Roundtable Week 15

This week's topics: Eagles Post-Wentz, Jets Post-McCown, Robert Woods' Return, and Recent Fantasy Trends. 

This week's Footballguys Roundtable covers two productive fantasy offenses that lost their starting quarterbacks, the return of a receiver on fire before his injury, and recent trends — real or mirage? 

Let's get this party started.

The Eagles Offense Without Carson Wentz

Matt Waldman: What should fantasy owners expect from the Eagles' offense Carson Wentz out for the year? Can Nick Foles deliver fantasy QB1 ?production? Which players will benefit or suffer the most with the change at quarterback as we consider the Eagles' final two games against the Giants and Raiders? 

Andy Hicks: I would expect an uptick in the running game and more short yardage passes from Nick Foles. It is highly doubtful that Foles can deliver a QB1 performance on a consistent basis. As for fantasy players to consider, Jay Ajayi seems to be the most likely to exceed 10 carries in this offense, but LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement more likely to see the end zone. Zach Ertz is the safest receiver to play if he has overcome his concussion.

Jeff Hasley: When Foles entered the game last week the Eagles offense didn't change one bit. Foles resumed where Wentz left off and was able to move the ball effectively. Foles doesn't have the rushing and evading ability that Wentz has, but he's capable of leading the Eagles offense. Whether or not he produces QB1 numbers is yet to be seen, but I believe we'll be surprised with how well the offense transitions over to Foles. I honestly don't see much of a drop off in the production of his surrounding cast. If I had to guess, I'd say Zach Ertz will be a heavily targeted receiver, especially if the wish is for Foles to stay within his bounds of efficiency. 

Adam Harstad: I've been banging the drum on this all year, and I've been taking the loss on it all year, but the most notable thing about Carson Wentz's season is how ridiculously unsustainable his touchdown rate was. Since the merger, there have been just 11 seasons where a quarterback threw 20 touchdowns and averaged fewer than 100 passing yards per touchdown. The league average is usually around 160 or 165. Some guys have demonstrated an ability to maintain an average of around 140 yards per touchdown year after year, but we're largely talking about the elite of the elite there-- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees. Aaron Rodgers is the best touchdown-thrower in history, (at least as measured by era-adjusted touchdown percentage), and he averages 125 yards per touchdown.

If Wentz "merely" had an "elite of the elite" ratio of 140 yards per touchdown, he'd have about 9.5 fewer touchdowns right now. If he had a more mundane ratio of 160 yards per touchdown, he'd have about 12.5 fewer touchdowns. In a league that gives 4 points per passing touchdown, the former value would drop him from QB2 to QB6 (about on par with Dak Prescott), while the latter would make him QB7 (roughly on par with Kirk Cousins).

Outside of that insane touchdown rate, however, I don't think there's anything else that's beyond Foles' reach, so I could see him performing as a low-end QB1 over the next two weeks. Of course, there's a lot of uncertainty, and he could just as easily be a high-end QB3.

Andrew Garda: I agree with other Andy in part — I think we will see more running by the Eagles. I don't think Foles will be a disaster, but teams will go back to the tape and some make some adjustments to expose his flaws again. I do think he will have some okay QB2 numbers but it's mostly because the Raiders and Giants have defensive issues. Alshon Jeffery could slip to WR3, and Nelson Algholor is likely closer to WR5.

I think Jay Ajayi could have a very good game this week and dip into RB2 numbers though, as I think he could break some long runs against New York.

Jason Wood: The best thing going for the Eagles is a very winnable remaining schedule. The strength of schedule MIGHT save the team's productivity, but I wouldn't count on it. Carson Wentz was not just playing well, he was playing incredibly well in key situations.

Wentz routinely converted third-and-long situations in a manner that most felt was unsustainable. Even the best passers aren't that good at 3rd and long situations, and Foles is far from an elite passer.

That's to say nothing of Wentz' ability to make plays when the pocket breaks down, or his perfect record converting 4th downs. Even if Foles executes the offense at a high level, the inability of the Eagles to make big plays out of historically tough conditions will bring the entire offense back to the pack. I would be reticent to play any Eagles skill player in Week 15 fantasy playoff matchups, except Zach Ertz

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The Jets offense without Josh McCown

Waldman:  Josh McCown broke his hand on Sunday. Heading into last weekend, McCown was the No. 8 QB in fantasy leagues. Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse were the No. 14 and No. 22 fantasy WR, respectively, and Matt Forte the No. 29 fantasy RB (all rankings listed are for PPR). 

