10 Things We Learned: Week 6 (Fantasy Football)
Well, it was another wild week of action in the NFL. The Jags laid an egg, the Browns came crashing back down to earth, and Brock Osweiler produced some Fitzmagic. The Sunday night battle royale between the Patriots and Chiefs probably stole the show, but as fantasy owners we can get just as amped for a nice Jets-Colts shootout. You never know which game could make the difference in your fantasy matchup, and there’s plenty to be learned for fantasy purposes in every game.
Here are 10 of the big takeaways for this week.
Melvin Gordon is the best fantasy back not named Todd Gurley
Gordon had yet another massive fantasy game in Week 6, piling up 150 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns on 20 touches. Gordon has topped 100 total yards or scored in every game this season, and he now has three games with 150+ yards and two games with three scores.
Yes, Gordon is ceding some touches to Austin Ekeler, but he’s more than made up for that with improved performance. Gordon averaged less than four yards per carry (YPC) in each of his first three seasons, but this year his YPC is over five. He’s also being utilized in the passing game more than ever, averaging five catches for 46.5 yards per game. And the scoring opportunities are endless in an explosive Chargers offense.
Besides Gurley, Gordon’s main rivals for top-two fantasy back status all have questions marks that Gordon doesn’t have to deal with. Alvin Kamara is an incredible talent and should bounce back in a big way from last week’s down game, but he is still going to lose some touches to Mark Ingram. Saquon Barkley can do everything you would want a running back to do on the football field, but he will continue to be slightly held back by an anemic Eli Manning-led offense. James Conner has shown he can have as big a fantasy day as any back in the league, but the looming return of Le’Veon Bell is hanging over his head. Ezekiel Elliot and Kareem Hunt are great backs, too, but they simply haven’t been performing close to Gordon’s level statistically.
Add it all up and the conclusion is clear: Gordon is fantasy football’s number two overall running back going forward.
Baker Mayfield and Jarvis Landry aren’t on the same page yet
Mayfield has already shown enough to instill confidence that he is a different breed of QB than the city of Cleveland has seen in decades. But Mayfield is still a rookie, and it showed on Sunday as he struggled in a blowout home loss to the Chargers.
A big part of the problem is that he’s been unable to regularly connect with Landry, far and away the Browns’ best receiver. Landry has received 29 targets over Mayfield’s three starts, but he’s only caught 11 of them for a grand total of 114 yards and one touchdown. That simply isn’t going to get it done for the Browns or fantasy owners. Mayfield and Landry both share some of the blame for their collective struggles, but the bottom line is that they are both skilled enough to quickly turn things around.
While the Chargers matchup was favorable on paper, the Browns have an even more attractive matchup with Tampa Bay next week. If Mayfield and Landry continue to struggle in that game, then perhaps it may be time to worry a bit more. But for now, Mayfield looks like a strong Week 7 streaming candidate and Landry has the look of a fantastic buy-low target.
Peyton Barber is still a thing
Many people (myself included) hoped that the Buccaneers would spend their bye week transitioning their backfield from Barber to rookie Ronald Jones, but it turned out to be wishful thinking. That’s always the risk when we’re trying to predict the whims of football coaches like Dirk Koetter, which is why I also stashed Barber when he hit the waiver wire in one of my leagues ahead of Week 6.
Tampa Bay had an attackable matchup with the Falcons, so whichever running back was given the opportunity was likely to have success. That’s exactly what happened, and the running back was Barber, who turned his 17 touches into 106 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Jones was a total afterthought, getting just four touches for 19 yards.
The Buccaneers still have one of the worst running games in the league, so it’s far from certain that Barber will be able to keep this up against stingier defenses. Still, he’s likely bought himself some more time as the team’s lead back, and Tampa Bay won’t face another especially tough run defense until December. That means that Barber is once again a legit flex consideration, and he could even have some low-end RB2 value in favorable matchups.
Julio Jones’ bizarre touchdown avoidance continues unabated
Jones is once pace for 1,885 receiving yards this season, a total which would be just ahead of his own 2015 season as the second-most receiving yards in a single campaign. The difference, of course, is that Jones produced a healthy eight touchdowns in 2015. This year, he’s on pace for…Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The touchdown slump really began last year, when Jones played a full slate and put up 1,444 yards but just three TDs. He’s now played in 11 straight regular season games since he last crossed the goal line.
It’s really hard for fantasy owners to know what to do about this. In most leagues, a touchdown is worth 60 receiving yards. So if Jones’ inability to score continues, it is possible he could lead the league in receiving yards and still not finish as a top-15 fantasy WR in non-PPR formats.
Up until this point, the general consensus has been that Jones is due for positive touchdown regression and that he should continue to be treated as a top-five fantasy receiver. Many people will undoubtedly stick to that line even after Jones came up empty in the touchdown department while catching 10 passes for 143 yards against a soft Bucs’ D.
Yes, Jones will almost certainly score some touchdowns at some point this season. But at this point, we simply have to acknowledge that he is a worse bet to score than most receivers of his size and stature. Which means it is probably time to downgrade him to low-end WR1 status in fantasy leagues.
Cooper Kupp owners may have dodged a bullet
Week 6 was thankfully light on injuries, but one that looked pretty bad was the horse collar tackle by Darian Stewart that forced Kupp to be carted off the field. Much to the relief of Rams fans and fantasy owners, Kupp was able to miraculously return to the game in the third quarter, although he only played briefly before again being removed from the game.
