. 41 fantasy RB since Week 8 in PPR leagues. This includes a 17-yard rushing output against a Bills defense that allowed 614 yards and 9 touchdowns in the previous four matchups.
After LeSean McCoy earned 110 yards against the Jets in the season opener, New York hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since. Let's this matchup and Hunt's downturn:
- Under what circumstances should fantasy owners bench Hunt this week?
- Do you believe Hunt and the Chiefs will overcome this five-week slump?
- Any recommendations for patient Hunt owners who have by-passed opportunities to sell him high?
I suspect the Chiefs will bounce back somewhat. They are better than their recent record and performances indicate. However, those monster early-season games were probably a mirage. Going forward, Alex Smith is more likely to be the steady, unspectacular guy who puts up 200-to-250 passing yards per week and rarely throws more than two touchdowns in any game. Don't expect him to bounce back to his high-end fantasy QB1 performances from early in the season.
The time to sell high on Hunt has passed, so it is best to appreciate him for what he is: a talented but sometimes underutilized player in an average offense. He should be a top-15 running back the rest of the way, which is basically in line with where he was being drafted in the preseason. As long as you aren’t expecting Le’Veon Bell/Todd Gurley type numbers from Hunt, he remains a decent fantasy option.
Although I do believe in Hunt as an individual player, I don't believe the Chiefs will right their offensive ship over the coming weeks. My take on their downfall is that the rest of the league caught up to their gimmicky early-season offense, and Andy Reid hasn't been able to effectively adjust his strategy/tactics accordingly. Lack of adjustment, be it in-season or in-game, has been the knock on Reid for years of course, so I don't see this particular leopard changing its spots.
As frustrating as Hunt's production has been, the volume has been there. Since week 4 he ranks 21st in fantasy points among running backs (standard scoring), but he ranks 5th in touches. In the long run, that latter stat holds more predictive power than the former. The slump will probably end at some point, and I think Hunt owners should just keep starting him until it does.
My advice to Hunt owners is to play him unless you have another running back or wide receiver--if you are playing him in the flex--who can consistently get you double-digit points. The Chiefs will continue to feed him the ball, and there are few running backs who are given the opportunity that Hunt has, so it is a situation where you most likely have to play him and hope Andy Reid can be creative enough to fix the problems up front.
josh Gordon's conditional reinstatement
Waldman: Gordon was conditionally reinstated in November, and Hue Jackson told reporters this week that he hopes to play Gordon 'as much as possible.' The Chargers have an excellent press-man corner in Casey Hayward, who will likely see a lot of Gordon when the Brown is on the field.
What is your outlook for Gordon this week, the rest of the season, and in dynasty leagues?
Tuccitto: As mentioned, this week presents what would be a tough matchup for any wide receiver, let alone one that hasn't played in three years, so I don't think he's a fantasy starter this week. If there is to be a renaissance for Gordon this season, it will likely begin next week when he faces the Packers' bad pass defense.
Cleveland's final three games — vs. Baltimore, at Chicago, and at Pittsburgh — are much tougher, so I think Gordon's main value for fantasy owners comes in dynasty and keeper leagues. In addition to Gordon's undeniable talent and skill, I'm also bullish on him those formats because of his potential perennial pairing with Deshone Kizer.
Ranking 10th among quarterbacks in average depth of target (aDOT) this season, Kizer is a downfield passer. Back in 2013, Gordon ranked 23rd among wide receivers in aDOT, with everyone ranking ahead of him except Calvin Johnson being a situational deep threat.
Hindery: I am expecting very little from Gordon this week. Casey Hayward is one of the league’s best cornerbacks and the pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III as dynamic as they come. There is a reason why Cleveland’s implied team total is just 14.5 points against the red-hot Chargers defense. The Browns offense is a mess. The team has been struggling with pass protection since Joe Thomas went down. DeShone Kizer is overmatched at the NFL level. The receivers are not particularly talented either, though Gordon potentially changes that equation.
It is impossible to have a definitive longer-term take on Gordon because we cannot know from the outside whether he will be able to control his demons. You have to factor the uncertainty in heavily and discount accordingly. Gordon is also a player who has more value for some dynasty teams than other. For teams with strong wide receiver depth, it is easier to take a risk on a boom-or-bust prospect like Gordon. Teams with depth issues have to look for more reliable options and cannot afford to be left in the lurch should Gordon relapse.
