by Noah Pires
August 27, 2019
Matthew Stafford is one of the most notable victims of the plague known as recency bias. How does a QB who has been a top 10 option at his position for three straight years (before ending that streak last season) all of a sudden fall of the face of the Earth because of ONE down year? How Swae? Along with that impressive streak of being top ten like some retro Adidas, he also has managed to finish as a top-12 QB in six of his first eight years as a starter. But guess what? 2018 was not one of those years, and now, it's the cause for his demise. I say, not today, public. You won't mess with my head, not today, not never (double negative szn).
If you look at what caused his downfall, it's apparent that it wasn't necessarily poor play from Stafford; instead, it was the surrounding circumstances which hindered the team as a whole. Not only was he reportedly playing with a back Quasimodo would scoff at, Matthew also lost his safety blanket halfway through the season to the Iggles. If that wasn't enough, Stafford also had his second most tenured receiver, Marvin Jones Jr. - the son of Marvin Jones Sr. - go down to a knee injury, as well as losing dual-threat rookie runningback Kerryon Johnson not long after. All of these ailments and departures added up, and it was apparent how much it impacted Staffman's production.
Now, I used the splits with and without KJ because, since he was the latest of Stafford's weapons to go down with an injury, the "out of split" column shows a clear depiction of what it was like owning him when all he was left with was Kenny Golladay. Sure, maybe the "in split" column isn't all too impressive, but keep in mind, a few of these games were without MJJ or Tate as well.
I say all this to say, heading into 2019, #9 may be surrounded by the best weapons group of his career, which seems like blasphemy when you realize he was throwing (errant) balls to Calvin Johnson for a hot second. In all seriousness, though, he has weapons at every level of the field, whether it be Kenny G and MJJ manning the outside, Amendola over the middle, big-bodied tight end T.J. Hockenson, or even KJ out of the backfield. He's got it all, and because of this, I don't expect to see anywhere near the same woeful performance as last season. I'd honestly set his floor for passing yards at 4,200, since he had hit that mark every year prior to 2018, and with the red zone weapons at his disposal, could easily see him flirting with 30 tugs.
As for the main argument against him: Darrell Bevell. Let me just say this, and I'm going to say it once. Thinking Bevell is going to come in and completely flip this team on its head by making them attempt just 30 passes a game for the sole reason that he's done this in his past is an asinine thought. Let's put Bevell's previous jobs into context. Firstly, in Minnesota, not only did he have one of the best runningbacks of all time, Adrian Peterson, or a strong defense, he also had to rely on Tarvaris Jackson throwing the ball. You don't want that. Guess what, though. When 73 year old Brett Favre rolled into town, the Vikings passed 500+ times, and even though he got injured during his second season with the squad, they hit the 500 mark again, showing Bevell wasn't going to completely fade the passing game if he had a capable QB.
The same was true during his time in Seattle. He had the legion of boom and Marshawn Lynch backing him up, along with - you guessed it - Tarvaris Jackson slinging the rock. Yes, Russell Wilson did eventually become the starter, but he wasn't nearly the player in his first couple seasons he has become recently, which explains why even when RW was at the helm, they didn't pass all too much. Again, though, when he became a fully developed, elite QB, guess what Bevell did? He let him throw, and during Bevell and Wilson's final two seasons together, RW averaged over 34 attempts per game.
To reiterate, don't be afraid of the volume in Detroit, and certainly don't fade a QB who has always been, and always will be, one of the league's best compilers, which is what we chase in fantasy. Sure, he may not have QB1 overall upside, but he's got about as safe of a floor as you could want, and even if you're just looking for someone to stream, he draws the Cardinals week one. If you are in the loop, then you'd know that not only Pat Pete will miss this game, but their second cornerback, Robert Alford, will also be a no-show. With how the Cardinals' defense has looked thus far in preseason, and with the weapons Stafford has, he may be one of the best streamers to begin 2019, and may provide value throughout the season.
Another QB who has fallen victim to recency bias, Kirk Cousins seems to be another steal heading into 2019.
I'll address this OC fake news first. Yes, the Vikings did attempt 27.6 rushes per game with Stefanski calling plays, but two games were absolute blowouts against terrible teams (beat Dolphins 41-17, beat Lions 27-9). The third game was against the Bears, where they only ran 14 times, which is an outlier as well, but I don't think that it should be a given that this team will now run the ball 50% of the time, especially with the injury concerns that are attached to Dalvin Cook. On top of this, over those last three games with the new OC, Kirk Cousins was on pace for 32 touchdowns, the third most red zone touchdowns, and the first most touchdowns inside the ten yard line, further showing they aren't going to just run every time they're in and around the 20. We even saw an example of this in the preseason, where they ran a play action pass to Alexander Mattison on the one-yard line.