Can Bryce Petty sustain the production of his surrounding talent? Who is hurt the most and least with Petty under center? 

Wood: The Jets will become the dumpster fire we expected them to be at the start of the season. You cannot possibly roll out Anderson or Kearse in a fantasy playoff matchup with Bryce Petty under center. It would be unconscionable. You're far better off going with someone like Dede Westbrook or Marquise Goodwin if they're available. 

Garda: Heck no. Everyone keeps saying we didn't see the real Bryce Petty last year, but I feel like we did over the course of four games. He's mediocre. I like guys like Anderson and Kearse and they should help him, but he's not going to reach Josh McCown numbers, and I think the whole offense takes a hit.

And the Saints have an improved pass defense, while the Chargers have one of the best pass rush tandems on the D-line. No thanks.

Harstad: When a backup quarterback steps in, ideally you'd like to to be someone with NFL experience, a history of at least journeyman-level production, or barring that at least some sort of serious draft capital behind them. I'm okay starting players with guys like Blaine Gabbert, Case Keenum, or Tom Savage under center.

Bryce Petty has none of those things. He's a 2nd-year player with 140 career pass attempts who was drafted in the 4th round, has a passer rating below 60, an ESPN QBR below 20, and a career ANY/A average, (yards per attempt including sacks, plus a bonus for touchdowns and a penalty for interceptions), of 3.15.

I see zero reasons to believe that Bryce Petty will be anything but catastrophic for everyone in fantasy except the Saints and Chargers defenses, (his next two opponents).

Haseley: My gut says that Bryce Petty is not going to produce similar results. McCown found a niche with the Jets system, similar to how Case Keenum is thriving with Minnesota. McCown was a good fit and it's not easy to replace a quarterback that runs the offense well. Just ask Brett Hundley or Tom Savage.

I think we'll see a drop off in production across the board from the Jets. Unfortunately, there may be a ripple effect that will have a negative impact on several players, including Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse and the like. 

Hicks: I have no faith at all in Bryce Petty as a genuine NFL QB, let alone keeping a fantasy WR afloat. The fact that Petty will clearly play is an indictment on what Christian Hackenberg is struggling with at the NFL level. Petty has underwhelmed to date with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in his 4 game career and looked to be unable to make the quick and correct decisions required at this level.

Of the 2 receivers, I would expect Anderson to be the better prospect having played with Petty at the end of 2016. Anderson recorded 14 catches for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns with Petty between weeks 13 and 15 last year. 

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The Rams offense with the return of Robert woods

Waldman: From Weeks 5-11, Robert Woods was the No. 3 fantasy receiver in standard leagues and the No. 5 option in PPR formats. After suffering a shoulder injury, Woods is scheduled to practice on Wednesday. 

If he debuts in Week 15 against the Seahawks, do you trust him? If so, how much? If not, why not? 

Haseley: As long as Woods is healthy and free from pain and discomfort I believe we'll see him go back to his regular role in the Rams offense. It may take half a game or longer for him to be utilized back to where he was pre-injury, but I believe he'll bounce back.

There is a bit of risk involved in automatically inserting him back into your lineup site unseen of his ability post-injury. He didn't have surgery though, which is a plus. Only rest and rehab.

This week at Seattle is not the most favorable. I'd consider him a WR4 or stretch-flex option. Once we know more about his ability post-injury, we can adjust his ranking accordingly. 

Harstad: I trust him to be the guy who led Los Angeles in targets, receptions, and receiving yards over their first ten games, sure. I don't really trust him to be the guy who had back-to-back 2-touchdown games to juice his fantasy standings because touchdowns are largely random events. But I do think he's the Rams' top target when healthy.

Wood: It's difficult to trust Robert Woods in his first week back. Woods performed well enough to justify playing every week, but we have the weight of his career to suggest his hot streak was more of a, well, hot streak than a new baseline.

With Cooper Kupp stepping into a major role comfortably and having the better talent profile for long-term success, I need to see Woods produce this week before considering him as a high upside WR3 in my fantasy finals in Week 16.

Garda: I agree with Jason, his first week back is a concern for me. Even if Seattle is broken in the secondary, he may have some rust. I love the Week 16 matchup against Tennessee though, so that week I would have no issue starting him as a solid WR3.

