by Nick Ercolano
July 17, 2019
Yeh, we get it, no one likes talking about quarterbacks and tight ends when it comes to fantasy football. That's what BDGE is here for. We zig when y'all zag. So we're getting in the muck and dissecting the least likable positions without top sleepers at the quarterback and tight spots for 2019 fantasy football.
Current ADP: QB16, Overall 149
Where do we start with Lamar Jackson, the good, the bad or the ugly? Let’s start with the latter two, get them out of the way and leave you with a positive takeaway on the Ravens starting running back.
Did I say that out loud?
To say Lamar Jackson was bad throwing the ball in 2018 is like saying Andy Reid casually enjoys hot dogs. It ain’t it. The Ravens QB, after taking over starting duties in Week 11 held PFF’s 3rd worst passing grade among 35 qualified QBs. Josh Allen was the only starting QB who graded out lower on the list. Jackson ranked 38th in adjusted completion percentage. Again, only Josh Allen finished lower. Lamar’s deep ball accuracy rate (38.5%) ranked 23rd among starting NFL quarterbacks and his accuracy was dead last on throws when clean in the pocket. Admittedly, that last stat makes me hesitant about Jackson’s future. A starting NFL quarterback should be able to make throws when kept clean in the pocket. If you watched Jackson at all last year, there were times he had all day and into next week to throw and simply airmailed that hoe a yard above and behind his intended receiver running a short slant route over the middle.
We’ve laid the framework. Jackson was a miserable passer in 2018. Looking at the raw numbers wouldn’t necessarily suggest as much, given his 6:3 TD-to-INT ratio on the year, but the 58.2% completion rate and his 7.1 yards per attempt suggest to you that he certainly struggled to get there. The question now becomes, can I, the master of big fact finesse, twist the numbers so vastly as to tell you that Jackson’s rookie stats are, in fact, fraudulent and we as a fantasy community should have higher hopes for Lamar Jackson’s fantasy football life in 2019?
The answer is yes. Give me a dollar I’m turning it into $50. Give me a lime, I’ll make you a marg. Give me Lamar Jackson and I’m turning him into Patrick Mahomes.
Last year, Lamar Jackson took over as the starting QB for the Ravens in Week 11. They threw an unpolished, raw athlete into their starting quarterback role midway through the season – we shouldn’t have expected much from the former Heisman winner iwbh. What I absolutely love more than anything about Lamar Jackson’s situation in Baltimore is how heavily this team has bought into centering their offense around HIS style of play, not trying to transform his play so that it would fit into a mediocre, standard 2019 NFL offense. However, building this type unique type of offense, one we’ve likely never seen before on an NFL field, and implementing it successfully isn’t something that’s going to happen during a bye week. This 👏Ain’t 👏Madden 👏Young 👏Chiefs. Whereas most front offices love the idea of trying something like this, 99% of them operate on a short-term basis, trying to save their jobs, year-over-year. I can’t blame them. In today’s NFL, the question is “What have you done for me lately?”. The turnover rate for NFL coaches these days is on par with my girlfriends tbh. I have commitment issues maybe I’ll talk about it my next vlog. Very rarely do I committ.. I mean very rarely do we see a system, a coach, a theory play itself out over the long-run because teams don’t want to take short-term L’s. But we’re about to see it happen in Maryland.
Again, this is a complicated offense. Tons of play action. Lots of RPOs (run-pass-options). Tons of weapons moving around pre-snap. Unmatched levels of speed on the field. You cannot simply make this happen in the middle of the regular season. In 2018, once L-Jax was under center, opposing defenses had one thing on their mind – contain Lamar Jackson. That was it. Their weapons group was arguably bottom-5 in the NFL. John Brown is great, but behind him, everything was similar to the inside of my apartment on Sunday mornings – trash. So this offseason, what did the Ravens do? They invested in speed. Then, they invested in speed. And once they finished investing in speed, they invested in more speed. If I were talking about the drug they would’ve overdosed by the 4th round of the NFL draft. After losing John Brown to Buffalo via free agency, they used their 1st-round pick, 25th overall, on Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, the devilish playmaking wideout from U of Oklahoma. He didn’t participate at the NFL Combine because he’s recovering from a lisfranc foot injury, but almost anything you read about Brown reiterates him as a mid 4.3’s 40-yard dash guy. In the third round, the Ravens invest in the 6’4-220lb wideout from Notre Dame, Miles Boykin, who runs a 4.42 40-yard dash – a 98th percentile weight-adjusted speed score. A few picks later, sniff sniff, inject inject, more SPEEEEED WOOOOO. Justice the gawd Hill – the fastest running back at the 2019 NFL Combine (4.40).
