The Best Of Week 11

Matt Waldman scouts our in-season content and shares five must-knows and his takes on each.

You guys have a ton of articles. 

This statement about Footballguys is a blessing but it can feel like a curse. Our staff delivers insights that change seasons for the better yet realistically, no fantasy owner has the time to read everything we publish in a week. 

If this describes you, let me be your scout. Here are five insights from Footballguys articles that I find compelling for the weekend ahead. I'll share what should help you this week, touch on the long-term outlook, and sometimes offer a counterargument.  

This week includes analysis of Rex Burkhead, a juicy setup for those in need of a tight end, thoughts on Samaje Perine, Adrian Clayborn's fluke week, and WR-CB matchups of note. 

1. Rex Burkhead admiration Society

The Patriots running back depth chart has been a long-term mystery. And just when fantasy owners think they've solved it, another back gets added to the scene.  

Ryan Hester believes he's found the skeleton key in his weekly feature, Trendspotting.

While on the topic of how New England deploys its running backs, it's happening...

  Week 7 Week 8 Week 10
Player Snaps Carries Targets Snaps Carries Targets Snaps Carries Targets
Rex Burkhead 17.6% 19.4% 14.3% 31.4% 12.9% 43.8% 59.0% 35.7% 37.5%
Dion Lewis 35.1% 41.9% 14.3% 34.9% 48.4% 12.5% 34.4% 50.0% 0.0%
James White 31.1% 12.9% 71.4% 23.3% 3.2% 37.5% 18.0% 7.1% 37.5%
Mike Gillislee 17.6% 25.8% 0.0% 15.1% 35.5% 0.0% INACT. INACT. INACT.
RB Total 74 31 7 86 31 16 61 28 8

What's happening, you say?

New England is changing the guard at running back. Way back in Week 2 when Burkhead was fully healthy, he was running routes from a receiver position and being thrown 50/50 jump-balls in the end zone in New Orleans. After a long recovery from a rib injury, the team's most versatile back is being used more than any other.

While what we saw in the Week 10 usage above is notable, something that can also be ascertained from that table is that the Patriots didn't run that many plays. They were up big in the game and didn't have to play a "pace up" style. Usage changes in blowouts. To show that Burkhead's snap count wasn't inflated by "mop-up duty," let's look at the snaps for these players in the first half only.

This usage also happened right out of a bye week. If I can get 60% or more of the New England running back snaps, I'm starting that player against almost any opponent. And unlike many of New England's productive backs of the past few seasons (LeGarrette Blount and White, for instance), Burkhead is multi-dimensional. He's the "skeleton key" of this offense; he opens it up in many ways, to do whatever it wants without telegraphing a play via personnel.

In DFS, he's a viable cheap option in all formats (particularly at DraftKings, where his price is lower relative to others at his position). And in a traditional league, go procure his services via trade or free agency. Burkhead will swing fantasy leagues in December.

Sigmund Bloom, also mentions Burkhead as a value in Buy Low, Sell High

Dion LewisRex Burkhead, RB, NE - You have to love all of the parts of the Patriots offense going forward, but Lewis and Burkhead are set to capitalize on a scheduling quirk that put the Dolphins and the Bills on the schedule twice each during the Week 12-16 span, with only the Steelers in Week 15 breaking up the AFC East also-ran tour. Buffalo has collapsed against the run without Marcell Dareus, allowing seven running back scores and 465 rushing yards over the last two weeks. Miami has allowed five running back scores over the last two weeks, and 456 rushing yards to running backs over the last three weeks. The Patriots should be leading most of this quartet of games comfortably in the second half, which should set up Burkhead unless Mike Gillislee takes this role back.

My Take: Hester's volume counts are part of the puzzle. It would be even better if we could see the breakout of carries of the backs against specific base schemes: 4-3, 3-4, and I even suppose nickel. But that kind of breakdown hasn't been as important in recent weeks because both Lewis and Burkhead are earning more volume and Burkhead's volume of targets is turned White's monopoly into a duopoly. 

