By the Numbers: Mid-Season Leaders and Losers
Numbers matter in fantasy football. There’s no denying that. Passing yards are measured in numbers. Receiving TDs are measured in numbers. Rushing yards, receptions, interceptions, rushing TDs – that’s right, all numbers. The most critical fantasy number is points scored. Score more than your opponent, and you win. Score even a fraction of a point less, and you lose.
In the world of fantasy football, numbers are everything. Fantasy owners can read the box score of every game every week, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. Numbers without context are meaningless. Some numbers matter more than others, some are good predictors of future behavior, some are fluky and hard to consistently forecast, and others merely reinforce what our eyes already tell us about a particular player.
In this week’s article, I’m taking a different approach in honor of the mid-way point of the season. Now that half of this season’s games have been played, I’m going to look at the biggest leaders and losers so far based on our preseason half-PPR Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) at each position. I’ve compared the preseason ranking to the actual ranking up to this point in the season and calculated the difference. A positive number means that player has exceeded his projections. A negative number means the opposite. The higher the number, the bigger the difference. (All scoring is half-PPR, four-point per passing TD)
This list is full of surprises, as Phillip Lindsay, James White, James Conner, and T.J. Yeldon are all currently top-15 RBs. Adrian Peterson has turned back the clock once again, showing why he got the nickname, “All Day.” The man shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and he was fantasy’s fifth-highest scoring back in Week 8. Phillip Lindsay has been great with limited work and, with Royce Freeman out in Week 8, he turned a heavy workload into 100 scrimmage yards and a score.
James White will continue to feast as Tom Brady’s safety valve receiving back, especially with Sony Michel dealing with an injury. James Conner is locked into a heavy workload on a good offense behind a solid O-line for the time being. Even if Le’Veon Bell comes back in Week 10, Conner won’t be phased out completely. Keep rolling with him even if he gets his touches reduced.
T.J. Yeldon continues to rack up receptions on a very bad Jaguars offense. Obviously, the projected return of Leonard Fournette in Week 10 will be a huge hit to Yeldon’s value. I think the Jags signed Carlos Hyde as necessary insurance because the odds are slim that Fournette finishes the season healthy. Yeldon should stay involved moving forward.
Ito Smith is a highly TD-dependent flex, but he’s a lottery ticket stash in case anything happens to Tevin Coleman. Former Mountaineer stud Wendell Smallwood seems to be the Eagles back with the most value, but he’s boom/bust any given week in a head-scratching RBBC that recently featured Josh Adams. Jalen Richard isn’t scoring, but he’s a favorite target of Derek Carr. He’s fifth in RB receptions this season with 39, and he’s a weekly PPR flex.
This is a list rocked with injuries at the top and poor play at the bottom. Leonard Fournette has only played in a few games this season, and he wasn’t all that effective when on the field. He’s projected to come back in Week 10, but I wouldn’t count on that too heavily. Dalvin Cook and Shady have been in and out of game action with injuries as well, and while neither has looked particularly good when in, McCoy has been extremely limited.
As expected, Derrick Henry has been a massive letdown to owners who wasted a third-round pick on him. Ditto, Jordan Howard. JoHo was talked up by fantasy writers across the board, yours truly included. He’s been consistently outproduced by Tarik Cohen this season. I got rid of all my shares of Howard already, and I recommend the same to anyone who still has him. He scores occasionally, but predicting which games he will be useful is a crapshoot.
Royce Freeman has shared time with the above-mentioned Phillip Lindsay, though Lindsay has been the better play. The former Oregon Duck has been underwhelming, but he remains a flex option because of his role. Jamaal Williams started the season with a prime opportunity to take control of Green Bay’s backfield. He couldn’t take advantage. Even though he scored in Week 8 and Ty Montgomery is now a Baltimore Raven, Williams isn’t worth playing in your season-long lineups.
Tyler Boyd has been nothing short of awesome this season. For owners lucky enough to have snagged him, keep playing him despite a tough schedule after the Bengals’ Week 9 bye. David Moore has come on hot recently, scoring four times in his last three games. He has major upside. Calvin Ridley scored six TDs from Weeks 2-4, but he hasn’t scored or topped 47 yards receiving in his three games since. He’s still a valuable WR with some more big games ahead. Keep the faith.
DeSean Jackson remains the ultimate/boom-bust player after leading the NFL in receiving through Week 2 and cooling off significantly after that. After demanding a trade last week (and being immediately rebuffed), D-Jax caught a 60-yard TD in Week 8. He’s been better with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, so his arrow is pointing up, but he’s the same WR as he’s ever been — a roll of the dice on any given Sunday. Tyrell Williams fits that same bill, but he’s been targeted more frequently as of late, and he’s scored three times in the last two weeks. He’s a big-play flex option.
A couple of Ravens make this list, as “Silly” Willie Snead and John Brown have far exceeded expectations. Snead has the higher floor with a low ceiling, garnering 42 targets over his last five games. Brown has a lower floor with a much higher ceiling with his game-breaking speed, and he’s top-five in the NFL in yards per reception. The Ravens’ schedule is awesome from here on out, with games against Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City. A top-25 effort the rest of the way wouldn’t be outlandish.
Robert Woods is locked into a weekly WR1/2 role on the Rams’ high-powered offense. Emmanuel Sanders is a must-start every week as Case Keenum’s favorite target, and he’ll draw even more targets with the recent Demaryius Thomas trade.