So, teams can choose to plan around Lamar Jackson’s speed, but only at the cost of speed elsewhere in this offense. The Ravens also did a phenomenal job of using play action last year: The Ravens utilized play-action passing on 42.9% of Jackson’s throws in 2018. That was the highest rate among all NFL quarterbacks last year, and it wasn’t close. Jared Goff came in second with a full 7% lower rate (35.8%). Followed by Carson Wentz whose 32.1% rate was more than 10% lower than Jackson’s. On standard passing plays (non-play action), Lamar Jackson averaged 5.9 yards per attempt, which is awful. On play action passes, Jackson’s YPA skyrocketed up to 8.8. It’s not a groundbreaking clip, but that 2.9 difference in YPA from non-play action vs. play action passes was the highest gap among any NFL QB last year. This offense, once fully implemented and learned by these playmakers is going to be a NIGHTMARE to game plan against for opposing OCs
Something I absolutely cannot get my head around, and I hope someone reading this can give me the big facts as to how this happened, is that the Ravens led the NFL in offensive plays run last year (1,135), and the Patriots who ran the 2nd most plays (1,073) weren’t necessarily close, almost a full game worth of plays behind them. What makes it jaw-dropping is the fact that the Ravens ran the single most run plays in the NFL last year (547), with the 3rd highest run rate (48.2%). Typical intuition would tell you that the more groundwork a team trends towards, the more game clock churns off the bottom left of your television. So, how is it that the Ravens ran the ball, then ran the ball, then what they did next was crazy, they ran the ball again, but still had time to run so many zamn plays? I’m shook daddy.
Regardless, more plays is never not a good thing when we’re talking about fantasy football. Obviously, they’d like to get Lamar throwing the ball (accurately) more often in 2019, but they’re bought into Lamar’s style of play wholeheartedly. What Lamar Jackson did on the ground last year can NOT be understated. He literally made 7 starts at quarterback in 2018 and posted the 11th highest QB season rushing total (697) of all time. Ever. Eva. Fa eva eva. Since the year 1991, only Mike Vick, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and RGIII have had bigger single-season rushing totals at the QB position… Lamar did this in 7 games. Needless to say, he led the NFL in rushing attempts (147) and rushing yards last year. Baltimore’s QB was fantasy’s QB5 over those 7 weeks, despite averaging 159 passing yards/game and just 0.7 passing touchdowns per game. Lamar Jackson is THE perfect quarterback to draft in 1QB leagues this year. At his current price point of QB16, 149th overall you have to use almost no draft capital on him, and he’ll probably be available on a majority of waiver wires immediately following the draft. He has ALL the upside this year in today’s NFL/fantasy football world – where rushing production out of your QB is.. it, chief. If Lamar is on the field for a full 16, he’s going to shatter Mike Vick’s QB record of 1,039 rushing yards. If he doesn’t stay on the field, whatever go grab a new QB off of the wire. And get me a beer out of the fridge while you’re at it, please.
Current ADP: QB21, Overall 174
I don’t typically if ever, advocate drafting a QB in 1QB leagues based on their floor but at QB20, Kirk’s blend of floor and upside is wild based on his late availability. The Vikings quarterback, who spent the three seasons prior as Washington’s starting quarterback, has averaged 4,369 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns over the last four NFL seasons. He’s coming off of a career-high 30-touchdown campaign, surrounded by arguably the best supporting cast in the league: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, a healthy and excellent pass-catching back in Dalvin Cook, a newly extended Kyle Rudolph and a 2nd-round rookie stud TE Irv Smith to act as the third, seam-stretching weapon in this offense behind his elite WR duo.