From a film perspective, Oakland's linebackers aren't strong coverage players, Miami's Kiko Alonso has struggled to cover tight ends and running backs, and you read what Bloom had to say about the Bills defense. For all practical purposes, I wouldn't try too hard to parse which back will earn more volume against the specific schemes of each defense and view it as a split between Burkhead and Lewis (fantasy RB2s with RB1 upside) and a smaller dose of White (RB3 upside in PPR).

2. Take Marcedes Lewis Out of Mothballs...

Lewis hasn't earned more than 50-yard in a game since Week 3 and he's had 5 games with less than 2 catches. However, if you're in need of a tight end, our staff believes this week's matchup with the Cleveland Browns looks like the time to take a calculated gamble on the Jaguars tight end. 

Jeff Tefertiller examines our staff's weekly rankings and the great Bob Henry's Top 200 Forward to spot players of note in his weekly Outliers feature. This week, Lewis was a prominent outlier.  

Marcedes Lewis

  • Top 200 ranking: 31
  • Weekly ranking: 19
  • Difference: +12

The Cleveland Browns are one of the three teams (with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos being the other two) which yield huge production to opposing tight ends.  Even though Lewis is far past his prime, he could easily score in the game and catch five passes.  In addition, with Allen Hurns looking like he may miss the contest, Lewis could see more targets than expected.

Trendspotting has a similar assessment from a different angle. 

Regardless of their opponent this season, Cleveland's ground game has been strong. With Jacksonville projected to score over 22 points, the natural thought is to look to the passing game. Allen Hurns will be out, leaving plenty of targets for Marqise Lee once again. But a surprise candidate for production could be Marcedes Lewis. Look at how Cleveland allows its targets, receptions, and yards.

CLE vs. TEs

Additionally, the only game in which Blake Bortles has thrown for multiple touchdowns this season was the game in which Lewis scored three timesLewis is a GPP dark-horse this week.

My Take: A lot of fantasy owners are anxious to see if Dede Westbrook can break into the lineup now that his stint on IR is over. However, the Jaguars didn't use Westbrook in the slot because it was a new position for the rookie to learn and the staff decided it was better to let him acclimate with the outside position he's been familiar playing at Oklahoma.

Hurns is the slot receiver of note and the Jaguars often placed him there when Keelan Cole was on the field running streaks and post routes. Unless Westbrook or Cole and man the slot better than the Jaguars expect, we may see more of the Jacksonville tight ends in the passing game. 

With Hurns out and Westbrook's usage an unknown, Lewis is a smart gamble for those in need of a good tight end matchup. 

3. Don't sleep on Perine

Samaje Perine has been a popular free-agent addition this week. Our Footballguys Roundtable discussed Perine and the balance of power in the Washington backfield. 

Matt Waldman: Rob Kelley and suffered an injury that could cost him at least a month.  Kelly’s absence will leave Washington with Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine.

Thompson led Washington in snaps among the RB corps after Kelly left the field, but Washington was behind in this game. At the same time, Perine ran well inside, outside, and as a receiver out of the backfield when inserted into the contest. 

  • Does Thompson earn an increased role? 
  • Does Kelley's injury change Thompson's fantasy value regardless of your view of his future usage? 
  • Are you willing to take a chance on Perine, whose ball security landed him on the bench multiple times this year? 
  • What kind of investment would you make in Perine if you need a running back and he's a free agent in your leagues?
  • Are you holding Kelley or cutting bait? [Editor's Note: This question was posed to the panel prior to Kelley's IR designation]
Weigh-in...
 
Justin Howe: We’ve already seen Thompson’s increased role. Thompson’s never taken more than 48 snaps in an NFL game, and he’s averaged 41.4 over the last 5 weeks, by far the most he’s ever seen over a comparable span.
 