Howe: I have little interest this week, and not a ton beyond, either. Gordon hasn’t played in three calendar years, and while I’m sure he’s in much better shape than in his 2014 return, that’s a hellacious layoff. And while he was/is an absurdly gifted specimen, he won’t be stepping into some upside-laden offense just itching for a better WR1.
Rather, he’ll catch balls from arguably the league’s worst starter (at the moment) in a passing game that’s struggled mightily to throw down the field (a pitiful 3.38 adjusted net yards per attempt). Gordon’s upside resides entirely in his physical traits and whispers of his 2013 excellence, and not even a little bit in this situation, which is typically more crucial than talent.
We've seen elite WRs miss the early season and come back around this time before. I'm thinking of Vincent Jackson in the uncapped season and Gordon himself back in 2014. The results weren't terrible, but they weren't terribly encouraging either. There's just not a lot of precedent for a guy showing up and dominating from jump street after that long away.
Longer term, I think there's more reason for optimism. I'm reminded of Mike Williams, former top-10 pick for the Lions who was on his way to being one of the biggest busts of all time when he returned after two years away and was a useful receiver for the Seahawks. Gordon's better than Williams ever was, and if he can stay clean I could see him once again becoming a very good NFL receiver.
But, of course, given his (admitted) history, that "if he stays clean" is a really big caveat. I'm rooting for him. But I wouldn't necessarily be counting on him. I'd view everything he gave from this point out as a very nice bonus for his owners in dynasty.
- Multiple suspensions
- Basement-dwelling team with a rookie quarterback
- Unstable organization
- Three-year layoff
Gordon not only destroyed Pro-Bowler Brent Grimes last preseason, he did it about 15-25 pounds heavier than he is now. If you read about Gordon in this week's Sports Illustrated piece, Gordon was not sober last year or training for anywhere near the length of time that he has this offseason.
Think about that fact and reread the previous paragraph. Brent Grimes used to hold his own with Calvin Johnson during Johnson's prime. Gordon has also destroyed Aqib Talib and Adam Jones in 2013 — a season he wasn't clean and sober but dominated the league with Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer throwing to him.
Remember Weeden and Hoyer killing DeAndre Hopkins' value last year?
Wide receivers can simulate a ton of their on-field work with training and Gordon has been training. He ran a 4.35-second 40 in practice last week. He's also not a bigger version of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jeff Janis, and Sammie Coates Jr — big-tall-fast receivers who can't run routes and catching the football is a crapshoot.
Gordon is a polished route runner. I don't throw around the word 'gifted' when discussing football talent. However, I'm with B.J., Gordon is the exceptional talent.
My greatest concern is the rookie Kizer and how soon he'll trust Gordon on targets that we see go to stud options. It's wise to avoid Gordon this week, but I'm not writing off a 26-year-old receiver's ability to be in shape.
If Gordon shows half of what he did against Grimes in Tampa Bay, I'll lessen the risks associated with starting him. Long-term, if you have Gordon, you've been holding onto him or you bought him low. You stand more to lose if you sell or drop him now.
Waldman: Let's discuss this excellent-looking Week 13 contest in greater detail:
- Julio Jones earned roughly half of Atlanta's offensive output in last week's victory over the Buccaneers, but Jones will draw top cover corner, Xavier Rhodes. Do the matchup and the overall skill of the Vikings defense change your fantasy outlook for Jones?
- As the writer who has written the weekly recap for Atlanta during the past 5-6 years, I've seen enough of Matt Ryan to say that he has an exploitable weakness — his accuracy and willingness to hang in the pocket against interior pressure is highly selective, at best. If the game is on the line, he'll hang tough. If not, forget it. Although a difficult type of pressure for defenses to generate, the Vikings specialize in creating it and Atlanta's guards are the offensive line's weakest link. How concerned are you about Ryan's Week 13 production in light of the Vikings' pressure packages, Jones drawing Rhodes, and the weakness of the Falcons' offensive line potentially conspiring to exacerbate Ryan's worst flaw?
- Atlanta's Desmond Trufant left the Buccaneers game late in the half with a head injury. If Trufant can't go on Sunday, which Viking's receiver offers the greatest likelihood of production? If Trufant plays, how does it change your assessment?
- What's your prediction for this game? Include the score, a summary of how you see it playing out, and notable fantasy production beyond what you may have mentioned above.
On paper, this is the game of the week.
Haseley: Yes it does.
I'm concerned about Julio Jones. As good as he is, I don’t see him as a matchup-proof wide receiver. He tends to get his points in bunches, and in most cases, large bunches.