Are we worried about this offense being far more run-heavy with Kevin Stefanski assuming the full-time OC role in Minnesota? Sure, but we’ve also seen Kirk rake in fantasy despite much lower passing volume than what we saw out of him last year. The 84-million dollar man was fantasy’s QB9 and QB4 in 2015 and 2017, respectively, attempting just 540 and 543 pass attempts during those seasons. Those totals would not have cracked the top 12 in 2018. He’s proven to play well on low volume. I’d also argue that the whole “run-heavy” narrative in Minnesota this year, while the argument is absolutely made on realistic grounds, is being overblown. First off, we’re going off of a 3… THREE game sample-size from 2018 with Stefanski taking over as the Vikes OC. We always fade small sample-size bias. Secondly, do you know how much money the Vikings have tied up in their passing game? In 2019 alone, $28M, $14M and $13M will make their way into Kirk, Thielen and Diggs’ bank accounts. Do you think they’re going to waste $55M this year on handoffs and wide receiver run-blocking? I mean, we’ve seen dumber things on an NFL field, but come on.
Current ADP: TE21, Overall 146
Hockenson is one of the top all-around tight end prospects we've seen enter the NFL over the last half-decade. He can do anything asked of him from flying by linebackers to running crisp routes to pancaking suckaZ on a GL carry. And the Lions plan to use him accordingly, on all three downs, immediately.
The hesitation from fantasy players stems from the fact that Hockenson is a rookie and he’s on Matt Patricia’s offense which tends to skew more run-heavy than the typical NFL offense, to put it lightly. This is the correct take but doesn’t mean Hockenson can’t thrive as Stafford’s go-to-guy over the middle. Losing Golden Tate was clearly a negative for the Lions QB, after averaging 132 targets/season during his 4-year tenure in Detroit. Stafford has an underrated weaponry group heading into 2019, but they all clearly have their roles: Golladay and Marvin Jones will operate on the outside while Kerryon will ground-and-pound in addition to catching dump-offs and swing passes. The Lions signed the soon-to-be 34-year-old Danny Amendola to a one-year deal, but I’m not about to use that man as a reason to fade Hockengawd.
When you’re looking at the back-end of TE1’s in fantasy, it’s a blur – a huge mix of “fuck I should have drafted a tight end earlier”‘s. Guys going ahead of Hockenson right now. Guys who disappointed last year, guys competing with other TEs on their own team, guys whose TD upside is capped at 3 or 4, guys who are 35 years old coming off of toe surgery and broken ankles. When I think about Hockenson this year, I imagine a player who will see the field on 85% of Detroit’s plays. There were only 5 or so guys at the position that accomplished the feat in 2018. You can probably guess who they were.
Hockenson has no objectively glaring holes in his game and is primed to step in and occupy a 3-down role in an offense led by Matt Patricia who we must not forget, came over from New England. If I remember correctly, the Patriots have been decent at producing fantasy TEs. The other big piece of the puzzle that people are forgetting about is Darrell Bevell, the Lions new offensive coordinator. Bevell has a well-documented history of skewing heavily towards the ground game. No problem, Hockenson is one of the best run-blocking tight ends we’ve seen come out of college in quite some time. But what I haven’t heard be mentioned is just how involved tight ends have historically been in the passing game for Darrell Bevell offenses:
During the last three years Bevell assumed an OC position, Jimmy Graham was used at an insane rate, especially relative to TEs around the NFL. What’s more promising is just how involved Graham was in the redzone. During the 2017 season, Jimmy Graham led the NFL in:
The case can be made that peak Jimmy Graham was one of the most dangerous weapons at the position in the league’s history, which wouldn’t be far off, but during that 2017 season, Graham was already 31 and on the decline. Hockenson is as NFL-ready as they come as a prospect.
Just a side note: My guy Bevell made Visanthe Shiancoe a top-five fantasy tight end during his run as OC in Minnesota in 2008 and 2009.
The last thing to be considered is that the Detroit Lions have low-key assembled a strong offensive line up front, grading out as the 8th best pass-blocking group in 2018 per PFF. Do you know who else they signed this off-season? Jesse James. If you think Jesse James is going to hurt Hockenson’s bottom-line, you’re drunker than I am right now. And I’m flirting with double-digit margs at the moment. Jesse James was the 8th best pass-blocking tight end in the NFL last year. What does all of this mean? They won’t need Hockenson to stay in and block for Stafford, he’s already got a great group up front and a very good pass-blocking tight end. So, even if Hockenson doesn’t hit that 85% snap rate, he’ll still be running routes on a high percentage of those snaps.
Hockenson is being drafted ridiculously low for the floor he’s going to give you. He’s a year or two away from contending for a top-tier fantasy spot, but I’d rather have him as my tight end this year than a lot of the guys going in the TE10-15 range if you happen to miss out on a legit TE1. A 45-650-6 line is absolutely not out of his range of outcomes for his 2019 rookie season.
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