Not to beat a dead horse, and not to downplay Thompson’s breakout 2017 – he’s been truly Sprolesian in every way, and he’s the team’s highest-floor and highest-ceiling option. But given his build and skill set, I’d be shocked to see him ascend beyond an upside of 12-15 projectable touches. That’s a fine mark, and sufficient for him to produce as an RB2, but I don’t think his count numbers have much upward mobility. Even if Perine were to also go down, Thompson would continue to share the ground game with a free agent signee.
 
Perine is definitely among the stronger waiver claims of the week, and if I’ve saved most of my FAAB budget for a late-season move like this one, I’d consider cashing in for 40 to 60 percent of my remaining dollars — Can’t take ‘em with you, after all, and Perine certainly looks capable of providing Kelley-quality production.
 
It’s a low bar, for sure, but the moderate upgrade in talent could turn Kelley’s 10-carry, 20-yard specialty into more 15-65 lines. He’s an even sexier play when we see his upcoming schedule, which features a handful of exploitable matchups over the next month.
 
I’m moving on from Kelley yesterday. He simply doesn’t have the athletic chops to create anything on the NFL level, and the team has seen throughout the season that it can absolutely manufacture his ho-hum efficiency with higher-ceiling options. Thompson and Perine are the near-future of this backfield and barring a truly epic Perine faceplant, I’m not sure we’ll see Kelley notch more than a handful of carries before season’s end. 
 
Andy Hicks: Chris Thompson doesn't have the size to see more rushing attempts. The only time he saw more than 10 carries this year was a 16-carry, 33-yard effort against the 49ers. They need other backs to do the grunt work while they attempt to utilize him in the best way, put him in space.
 
His fantasy value shouldn't change. Rob Kelley was keeping opposing defenses honest, but he was hardly going to be a major part of opposition schemes. That won't change with Perine or whomever else is used and Thompson's role shouldn't change at all.

I have not liked, at all, what I have seen from Samaje Perine this year. He is slow, makes poor decisions running the ball and fumbling. Rob Kelley has played him off the park and isn't exactly a world-beater. As the only other back who is fit, Perine will see carries, but he is doing nothing with them. Anything he does will be a result of the line, which has been banged up all year. 
 
Byron Marshall has just been signed off the Eagles practice squad, but he won't be ready to do much this week. He can't be worse than Perine, so add him if you have depth. 
 
Perine will see carries this week so has worth and may get a rushing touchdown. Yards, not so much. 
 
Given that Washington is considering putting Kelley on IR, I would say he isn't worth keeping. He hasn't been able to stay fit this year. 
 
John Mamula: The Redskins have little to no interest in giving Thompson an increased role in the offense. They seem convinced that his body can not withstand more than a 12-15 touch workload. 
 
Kelley's injury does not change Thompson's fantasy value. Kelley's touches will now go to Perine or a different Redskins running back. 
 
And yes, I am willing to take a chance on Perine due to opportunity. The Redskins spent a fourth-round pick on Perine and will surely give him at least one more opportunity. 
 
At this point of the season, if you truly need a running back, Perine is worth spending the bulk of your free agent dollars. I would spend around 90 percent of my remaining dollars on him. With only a few weeks left until the fantasy playoffs, you are unlikely to find another running back in a better situation. 
 
I am cutting bait on Kelley as he has officially been placed on IR. He also has little value to me in dynasty leagues moving forward.
 
Jeff Haseley: I think Washington would make a mistake if they did not utilize Chris Thompson more in the offense, due to the Kelley injury. Having said that, a drastic increase in carries is not the best solution, unless he's able to deliver when called upon. I would estimate an increase of 3-5 carries per game from Thompson and see how he does. 
 
If anything, I think the Kelley injury improves Thompson's value. I envision an increase in touches, which can only help his fantasy stock. 
 
I am absolutely taking a shot on Perine. I'm sure he has been coached in several areas ranging from ball security to rushing strategies. I'd like to see him be more patient as a runner and not get ahead of his blockers. If he can solve those two big issues, it will go a long way to preserving and gaining fantasy appeal. 
 