The fact that Kupp was even able to stand on the sideline with his teammates is obviously encouraging, but he reportedly “isn’t out of the woods yet” and will undergo further testing on his knee. Kupp has been a revelation for fantasy owners, joining teammates Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods as top-25 fantasy receivers thus far.
If Kupp’s injury does end up costing him significant time, Josh Reynolds will quickly become a name to know in fantasy leagues. Reynolds is a talented second-year wideout, and Rams’ offensive mastermind Sean McVay has proven beyond a doubt that his offense can produce three fantasy-viable wide receivers.
Josh Gordon’s fantasy value is on the rise
Gordon had a relatively quiet game against the Chiefs, catching five passes for 42 scoreless yards, but the key numbers are nine and 81. Those are the number of targets and percentage of snaps that he got in the contest.
Gordon’s talent has never been in question, nor has the ability of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Josh McDaniels to produce gaudy offensive numbers. The Patriots should continue to spread the ball around a fair amount, particularly to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, so Gordon isn’t likely to get the target share of a true number one receiver. But if he continues to lead the team in target share and air yards going forward, it is hard to see how Gordon doesn’t at least return WR2 value.
The Jaguars’ D cost a lot of fantasy owners a win this week
The game had an over-under of just 40 points, and Jacksonville was favored to win. Playing in Dallas is never easy, but it nonetheless seemed like a solid spot to roll with the Jacksonville defense, even though they hadn’t quite met expectations so far this year.
Instead, the Jags got completely steamrolled by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, likely costing quite a few fantasy owners (myself included) their Week 6 matchups. It was easy to look past last week’s performance against the seemingly unstoppable Chiefs offense, but this one has led to some soul-searching in the Jacksonville locker room.
The simple truth is that it is very hard to predict which fantasy defenses are going to be good from year to year. Right now the second-best fantasy defense is the New York Jets, who weren’t even drafted in many fantasy leagues. Meanwhile, the top-rated fantasy defense, the Chicago Bears, just got lit up by Brock Osweiler.
It is probably worth sticking with the Jags D for another week or two. But if they don’t get their act together in their upcoming home matchups with Houston and Philadelphia, there will be little reason to devote a roster spot to the Jags D through their Week 9 bye.
Brock Osweiler, Albert Wilson, and Frank Gore tore apart one of the league’s top defenses
Yes, you read that right. Osweiler, who is best known for failing miserably as the franchise QB in Denver, got the start when Ryan Tannehill was surprisingly inactive with a sprained shoulder. Osweiler proceeded to throw for 380 yards and three touchdowns against Khalil Mack and the Bears, bringing the Dolphins back from a two-score deficit to win in overtime. He may want to send his offensive line a gift basket.
But the biggest offensive star of the game was probably Albert Wilson, who took two short passes from Osweiler to the house for long touchdowns. Wilson was just as unlikely a star as his quarterback — this was his first multi-touchdown game and just the second time he’s gone over 90 receiving yards in his five-year career.
Then there was old man Frank Gore. Gore actually had fewer touches in this game than Kenyan Drake, after Gore dominated the workload in previous weeks, but it hardly mattered as he went over 100 rushing yards for the first time this season.
It was a highly-implausible recipe for victory, which is always a fun thing for football fans, but the fantasy ramifications should not be overstated. Osweiler will likely return to the bench when Tannehill is healthy. Wilson perhaps deserves to be viewed as the top big-play threat in Miami’s unpredictable receiver corps going forward, but that just means he’ll have the boom-or-bust flex appeal previously held by Kenny Stills. And Gore and Drake will continue to form a messy backfield committee, where each is a decent flex option but neither close to being a reliable RB2.
The Taylor Gabriel breakout continues
Although he was on the losing side of the game, Gabriel came out like a winner for fantasy owners, posting his second straight 100-yard receiving effort. Gabriel has quickly established himself as the top big-play receiver in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, a role that you may recall served Tyreek Hill quite well when Nagy ran the Chiefs’ offense last season.
Gabriel may not be quite on Hill’s level as an athlete (is anyone?), but he has hauled in at least four catches in every game this season and has placed himself firmly on the WR3/flex radar with upside for more. It will be very tough to keep Gabriel out of fantasy lineups if the Bears’ offense continues to show signs of improvement like it has over the last two games.
Marlon Mack is back
Given the Colts’ inability to run the ball this season, it appeared that pass-catching specialist Nyheim Hines would end up being the team’s most useful fantasy RB. That could still be true, but for one week at least this was Marlon Mack’s backfield.
Finally healthy after a nagging hamstring injury cost him a month of action, Mack ran effectively against the Jets, toting the rock 12 times for 89 yards. It was the first time this season that any Indianapolis runner had exceeded 61 rushing yards. Suddenly, Mack is back to being the lead Colts ball carrier that we expected him to be entering the season.
Now, the caveats. The Colts are 3oth in the league in rushing, and it will take more than one decent performance to instill confidence that Mack can consistently churn out yards on the ground. And even if he can continue to run efficiently, he’ll need more than 12 carries most weeks in order to make an impact in fantasy leagues.
Mack’s reemergence certainly makes Jordan Wilkins expendable in fantasy leagues, if he wasn’t already. But it remains to be seen whether Mack or Hines will be the more valuable fantasy back — it really comes down to whether Indy can run the ball. For now, Mack and Hines are both reasonable RB3/flex options.