Last week’s 12-253-2 is a prime example of that. Jones has three touchdowns this year (two of which came last week), yet he is the 4th overall fantasy wide receiver in PPR format. Julio has been far from consistent this year as evidenced by his weekly fantasy rankings.
In 11 games, Jones has only two Top 10 finishes, three Top 15 finishes and six finishes outside of the Top 30. Six!
This matchup against Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings defense is not a favorable one and it would not shock me to see him struggle to gain traction, leading to another potential finish outside of the Top 30.
The worst part of it all is that you cannot, 'not start' Jones. You have to take what’s given and what’s earned. There is a chance that any given week the expectation is greater than reality regarding Jones. For that reason, I am officially on guard with Jones finishing as a top-flight receiver this week, or any week he faces a challenging defense or skilled cover corner.
There is a reason why Minnesota is 9-2 and it’s largely on the consistent performance of their defense, particularly their front line and secondary. Those two factors happen to be Kryptonite for Matt Ryan. The way to beat Ryan is to force him into throwing early, making his passes more inaccurate. If the defense can exert pressure on him and still maintain a structured and intact secondary, it will give Ryan problems.
That formula is going to be alive and well this week when Atlanta faces Minnesota. Home game or not, this is not a favorable matchup for Ryan or the Falcons offense and the game will be won on Ryan’s ability (or inability) to perform when under duress. My gut says Minnesota will dominate this area of the game and as a result, be the victors at the end of the day.
I see Minnesota’s defense being too much for Atlanta to handle, making them the ones who will prevail in the end. If Atlanta is without Desmond Trufant, I expect the Vikings to exploit that weakness with a combination of targets to both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Diggs may benefit more as the X receiver while Thielen sees a lot of snaps in the slot. Both should be peppered with targets, but I lean Diggs as the one who will benefit the most.
Waldman: Stellar analysis, Jeff.
Howe: I’m not totally undeterred by Jones this week. Part of that is because simply put, Jones is not a very predictable fantasy play, often underwhelming in great matchups while intermittently posting 250 yards out of the blue.
While I definitely respect Rhodes, he’s not an unbeatable force – Marvin Jones Jr ate his lunch on Thanksgiving. Besides, Rhodes won’t spend 100% of snaps (nor particularly close to it) locking down Jones, and Jones should find himself matched against softer coverage for enough snaps to make a difference.
All told, I’m not really moving my floor expectation below roughly 5 for 70. And Jones, a Hall of Fame talent if I’ve ever seen one, carries matchup-proof weekly upside for simply mammoth numbers.
I am very concerned about Ryan's production, as the Vikings have allowed multiple touchdown games and 300 yards passing to only 3 quarterbacks this year. Ryan has gone over 300 yards 3 times and has yet to throw for 3 touchdowns in a game, something the Vikings have yet to allow this year. Due to the Falcons play-calling and the Vikings success against running backs this year, the passing volume is likely to be there, but hoping for a big game out of Ryan is ambitious.
I don't think it changes my assessment much, as Adam Thielen has been on fire lately. He's averaging 119 yards on roughly 10 targets per game over his last four games while scoring touchdowns in three of those four games.
I see the Vikings winning this game 27-21, with Atlanta scoring a late touchdown to make it close. Vegas has the total pegged at 47 1/2 points and that seems very close to my assessment.
Matt Ryan is going to face a much better pass rush against the Vikings, but he has confidence and you have to ride hot players in fantasy football. Overthinking loses fantasy games and unless you have a clearly better option than Matt Ryan, stick with him.
Thielen and Diggs both have to be played against the Falcons, but Thielen is clearly the better option. Like I said previously, you have to play your studs and Thielen is clearly in that category now. He already has 1000 yards for the season and is seeing at least 10 targets a game. The opponent doesn't matter.
This should be a really interesting high-quality matchup, between 2 sides in form and who controls the clock will be key. The Vikings would prefer it not to be a shootout, but are capable of holding their own if the Falcons get going early. The Vikings have only conceded more than 20 points 3 times this season, but 2 are in the last 3 weeks.
The Atlanta defense generally plays a bend-but-don’t-break style and concedes some short passes to try to prevent big plays. No team has given up more completions (71) to opposing running backs than the Falcons. Jerick McKinnon could have a big game catching the ball out of the backfield. Minnesota has proven to be comfortable taking what the defense gives them in the short passing game and match up well against the Falcons.
I agree with Justin’s point on how difficult it is to predict when Julio Jones will go off for a big fantasy game. He is going to be the most talented player on the field, so even top cornerbacks can’t lock him down if they are consistently tasked with defending him 1-on-1.