I would try to find room to add Perine to my roster. At this point of the season, especially at running back, players can come out of nowhere and lead you to the playoffs or bring you a championship. If Perine falters, it's an easy decision to cut bait. 
 
Based on the news of Kelley being out a month or maybe longer, I would probably elect to drop him in re-draft leagues. You can always have the chance to add him later on if needed. I don't see him as a player someone would go out of their way to acquire for at least another few weeks, depending on who he progresses with his injury. 
 
Dan Hindery: I agree with John that Thompson is basically locked into his role. Jay Gruden has explicitly stated in the past that he doesn’t think Thompson would hold up under a heavy workload. However, it is worth wondering if when it gets late in the season, and the games are truly must-win, Thompson gets fed a few extra touches.

The main beneficiary of Kelley’s injury is Perine. He should lead the team in carries down the stretch and get most of the goal line work. 

I am willing to take a chance on Perine. I trust him to fix his fumbling issue and Washington has enough invested in Perine to show some patience even if he makes a rookie mistake or two.

If I was desperate at RB2, I would be aggressive in making a move for Perine. There just isn’t much time left in the season, so there’s little reason to hoard blind-bidding dollars in Week 11. If I wasn’t desperate at running back, then I wouldn’t press too hard for Perine. Even in a best-case scenario, he’s likely only a middling RB2 option and not a major difference-maker.

Kelley is an easy cut at this point.
 
Adam Harstad: The general consensus seems to be that Thompson lacks "size". I don't know about that — he's bigger than Warrick Dunn, who had 15,000 career yards from scrimmage — but I do know that Washington by all indications likes him in the role he's currently in, so I don't see them rocking that boat too much.

Long-term, I'm bearish on Thompson no matter what. He's talented, but as a regression maven, I believe Thompson's currently been living on some crazy-unsustainable production rates. I think he retains fantasy value, but more fringe-starter value than difference-maker value.
 
"Known unknowns" like Perine are exactly the types of players you should be taking a chance on at this stage of the season. Somebody is going to come out of nowhere to win some leagues this year. I can't say for sure Perine isn't that guy, so I'm happy to roster him to find out. As for what I'd pay to acquire him off the street... if you still have FAAB at this stage of the game, what are you saving it for?
 
B.J. VAnderWoude: The Washington coaching staff has commented that they do think Thompson could wear down with a bigger workload. With that said, I think the quality of his touches will increase slightly due to the fact that Washington will not have both Kelley and Perine to use in the red zone.  Even if Thompson's role does not increase in volume, it will at least stay stable which is more than enough considering he was most likely picked up off waivers and has been a great return on investment. 

Thompson has done so much of his damage through big plays, any fluctuation in his touches greatly diminishes his chance of putting up a big week. At the very least, he is much less likely to get lost in the game plan now, I think his value has increased slightly. 

Perine is worth a look if you are desperate, but he's not someone that I see becoming a flex option. He's averaging 3.2 yards per carry and will not see many passes come his way. His value is directly tied to scoring touchdowns. 

I would make a minimal investment, although I do see the value in spending more if you really needed a No. 3 running back. 

Perine's fantasy viability also looks better with a healthier offensive line. Matt Bitonti's Week 11 Offensive Line Rankings delves into the details:

UPGRADES

WAS +29

How does a line go from low-tier to high-tier in a week? Lose 4 starters to injury and then gain them all back in a similar fashion. Washington's offensive line was at full strength last week for their home loss to Minnesota.  Left tackle Trent Williamsis still playing through an injury that requires season-ending surgery, but it turns out that 75% of Williams is better than 100% of T.J. Clemmings, who is the backup while Ty Nsekhe continues to rehab his groin. Chase Roullier started his third consecutive game at center, but Roullier yielded to Spencer Long as the game progressed. With the usual gang back in the starting lineup, Washington's offensive line soars up the latest rankings. 

Bitonti has Washington as his No. 3 offensive line this week and graded them an A+ as a run unit.  

My Take: I thought Perine was the most interesting running back prospect in this class. Perine was a polarizing because of concerns about his burst. Ryan Riddle did a good job of presenting the arc of Perine's career at Oklahoma with an hour-long look at the runner.