There were several huge flops inside the top-20 this year. Doug Baldwin has been dealing with a nagging knee injury, but he’s been an afterthought in an already low-volume Seahawks passing game. He’s not an attractive option right now. Amari Cooper continued to be hit-or-miss in Oakland, but his recent trade to the Cowboys should give him some stability and a consistent role in the offense. He’s trending up. Larry Fitzgerald recently put up his first 100-yard game of 2018 in a Week 8 win over the 49ers. It was the first game with new OC Byron Leftwich, and the entire Cardinals offense will be better after a dreadful start. Fitz still has something left in the tank for fantasy owners.
Pierre Garcon is seemingly never involved in the 49ers’ offense. He has less than three receptions per game, and he hasn’t found the end zone. Allen Hurns wasn’t expected to have any huge games with Dallas, but he’s been a complete non-factor in Dallas’ offense. Randall Cobb exploded in Week 1 before dealing with injuries and just not producing when healthy. Kelvin Benjamin has been better than expected in real-life action, having to deal with Nathan Peterman and Derek Anderson throwing him the football. He’s not fantasy relevant. All of the guys mentioned in this paragraph can be dropped if you haven’t done so already.
Pittsburgh’s TE tandem of James and McDonald have been far better than advertised, getting quality looks from Big Ben and making plays when given the chance. Both have had 100-yard games already, and both should be streamable most weeks. Picking which TE will have a good game, however, is a tough task. Eric Ebron is the biggest surprise on this list, racking up yards and scoring at will in Jack Doyle’s absence. Doyle returned in Week 8 after a six-week hiatus, and he instantly garnered Andrew Luck’s full attention. Ebron has been incredible for fantasy owners, but he won’t keep up the production with Doyle back in the picture. Consider him still a TE1 with much less upside.
Jared Cook has been the most-targeted Raider this season, and he’ll keep posting good fantasy lines for owners after Amari Cooper was traded to the Cowboys. He’s Derek Carr’s most reliable weapon. Austin Hooper has averaged 7-65 over his last three games, and it looks like he has Matt Ryan’s trust. He’s a weekly TE1 option.
Evan Engram has dealt with lingering injuries this season, and he should see his production rise as the season moves forward, but it’s tough to love anyone catching passes from Eli Manning. Mike Gesicki was never a viable starting fantasy TE, but it’s unbelievable just how irrelevant he’s been. Jimmy Graham is a TE1, but he certainly hasn’t put up numbers worthy of his preseason ECR. Tyler Eifert was injured once again on a nasty broken ankle. Sadly, it would be surprising if he played football again. Gronk has had two good games all season, and he hasn’t scored since Week 1. It feels like the big game we’ve been waiting on just isn’t coming. You’ve got to hold him, but he’s not a must-start anymore.
The biggest surprise on this list or any is the emergence of Patrick Mahomes. This guy has been on an absolute tear this season. He’s a leading candidate for MVP, on pace for over 40 passing TDs, and fantasy’s clear overall QB1 through eight games. Set and forget.
Mitchell Trubisky is another big surprise here. He’s been a great starting option for fantasy owners, but the Bears’ schedule isn’t super friendly to QBs down the stretch. Some regression is coming. Joe Flacco has an improved offensive cast around him, competition from Lamar Jackson, and an upcoming contract. He’s been great this year, and his schedule is one of the most friendly to QBs in his remaining games.
Andy Dalton is someone else with great matchups on the horizon. He should continue to put up fantasy points, but don’t play him in prime time. Matt Ryan understandably regressed after his MVP season and a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss. He’s still the same guy, and now he has Calvin Ridley opposite Julio Jones. The Falcons’ defense is atrocious, so Ryan will keep airing it out while Atlanta plays catchup.
I highlighted Russell Wilson in last week’s article, so I won’t keep banging on him. He’s so talented that he will have some good weeks, but he’s inconsistent due to the Seahawks’ low-volume passing attack. Matthew Stafford is an average play at QB, but he’s thrown at least two TDs in every game except Week 1, giving him a great floor. The Lions’ rest of season schedule is brutal to QBs, but he makes a handy bye-week fill-in or spot start as needed.
Marcus Mariota isn’t fantasy relevant, playing on a horrible Titans offense that was supposed to be improved under new OC Matt LaFleur. Tyrod Taylor didn’t last long playing ahead of Baker Mayfield. He would only be useable if Baker missed time.
Alex Smith has thrown for less than 200 yards in three straight games now, and although the Falcons and Bucs are next up on the slate, Smith isn’t a thrilling fantasy play. Washington’s bread and butter is its much-improved defense and run game behind the ageless wonder, Adrian Peterson. Good games are ahead, but it’s hard to get excited about playing Alex Smith.
The Jets have had a strong showing, wildly exceeding preseason expectations. The same is true for Washington, whose run defense has limited Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley to under 100 combined rushing yards. The ‘Skins fantasy playoff schedule is juicy, facing the Giants, Titans, and Jags. Indy’s defense was ranked dead-last in the ECR, but that unit has been solid, and their rest-of-season schedule looks great. Chicago was picked as a D/ST1 by ECR, but the Khalil Mack addition pushed the Bears into elite territory.
Jacksonville’s top-ranked defense from 2017 looks like a shell of itself, and things got worse on Tuesday when DE/LB Dante Fowler got traded to the Rams. Jacksonville is on the waiver wire in most of my leagues, and they’re very much droppable. The Saints and Falcons are allowing ridiculous production to opposing QBs, averaging 303 yards per game between them. Philadelphia’s D/ST, which has been tremendous over the last five seasons, has struggled this year, and they only need to be played in excellent matchups. The Chargers D/ST turned it up last year, but that hasn’t been the case in 2018. They will get better when Joey Bosa returns, but it’s unclear when that will be.