Given that, per Pro Football Focus, Trufant plays almost exclusively on the left side of Atlanta's defense and Stefon Diggs runs half his routes on that side, my answer is Diggs if Trufant plays. If he doesn't play, my answer is 100 percent, no questions asked, slam dunk, take it to the bank Diggs.
Regarding Ryan, I think the saving grace for his fantasy owners this week is that the Falcons-Vikings game has serious shootout potential, so massive volume can overcome the pressure-based inefficiency this question implies. Both of these offense rank near the top of the league, both according to traditional metrics and more advanced ones like DVOA.
Harstad: This is an important answer because nobody knows everything, and it's better for analysts to tell you up front what they don't know rather than leaving you to try to guess when they're talking out of their hindquarters.
I appreciate the background information and the leading questions and the way you set me up for success on this question, Matt, but the truth is if I start delving into player-on-player matchups, there'll be a lot of hindquarters-talking going on. That's just not my game.
I'll tell you what is my game: simplifying heuristics. There's an article that I link to a lot because it basically sums up my entire fantasy philosophy: Instinct Can Beat Analytical Thinking. Here's the nut graf:
Here’s a general idea: In a big bank that needs to estimate maybe thousands of parameters to calculate its value-at-risk, the error introduced by these estimates is so big that you should make it simple. If you are in a small bank that doesn’t do big investments, you are in a much safer and more stable mode. And here, the complex calculations may actually pay. So, in general, if you are in an uncertain world, make it simple. If you are in a world that’s highly predictable, make it complex.
I'm not saying that player-on-player matchups don't matter. They do, and there's a lot of information to be gleaned from them. Guys like Mike Clay and Chad Parsons have had a lot of success with complex models with a lot of variables interacting with each other.
But football has a *lot* of moving parts that are all rubbing against each other, and all it takes is one thing happening way over here to cause a cascade effect that ripples across the entire field and are felt somewhere else entirely. There's a lot going on. So I like to simplify. And one of the simplifying assumptions I've found is that fantasy owners are bad at playing matchups.
Consistently, across the board, fantasy players average more points per game in weeks they're benched than they do in weeks they're started. A lot of Deshaun Watson owners got scared off of him when he faced Seattle and he went out and had one of the best fantasy performances of the year.
I'm running an experiment where we simulate a quarterback streaming season with a bunch of FBGs staffers. Several of the guys grabbed Carson Wentz early on as their guy and have been riding him. From time to time, they'll bench him because they don't like his matchup. And nearly every time he's outscored the guy they benched him for.
So if Matt Ryan is your best quarterback, I think you play him against the Vikings and figure he'll probably be fine. If you've got another quarterback who is pretty comparable, maybe you let matchups be the tiebreaker, but by and large, I just keep rolling with the guys I've been rolling with and figure the matchups will work themselves out. Maybe I make an exception for a historically great defense like Jacksonville, but as good as Minnesota is, they're no Jacksonville.
Waldman: Name three players whose second-half production is surprising to you thus far? Maybe you wrote them off earlier this year, or you knew little about them. What stands out about them?
Hicks: At this stage of the year we see many players that no one expected outside their family and friends to have fantasy production. Exhibit A is Ricky Seals-Jones. Others include a second 'unknown' and two players most wrote off before the season began:
Austin Ekeler. The backup position with the Chargers is always going to be interesting given the heavy workload and flaws Melvin Gordon III has. Branden Oliver was expected to contribute, but Ekeler has taken advantage of his chances and is startable over the last 6 weeks. He has outscored Melvin Gordon III during the last 6 weeks as well, so his ability to take a catch and do something productive is where he clearly outplays Gordon.
Robby Anderson is on another level right now. 6 Touchdowns in his last 5 games and he clearly is Josh McCown's target of choice. Like many others, I dismissed Anderson after offseason incidents and the shaky nature of where the Jets were going at the QB position. What is clear though was that there were reports that Anderson was a standout in camp and likely to improve. After a shaky few weeks to start the season he was pushing any owners who had faith in him, but those that have stuck, have been rewarded.
Jared Goff is rapidly developing into an elite quarterback. After seeing what he was like in training camp in his rookie season and then when he hit the field, you would not believe he is the same player. Coaching matters. So does confidence. We shouldn't get too carried away though as he is still a young quarterback with much to learn. We can see though that the coaching staff is developing him properly though and while he will have setbacks, he is on the fast track to living up to his draft slot.
VanderWoude: I really thought the job belonged solely to Jerick McKinnon, as he had produced some notable games in his short stint as the No. 1 running back for the Vikings. Now Latavius Murray has come on and outproduced McKinnon over the last five games.