He noted the differences in Perine's burst based on changes in weight, role, and injury. I also saw those differences when I completed my study of Perine's tape and concluded that if Perine's burst is good enough early on, he should have a future as no worse than an NFL contributor. 

I saw that burst earlier this year and last week, Perine performed well in relief of Kelley. Here's my analysis from Week 11's Top 10.  

While true that his fumbles progressed beyond overrated concern to a true problem, Samaje Perine continues to flash the skills that could make him a lead back in the NFL. Thanks to his ball security and Chris Thompson's healthy year, Perine will likely be the change of pace even if he fits the conventional dimensions of a lead back better than Thompson. 

Even so, there's compelling evidence not only to stick with Perine long-term but consider him as a flex-option or reserve for your fantasy squads down the stretch. 

 

Counter sighting with Perine

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 13, 2017 at 9:17am PST

 

 

Perine for 8

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 13, 2017 at 9:18am PST

 

 

Perine cutback

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 13, 2017 at 9:53am PST

 

 

Perine catch and run

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 13, 2017 at 10:12am PST

The quickness, agility, vision, balance, and power are all on display with these clips. So is his ability to catch the football. The question mark is Jay Gruden's confidence in Perine to hang onto the football. 

While not a major problem at Oklahoma, he had some issues where his minor issues with technique were exploited and that became magnified as a rookie. It also hurt his confidence and compounded the problem. With Rob Kelley dealing with a high ankle sprain and a partially torn MCL, Perine has a true shot to earn a major long-term role with a strong finish this year.

I believe in patience with players who make mistakes early in their career. Perine's successful plays indicate he deserves it.   

I agree with the staff that Perine is unlikely to emerge as a fantasy RB1 down the stretch because Chris Thompson is the impact player in the backfield. However, Perine has the potential to deliver matchup RB2 value for the next month against the Saints, Giants, Cowboys, and Chargers. Denver in Week 16 also appears promising. 

 

4. IDP Common sense from the guru

John Norton's Eyes Of The Guru is an essential Footballguys read for IDP enthusiasts. A common trend I see — even in many leagues with experienced IDP players — is to chase big production. Unless it's grounded in sound football logic, it's a bad habit. 

I noted in Week 11's Top 10 that Falcons defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn was never known as a pass rusher and coaches have often used the former Iowa star as a defensive tackle. Norton explains why Clayborn's huge weekend against the Cowboys is a fluke:   

Here come the ambulance chasers again. After his monster 6 sack and 2 forced fumble performance against Dallas, Adrian Clayborn will probably be the most added defender in IDP leagues this week. Let someone else pick him up while you go after a player that will actually help. Clayborn is a good player but 6 sacks is more than he has recorded in any full season since 2011. He was 8-2-2 combined over the first eight games and is all but certain to turn back into a pumpkin in Week 11.

While we're on the subject, here's the type of player Norton recommends you add: 

Sean Lee is likely to miss a couple games with the hamstring he suffered early in Week 10. Anthony Hitchens stepped into the three-down role, playing all 62 defensive snaps and finishing at 5-5-0 on the day. Hitchens is solid when given a chance to play full time and should be a quality play this week against the Eagles and in Week 12 versus the Chargers. Jaylon Smith should also have a bigger role while Lee is out. Smith was 3-0 on 50 snaps in Week 10.

My Take: I compete with John in two IDP leagues, he doesn't chase points often and he's giving you strong advice without going into technical detail about the player's he's recommending and avoiding. Take his word for it. 

5. Matchups exposed

Aaron Rudnicki is another staffer I'm three or four leagues with. HIs Matchups Exposed piece is technically a DFS feature, but it's also a good resource for season-long readers when experiencing difficulty choosing between two receivers.

Last night, he hit on one of his choice matchups.