Hicks: For me, he comes back as a borderline WR2/WR3. The Seahawks aren't the famed legion of boom anymore, especially since most of their threats are injured. Woods, however, will need time to regain confidence in his shoulder and eat into the target load that Jared Goff has spread around in his absence. I would play him if I didn't have 3 top tier receivers or needed a possible upside pick. He could also get you a zero or low score depending on a re-injury or not being game ready. 

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Waldman:  Here are some recent trends involving a player or a unit of a team. Pick three from the list to discuss. Please cover the points at the end of his bulleted list of candidates:

  • The Chargers run defense gave up 611 yards during its first 4 games, but have yielded 397 during its last 4 contests. 
  • Since Week 8, Jamaal Williams has been the 6th-best back in fantasy football with 116 touches for 579 yards and 6 touchdowns. 
  • Since Week 8, Leonard Fournette has been the 26th-ranked fantasy back with 115 touches for 404 yards and 2 touchdowns. 
  • Since Week 8, Kareem Hunt has been the 32th-ranked fantasy back with 111 touches for 433 yards and a touchdown.
  • Since Week 8, Dak Prescott has been fantasy football's No.17 QB with 114.9 points, 16 behind the pace of Philip Rivers, the No. 10 QB during this span.
  • Since Week 8, Case Keenum is the No. 4 QB in fantasy leagues with 143.85 points -- 16 points behind the No. 2 QB during this span, Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Since Week 8, Eric Ebron is the No. 8 fantasy tight end with 25 catches, 281 yards, and 3 touchdowns -- 10 points off the pace of No. 4 TE Kyle Rudolph.

First, are the trends you're discussing legit or a product of favorable or unfavorable matchups? Second, has this player or unit's recent productivity changed their fantasy tier? And third, do you expect a change for the better or the worse during the next two weeks? 

Harstad: This is an excellent reminder of two important principles, in my opinion. First, there's the old saw that "production = talent + opportunity". Talent is the more important of the two in the long term, but in the short term, opportunity rules the roost.

Second, small sample sizes are small sample sizes. Obviously, the Packers liked both Williams and Aaron Jones this offseason since the Packers drafted both of them. Obviously, they liked Jamaal Williams a little bit more, since they took him 50 picks earlier, but I think it's fair to say that both players were probably pretty comparable in the team's eyes.

And yet, after 9 games and 100 combined carries for the two backs, fantasy fans were convinced that Aaron Jones was a star and Jamaal Williams a bust. Our opinions of a player simply should not be moving that much on that little evidence.

So given all that, (A) it's a legit "trend" insofar as Williams was always probably a pretty decent back and his recent ranking has been representative of the workload he's now receiving thanks to injuries elsewhere on the depth chart, (B) obviously it's raised it, again because of the workload increase, and (C) I'd expect a tick downward as I think it'd be just as silly to write off Aaron Jones after a quiet couple of weeks as it was to write off Williams.

For the rest of these, I'm just going to lump them all together. Football presents us with such small samples, we're almost never better off cutting those samples even smaller still. In each of these cases, I think we get a much better representation of the player or unit's "true" level of play by looking at the entire season rather than just the most recent weeks. 

Garda: I'm nervous about the Chargers. With the exception of LeSean McCoy, the team hasn't faced great runners. Washington, Cleveland, and the Elliott-less Cowboys are all shaky week to week. 

They face Kareem Hunt this week, which is likely to go sideways as Hunt looked dominant last week against Oakland. I think he's going to keep it rolling this week. On the plus side, the Jets are in trouble at quarterback again it should be easy to stack the box and let the corners destroy the passing attack.

I don't think the Chargers are as good against the run as they looked the past month, which works out this week, but I think won't matter much in Week 16.

Speaking of Hunt, again I think he's back on track. When you give him more touches, he succeeds. Last week, Andy Reid remembered that and we saw a big game. This week, I think Reid throws to and runs Hunt as hard as he can to keep the playoff hopes alive against a defense I don't think is as good against the run as it looks. 

I like him against the Chargers and Miami, who would rate worse against the run if they weren't so bad against the pass (36th in Football Outsiders DVOA vs the pass). 

I would feel less bullish about Case Keenum the next two weeks if he didn't face the shattered Bengals secondary and a shaky Packers pass defense. 

I think some of his success has been matchup related, though he is worthy of praise for his play this year and has improved this year in real ways. 

I think he'll light up the Bengals, but the Packers' streaky defense worries me. It's a game in Green Bay and is going to be critical for any chance the Pack has to make the playoffs. It's the type of game the defense wakes up for. So I'd avoid him that week if I could.