Murray is getting the red zone touches and slightly more volume in the running game, while McKinnon has been given the passing downs. Murray has surprised me and has become a legitimate flex option.
I agree with Andy here, Robby Anderson has really surprised me the second half of the season. He has gone from a boom or bust deep threat to a surprisingly stable No. 1 receiver in the Jets offense. He still relies on touchdowns a little too much to be a No. 1 receiver on your fantasy team but to call him anything less than a 2-A option would be an insult to his production.
On the same front, Josh McCown continues to be the type of player he's been over his whole career, overlooked, but a guy who can really come on in positive matchups. McCown isn't a guy you can start every week, but Anderson most certainly is, and his outburst last week proved his upside. He's not just capable of contributing, he can outright win you a week.
I don't want this to be taken the wrong way, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II were both players who you wanted to start every week. But Kamara's production over the second half of the season has been surprising, to say the least, as he is the No. 12 player in PPR leagues from weeks 7-12. I never wrote him off, but he's gone from a strong flex option to a No. 2 running back to one of the best players you can have in your league, all in a matter of five weeks.
Ingram has been no slouch either, ranking as the No. 8 player in PPR leagues from weeks 7-12. Their production has come at the expense of Drew Brees, whose dropped to the No. 19 ranked player over that same span. Kamara's big play ability in the passing game has helped Brees, but make no mistake about it, New Orleans has become a running team this year, and their record proves it.
Harstad: Robert Woods has been a big surprise. Not because I didn't think he was a fine receiver, I just didn't expect him to stand out from the rest of that receiving corps the way he has. That's not just a second-half thing, either; he's been killing it all year, it just became more obvious in the second half once the touchdowns started hitting.
Listing three players together because their fates have been linked, but Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, and Amari Cooper. Really a lot of this is just on Derek Carr. I never thought he was as good as his numbers might have suggested and his profile has been ripe for regression, but the disappearing act from Oakland's entire passing game over the second half of the year was unexpected.
Finally, Carson Wentz is one of the biggest regression-busters I've ever seen. He's throwing touchdowns at an unfathomable rate, and everything suggests there's no way he can keep it up, yet he somehow does. He's playing very well, though I think it's closer to "5th-best quarterback in the NFL" than "best quarterback in the NFL", he's producing touchdown rate stats we normally only see in a Peyton Manning 2004 / 2013, Tom Brady 2007 type of season.
Haseley: All three of my examples come from the NFC North. Jamaal Williams looked unimpressive in his season debut, where Aaron Jones outplayed him and earned the first crack at the lead back role. Now that Jones is injured, Williams has stepped up his game, making him a viable option in the Green Bay offense, not just as a rusher, but as a receiver as well. Williams has shown a nose for the end zone (three scores in the last four games) and he has 8 receptions over the last two games.
As others have mentioned, Marvin Jones Jr has been a surprise over the past month. He's averaged 15.0 standard fantasy points since Week 8, with three of five games against Top 10 pass defenses (per DVOA), the last of which involved shadow coverage by Xavier Rhodes. I saw none of this coming, especially after a subpar 2016 and a mediocre start to the season.
My eyes see it, but I still can't believe Eric Ebron is No. 10 in standard fantasy points since Week 8. In his first six games of 2017, he had 102 yards on 26 targets, with four of six ending in single-digit yardage. Over his last five games, Ebron has 215 yards on 24 targets, with 35 being his lowest yardage output in any single game.
Jamison Crowder — Crowder’s lack of production throughout the first half of the season was puzzling. Through seven weeks, he was averaging under 3.0 targets per game and never topped 52 receiving yards in any game. It has since been revealed that Crowder was much more bothered by his hamstring injury than was publicly known. He has been healthier of late and one of the league’s most productive pass catchers so far in the second-half of the season. In his last four games, Crowder has looked like the explosive player he was in recent years. Over the four-game stretch, he has seen a whopping 42 targets and caught 27 passes for 412 yards. Crowder should remain a top-15 receiving option over the final weeks of the season.
Devin Funchess — I have never been a big fan of Funchess’ game. He always seemed a little soft and the sum of the parts never quite matched up to the elite athletic gifts. However, it looks like he has turned a corner somewhat this season. In his last three games, Funchess has scored twice and racked up 286 receiving yards and ranks as WR13. While I am not fully convinced that Funchess is a top-20 receiver moving forward, I am much more open to the possibility now than I was a few weeks ago.
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