WR Rishard Matthews, TEN (vs Coty Sensabaugh, PIT)
The Steelers lost Joe Haden to an injury last week so they will turn to Coty Sensabaugh, who hadn't played a snap until last week. He was ineffective during his previous stint as a starter with the Titans and bounced around to several teams before landing in Pittsburgh. While Thursday night games tend to be pretty sloppy, this looks like a great spot for Matthews who should see Sensabaugh for about half the game. 

Here are two choice cuts for Sunday.

TE Travis Kelce, KC (vs Landon Collins, NYG)
Kelce is obviously an elite tight end and he gets the benefit of a dream matchup this week, which could make him one of the highest owned players in DFS. The Giants have allowed at least one touchdown to an opposing tight end in every game this season, including lesser lights like Garrett CelekTyler Higbee, and Jeff Heuermann. Unless this game gets out of hand, Kelce should be a very safe option to pay up for.

TE Tyler Kroft, CIN (vs Justin Simmons, DEN)
Kroft isn't as talented as Tyler Eifert but he provides a very reliable option for Andy Dalton in the Bengals offense. While the Broncos corners often help shut down opposing wide receivers, this defense has had trouble stopping tight ends. They have allowed a touchdown to the position in 4 of their last 5 games 6 of 9 overall. Justin Simmons is a promising young cover safety but he is giving up a catch on 67% of targets. Given how the Bengals running game has struggled and the tough matchup for A.J. Green outside, it's likely that Kroft will see an increase in targets here.

And some difficult matchups to reconsider if you have better options.

WR Sammy Watkins, LAR (vs Xavier Rhodes, MIN)
Watkins continues to be a disappointment despite playing in one of the league's best offenses. It's not clear whether the Vikings would even bother having Rhodes shadow Watkins but their natural positions suggest this is the most likely matchup. Robert Woods has been great of late and should have an easier matchup against Trae Waynes.

WR Davante Adams, GB (vs Jimmy Smith, BAL)
It hasn't gotten much attention due to the struggles of the Ravens offense this year but Jimmy Smith has put together a very strong season for them. He plays almost exclusively on the right and the Ravens rank among the best teams in the league in fewest points allowed to receivers lined up on the left. While Adams does move around the formation at times, he spends most of his time on the left so look for him to have his hands full here. Jordy Nelson has a much more favorable matchup against Brandon Carr here and may be underowned due to his recent lack of production with Brett Hundley at QB.

WR Kelvin Benjamin, BUF (vs Casey Hayward, LAC)
Benjamin hasn't had much time to get acclimated to his new team and now has to adjust to a new quarterback as well. The Bills announced they will bench Tyrod Taylor and start rookie Nathan Peterman this week. With Casey Hayward likely to shadow Benjamin here, look for the Bills to rely heavily on LeSean McCoy and their tight ends.

My Take: I'm not convinced that Woods will be solely matched up with Waynes or Terrence Newman, but I agree that Watkins isn't a strong play when considering the Vikings defense and his volume. The Rams play-action game is the kind of equalizer that could get Watkins loose on a deep play, but you're gambling more with Watkins than the volume expected to head Woods and Cooper Kupp's way. 

Jimmy Smith has performed well and rookie Marlon Humphrey has also done some good work. That said, the ability of the Packers to move Adams, Nelson, and Randall Cobb to different positions for good matchups is a worthwhile thing to note.

The Packers did not baby Brett Hundley with watered-down scheme adjustments against the Bears last week. Hundley had some issues trusting his receivers in situations where the player had a favorable matchup pre-snap but the defender's coverage alignment was not as favorable. A veteran quarterback who has a greater rapport with these receivers would bet on the receiver whereas Hundley doesn't. 

I don't expect that developing rapport to reach this level of trust a week later, so I agree with Aaron. 

Kelvin Benjamin isn't a versatile route runner. When he struggles, it's against good press coverage. When he was developing, timing routes were also a struggle. Now that he's paired with his second new quarterback in as many weeks, that timing and rapport won't likely be there. Stay away. 

That's it for this week, good luck in your leagues, and an early Happy Thanksgiving.


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