Similar to Stafford, 2018 was also a down year for Kirk, but not because he didn't produce. Yes, it was the first time Cousins has finished outside the top eight QBs since becoming a starter in Washington, but he also threw for the second most yards of his career, along with his most touchdowns. Hell, he even had the second most rushing yards since entering the league. The reason for his (comparatively) low finish? His rushing scores. Last year was the first time since becoming a starter that Captain Kirk fell short of four rushing scores, which is equivalent to six passing touchdowns. The thing is, nobody was ever drafting him banking on these TDs on the ground, so when it didn't come to fruition, we shouldn't have reacted negatively towards his end of season finish. Despite putting up all those rushing tugs, that's just not the type of QB he is, unlike Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, or Josh Allen. What Kirk will give you is one of the most solid floors you could ask for at the position, which is perfect for a superflex/2 QB league as your secondary option.
Now, if you play in a one-QB format and are looking for someone to stream, Cousins is also the man for you, as he begins the year with Atlanta, Green Bay, and Oakland. It doesn't get much better than that.
Matt Breida just can't seem to get the recognition he deserves. Simply put, he is good at football, and everyone seems to realize it outside of the fantasy community. Even his coach, Kyle Shanahan, has displayed an affinity for the guy, as he split snaps with newly acquired Tevin Coleman 40/60. Not only did he command a 40% snap share, he was also used out wide as a receiver twice, and if it wasn't for the pressure of an opposing defensive end, Breida could have easily housed a wheel route where he had a linebacker beat. In week three, though, he did just that, connecting with Jimmy G on a beautifully placed ball in the end zone.
It's not like this is a part of his game we didn't know about, either. Last year, he posted the 11th highest Yards per Route Run mark (among qualifying backs) and also dropped ZERO balls. The fact that they have already showed confidence in using him as a receiving threat should only boost his value as someone who can add chunk plays in both the passing and running game.
Along with his hands, Breida's got some quick feet, allowing him to post the 7th most breakaway runs (13) and the 4th highest breakaway run rate (8.5%). In comparison, Coleman also had 13 breakaway runs, but also did it on a much better offense, and also earned more carries (which in turn caused a lower breakaway run rate). Breida also evaded more tackles than Coleman, and outproduced him on the goalline, as Coleman turned him five rushes inside the five yardline into -8 yards and zero scores, wheras Breida found paydirt twice on six carries in the same area of the field. The two men aren't far apart in talent, and I would even argue Breida may have TC beat, which is why I don't understand the disparity in their ADPs, let alone how late Matty B is being drafted.
Now, as for exactly why Breida is such a steal. I shouldn't even be telling y'all this. This kind of info is typically locked up in some Fort Knox typa shit, but I've got the keys (shoutout Khaled) to the vault, and we're all getting fed today.
Last season, runningbacks on the 49ers totaled 417 touches. No, I am not counting Kyle Juszczyk since he is a fullback. Let's say this year, Matt Breida handles 35% of these touches. Not unreasonable, right? That would, using last year's volume, translate to 146 touches. Not bad, but not great. Well, Breida is extremely efficient, seen by his top-10 yards per touch mark, sitting at a pretty 6.0. Using this YPT, on 146 touches, that would translate to 876 yards from scrimmage. Well, in 2018, only 30 runningbacks topped 870 total yards, with the lowest fantasy finish coming from Dion Lewis, the RB31. En total, Breida is going to eat this season, even if he's in a timeshare. Not many backs are as efficient as he is, and even less have proven to be fantasy relevant in a part-time role. Would it surprise me if he usurps Coleman's job halfway through the year? No not at all, but the good thing is, he doesn't have to in order to outperform his lowly ADP.
Probably the least sexy pick you can make this season is pulling the trigger on professional hot dog eater turned runningback, Peyton Barber.
Sure, he may not be great, or athletic, or even good, but he's the lead back on an offense that could very well be one of the highest scoring units in the NFL. The team has shown commitment to Barber in two straight seasons, as PB (&J) outsnapped RoJo 13:9 over their first two preseason games, just a handful of months after he ended 2018 with the 9th most carries (234). There are ZERO other warm bodies on this roster that have ever proven anything in the NFL, let alone earned the team's trust, which again paves a way for Peyton to carve out a lead role.