Hicks: The Chargers have improved as a unit, but especially the run defense. This is a legit trend that is likely to continue for the rest of the season. With the Chiefs, Jets, and Raiders left, there are teams that can run the ball but not worryingly so.

The Chargers have moved from a defensive unit that went undrafted in most leagues to one of the leagues best. The pass rush is especially fearsome and with the offense controlling the ball so well, the defensive unit can attack.  

Case Keenum has played well within the Vikings offense and allowed his playmakers to do all the work. It still requires correct decisions from the QB and Keenum has done better than expected. With matchups against the Bengals and Packers, this trend is likely to continue although it is worth noting his upside appears capped at 280 yards passing and 2 touchdowns.

He has only exceeded 300 yards once since week 3 and only has more than 2 touchdowns against Washington in the same game. He's a bottom-end QB1 for sure. 

Kareem Hunt should resume trending upward following a much better performance against the Raiders. His mid-season slump could be directed at lackluster game plans as well as opposing defenses attempting to stifle Hunts early season dominance. With the Chargers and Dolphins over the next 2 weeks, I would expect higher scoring games if the Chiefs can remain aggressive. 

Hasley:  Leonard Fournette has struggled to fully recover from an ankle injury that probably was a bit more serious than originally reported. As a result, he was able to play, but to a lesser degree. He's only now starting to rebound back to his previous ways. As the year wears on, Fournette should also bounce back from a production standpoint. That is unless he re-injures his ankle or suffers another injury. 

Case Keenum may not be as athletic as other quarterbacks, but he has proven that he can be a reliable starter for a winning football team. If you put Keenum on the Browns, I doubt we would see the same results. Minnesota has weapons and receiving threats at all positions, making it easier for Keenum to make plays and play relatively mistake-free football. I would not be surprised to see Keenum drop off a little bit against tougher opponents. We saw some of that against Carolina. Ultimately, he has blossomed into a capable, winning quarterback who fits well with Minnesota's system. He's worthy of a weekly start in fantasy leagues, but I would not categorize him as a Top 5 pick unless dictated by matchup. 

Jamaal Williams is an interesting example, due to Aaron Rodgers return. Williams thrived in the Green Bay offense with Brett Hundley under center, but that offense is going to shift back to what worked well with Rodgers. We should see receivers run longer and deeper routes and probably a bit less from the running game. Williams may see fewer carries, but he'll have the opportunity for more red zone touches and goal line carries. I have a strange suspicion that Williams will tail off a bit from a fantasy ranking standpoint, mainly due to the change that is coming in offensive structure. He's still worthy of a fantasy start until proven otherwise, but I would not be shocked to see his production level off, especially if Green Bay adds Aaron Jones into the mix.

Wood: Ty Montgomery entered the season as a fantasy favorite to many. Even though he was a converted receiver with limited experience in a feature role, fantasy owners happily drafted Montgomery as an RB1. His injuries and inconsistencies opened the door for the pair of rookies, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.

Jones appeared to be the stud with an early breakout. He too got hurt and Williams was the last man standing. As Matt noted, he demolished that label and left many wondering why Williams wasn't the bell-cow from the start.

While I believe in the player, I expect his fantasy value to drop off for two reasons. One, Aaron Jones is healthy again. Two, and more importantly, Aaron Rodgers is back. The Packers have never been as committed to the ground game when Rodgers is healthy. And Rodgers is also a goal-line touchdown vulture. Williams will see enough of a workload for RB2 value, but his ability to score touchdowns plummets. 

Dak Prescott's falloff was puzzling. It certainly coincided with Tyron Smith's injury, but that doesn't explain the entirety of the poor play.

With Ezekiel Elliott out again, and Dez Bryant lacking the consistent ability to beat defensive backs in tight coverage, Prescott remains risky. Even though his fantasy performance against the Giants was elite, it still came in a quirky fourth quarter. Prescott isn't getting the volume to comfortably view as anything more than a fringe QB1 and a less-than-optimal choice in the fantasy playoffs. 

Keenum has been fantastic, and there's no reason to expect that trend to reverse. The Vikings offensive line has turned into one of the league's best, the running game remains effective thanks to the McKinnon/Murray combination, and Adam Thielen has emerged as an elite WR1 which makes Stefon Diggs a world-class #2. With all of the key pieces intact, Keenum should continue to roll along as one of the best values at the position.

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