Yes, maybe this role didn't bring value to Barber last season, but it may have been more bad luck than anything else. The guy had 37 red zone carries, 28 more than everyone else on his team combined, and had 22 more total red zone touches than his teammates. On top of this, he also amassed 12 goal line carries, yet only scored four times on these attempts, which seems like an outlier since eight of the 12 RBs who had 12 or more GL attempts scored six or more touchdowns. If there's some positive regression for Barber, and this team, as it is projected to, remains high powered, Barber could greatly outnumber his 2018 TD total, further increasing his floor.
Another thing to consider is Bruce Arians coming into town, a coach who has used runningbacks in the pass game extremely heavily throughout his time in the NFL. In 2016 and 2017, with the Cardinals, the team targeted the position 22% of the time, higher than league average. In comparison, the Bucs threw to RBs just 14% of the time, 7% lower than the league average. Sure, Barber may not be their third down back, but on first and second downs, when they do decide to throw and Jameis needs an easy completion, Barber will likely find himself on the end of a few looks.
Lastly, it's not even like he was that awful last year. Sure, he started slow, which tainted his image, but over the second half, he had a pace of 1,000 total yards, 24 receptions, and eight scores, a combination only 15 runningbacks hit in 2018. This is well within his range of outcomes this year, especially since the depth in Tampa is about as thin as a profile shot of Robby Anderson, making PB a great pick in the double digit rounds.
To pair with his QB, Marvin Jones also makes today's list, and for good reason. Not only has he consistently produced, he's also reached a pinnacle of ending a season as a top 12 wide receiver not too long ago.
Now that Golden Tate is gone, MJJ becomes the most tenured weapon Stafford has at his disposal, which is huge considering how well they worked together.
Last season, in a down year for Stafford, one which he attempted the least deep throws (55) since 2015, Marvin Jones was on pace for 27 deep targets, which would have ranked 8th. This isn't an outlier, as the previous season, MJJ accumulated 31 deep looks, the 6th most in 2018, and paired that with the most deep receptions (16), third most deep receiving yards (599), and third most deep touchdowns (5). All this is important beyond explaining that he and Stafford have obvious rapport since, in most formats, you get rewarded for deep scores, which is certainly in Marv's repertoire.
Not only is he the recipient of deep throws, he's also Staff's main main inside the 20. Last season, despite a breakout year from the 6'5 Kenny Golladay, Jones accumulated 11 RZ targets, which would have paced out to 20 (would have ranked 11th best). On top of this, he saw six targets inside the 10 yard line in just nine games. If paced out to a full 16, it would total 11, which would have ranked 4th. Now, heading into 2019, there are 26 red zone tosses up for grabs due to the departure of Golden Tate, Theo Riddick, and a few others, so even in Hockenson, Amendola, and a full season of Kerryon eat up some targets, Marv will still have more than enough to produce, and more importantly, return value.
Yes, he does play in one of the toughest divisions in football, having to face the likes of the Bears and Vikings four times a year, but the good thing is, Kenny G has been seeing shadow coverage, allowing MJJ to fly under the radar in seemingly tough matchups. All the guy has every done, since joining the Lions, is produce, so with a full season with a healthy Stafford, I don't see a reason why history can't repeat itself once more.
Similar to MJJ, Tyrell is another guy who may not be the #1 on his respective team, but receives the types of targets one would hope for out of a breakout type of player. Firstly, let's get into why I believe he will play a big role in this offense.
Not only did the Raiders go out and drop $44 million on the former Charger this offseason, they also have used him in a nearly every-down role thus far in the preseason. In week two, the first team played just one drive, which resulted in a tuddy, and for that series, TyWill was in on five of the six offensive snaps. He was targeted early by Carr, throwing a jumpball down the sideline, which Williams came down with, and was only pulled off the field when there was a designed running play. It's no secret they want him out on the turf every chance they can get, making him the solidified #2 receiving option on a team that passed nearly 35 times per game in 2018.
Another thing that intrigues me about the newly acquired wide receiver is how his skillset matches Derek Carr's arm. Last year, Tyrell led the Chargers in all deep receiving categories (targets, receptions, yards, touchdowns) despite commanding just a 76% snap share and playing fourth fiddle to Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and whichever runningback was out there. He was extremely productive on his somewhat limited opportunities, turning the 32nd most deep targets into the 13th most deep receiving yards in the league, a number that could improve now that he's paired with Carr, a QB who has ranked top six in deep ball accuracy in three of the past four years. Yes, he doesn't attempt 100 deep balls like Mahomes or Wilson, but with the additon of AB, Williams, and JJ Nelson, this team could afford to air it out a bit more now that they have three legitimate field stretchers.
Not only is Tyrell a deep threat, he also proved he could be an alpha on a team, which may be necessary if Brown's helmet fails to fit on his ego inflated head. Last season, he ranked only behind Michael Thomas in contested catch rate (68.8% on 16 targets), and a few years back, when the Chargers didn't have Mike Williams and Allen went down to injury, Tyrell was leaned on as the #1 and produced as such. Not only did he top 1,000 yards and score seven times, he also commanded 17 red zone targets (which ranked 16th among the position), which is fairly impressive considering Antonio Gates wasn't completely out of his prime yet and rookie Hunter Henry was the recipient of a ton of touchdown throws inside the 20. With no Crabtree, Cooper, or Jared Cook, Tyrell is now the biggest body this team has to offer (aside from Darren Waller, who has proven nothing), and although Antonio Brown is a far better red zone option, I wouldn't be surprised if Tyrell ended up second on the totem poll of targets in the red area.
TWill has only ever been efficient, as he ranked top 15 in each of the last two seasons in YPT, YPC, and fantasy points per target, while also displaying he could produce when called upon. Now, being the unquestioned #2 on a pass-driven offense, receiving valuable deep looks and RZ targets, he has become one of the greatest picks you could make in the double digit rounds, especially considering Antonio Brown has been noncommittal, at best, to this team, which could open the door for Williams to sit in the #1 WR chair.
Yes, Chris Herdnon is suspended for the first four games, meaning he won't be back until week six due to a bye in week five, but he still remains as one of the best tight ends available late in drafts.
We saw last year just how good Herndon was, as, in just his rookie season, managed to put up 35+ receptions and > 500 receiving yards, a combination that just ten tight ends since 2000 have hit. He's surrounded by pretty good company (statistically, not morally),including Rob Gronkowski, Jeremy Shockey, George Kittle, Evan Enngram, and Aaron Hernandez, and although it would be lofty to assume he is on par with these men, it is certainly a good sign for Herndon being a young, productive, tight end.
He didn't just rack up counting stats, though. CH was also a fantasy asset, finishing as a top 12 tight end six times, despite playing greater than a 60% snap share ten times. I don't expect this trend of limited playing time will continue into his sophomore season, as, thus far in preseason, Herndon has been in on all of Sam Darnold's snaps. This usage promotes the idea of Chris being an every-down player, but on top of that, will help in developing the rapport between he and Sam. If their chemistry improves, CH should be a major beneficiary of splash plays since last year, he saw eight deep targets (9th most in the NFL), with only two being catchable. Darnold's deep accuracy did increase by nearly 10% over the final four weeks, which, in combination with he and Herndon having another offseason to work together, should instill confidence that he will find himself on the other end of a few long receptions, something not many tight ends can boast.
Along with deep targets, Herndon was just one red zone target (8) off the team lead (9), giving him touchdown upside, which, we all know, is probably the biggest factor in making a tight end a top 12 option by year's end.
Along with these two forms of valuable targets, in the deep and red zone game, his target share as a whole points towards him being a very relevant option this year. Looking at his second half in 2018, where he never fell below a 63% target share, he was on pace for 76 targets. In 2018, only 11 tight ends hit that mark, with the lowest fantasy finish of the bunch stemming from Jordan Reed, the TE15, and just one other fell outside the top 12 tight ends (Jimmy Graham). This target volume at the end of 2018, combined with how Adam Gase has used tight ends in years past (Martellus Bennet was on pace for a 116 target, 77/639/4 receiving line, and Julius Thomas had back to back double-digit TD performances in partial seasons), makes Herndon for a prime breakout candidate after returning from suspension.
Now, as to what you should do instead of drafting him? Go with a guy like Greg Olsen, who plays three teams who finished top-10 in most points allowed to the tight end position, and the other two are the Cardinals, who looked AWFUL in preseason, and the Jags, a matchup which I would avoid, and since it is week five, you'd have to go one week streaming the position before locking in Herndon. If you have a deep bench, though, I'd play it safe and stash Herndon, as he has a legitimate shot at finishing inside the top ten from weeks six through 17, something not many late-round picks can say.
by Noah Pires
October 17, 2019
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