Should We Trust These Late-Season Surges? (2019 Fantasy Football)
When analyzing a player’s stats at the end of the season, it’s important to consider how he reached those numbers and how consistent he was. Did he start the season red hot and then fall off the map in the second half to earn a respectable end of season WR7 finish like Adam Thielen? Sure, he was the hottest receiver in football over the first half of the season, but from Week 12 onward he was the WR23 overall and disappointed many owners who made moves for him early in the season.
Was he a consistent week to week producer? Or was he like Tyreek Hill, whose fantasy point distribution was all over the place? He finished as the WR1 in PPR scoring and he had five weeks where he put up 20+ fantasy points. However, he also had eight weeks with 11 points or fewer and seven weeks where he recorded less than five receptions.
The players I want to look at in this article are the ones who had late-season surges in 2018. When the most recent memory we have of a player is positive, our recency bias will encourage us to view that player in a more positive light, and we may glance over the details that enabled him to burst onto the scene in the waning moments of the season.
Amari Cooper (WR – DAL): Full season: WR18. Last six weeks: WR3
There are no two ways about it, the move from Oakland to Dallas ignited a fire under Amari Cooper, and he reminded us all who he was and who we thought he could be in his rookie and sophomore seasons of 2015 and ’16. After seeing three targets or less on three occasions in the first six weeks of 2018 in Oakland, Cooper saw at least five targets in every game he played in a Cowboys uniform and owned a 21.5% target share once joining the team. Along with Ezekiel Elliott (assuming his contract issues are resolved), Cooper will be a focal point of a sneaky good offense in 2019. Through the first six weeks of 2018, Dak Prescott ranked 26th in passing yards. From Week 7 and on (with Cooper in the lineup), he was seventh. Cooper’s late-season surge was no fluke, and he should continue to carry WR1 potential in 2019.
Derrick Henry (RB – TEN): Full season: RB16. Last six weeks: RB3
Derrick Henry blew the top off of the fantasy football world last year during Weeks 13-15. In that three-game span, he was given 71 carries and he turned them into 492 yards and seven touchdowns, on 6.93 yards per carry. However, I want to look at another three-game span from his 2018 season — his first three games. He was given a chance to be the starter. He tallied just 139 yards and no touchdowns on 46 carries (3.02 YPC) in Weeks 1-3 and basically lost his starting job to Dion Lewis.
In Henry’s first two seasons, he averaged a decent 4.5 and 4.2 YPC but was only given 15+ touches four times in that span. Then the first time we saw him in a starting role, he was given back-to-back 18 carry games to begin the 2018 season, and he laid back to back stinkers, and then lost his workload. His late-season surge was exciting, but it certainly wasn’t enough to convince me that we’ll see any kind of consistency from Henry in 2019. We’re overreacting to an incredible three games that came at the end of what had so far been an underwhelming three career seasons. If he starts 2019 poorly, he’ll be on a short leash, and Dion Lewis will be ready and waiting to pick up the slack.
Chris Carson (RB – SEA): Full season: RB15. Last six weeks: RB5
In the spring of 2018, the Seahawks spent a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny, but draft capital has never meant that much to head coach Pete Carroll. He’ll simply roll with whoever is playing the best football. Last year that was Chris Carson, and not the oft-injured rookie. Carson commanded the starting role in 2018 and Penny was only given double-digit carries in two games. On the second of those occasions, he pounded out his 12 carries for 108 yards and a score.
In 2019, all signs point to a more evenly split backfield between Carson and Penny, as Penny seems to be maturing as an NFL player. “He’s learning how to practice,” Schottenheimer said. “I talked a little in the spring about just him maturing and he is doing that…. The sky is the limit (for Penny). He’s a really talented young man.”
Carson and Penny should both be fantasy relevant running backs in 2019. The Seahawks run the ball more than any team in the NFL and were, in fact, the only team last year that ran the ball more often than they passed it. Carson and Penny cap each other’s ceiling, though, so I can’t see either of them finishing better than a mid-level RB2.
George Kittle (TE – SF): Full season: TE3. Last six weeks: TE1
This is an interesting one. Kittle is being unanimously ranked as a top-three tight end, but many are putting Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz above him. Over the entire season, Kelce and Ertz each had at least 24 more fantasy points than Kittle, but over the last six games, it was Kittle who had at least 16 more points than both of them. Could Kittle be the TE1 favorite for 2019? I believe he can be.
Zach Ertz broke the tight end reception record last year, racking up 116 of them and passing Jason Witten’s 110 from 2012, but things are a lot more crowded in Philly this year. The Eagles acquired DeSean Jackson in free agency and drafted Miles Sanders, a top running back with great ability as a receiver, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. All these players will command targets in 2019. They also have a budding young tight end in Dallas Goedert (Ertz’s eventual replacement) who’s itching to get more involved.
Kelce will be a harder block to hurdle, but Kittle is an ideal situation in San Francisco. He’s the most established receiving weapon on the team, and he just produced a top-three tight end fantasy performance with Nick Mullens as his primary quarterback. If Jimmy Garappolo can stay healthy, Kittle has a great shot at finishing as the top tight end in 2019.
Dalvin Cook (RB – MIN): Full season: RB36. Last six weeks: RB6
The reason Dalvin Cook had such a low season long finish was because he missed five games to injury. Injury is clearly a big concern for Cook, but when he’s been on the field, he’s produced. In his 15 career games, Cook is averaging a respectable 4.7 YPC, and in the second half of 2018, it looked like he was finally getting comfortable and consistent. In 2019, he won’t have to worry about losing carries to Latavius Murray, and he’ll be the unquestioned starter in that backfield. His RB6 finish over the last six weeks of 2018 was no fluke, it was just the result of Cook finally being healthy.
Damien Williams (RB – KC): Full season: RB31. Last six weeks: RB8
When Kareem Hunt was cut by the Chiefs and suspended, Damien Williams came in and filled his role successfully. It’s no question that being a running back in Andy Reid’s system sets you up for success. Over his last nine seasons as a head coach, Reid’s offenses haven’t finished worse than 16th in rushing yards, and have been in the top 10 in six of those seasons.
The question is, is Damien Williams the guy? It’s hard to trust him when the Chiefs went out and got Carlos Hyde to back him up, but they’ve been adamant that Williams is their starter. Additionally, Williams averaged 5.1 YPC for the Chiefs last year. Carlos Hyde averaged 3.9 YPC in his last year on the 49ers and then 3.4 and 3.3 last year with the Browns and Jaguars, respectively. Williams may be on a relatively short leash, but it appears to be his job to lose, and in that offense, I don’t see why he wouldn’t put up similar numbers to what he did at the end of 2018.
Robby Anderson (WR – NYJ): Full season: WR41. Last six weeks: WR12
In Robby Anderson’s first 10 games he exceeded 70 receiving yards just once. In his last four games though, he hit that mark three times. I think the biggest contributor to his late-season surge was the development of Sam Darnold.
Watching him play last year, it was clear that something clicked for him towards the end of the season. He seemed more comfortable in the pocket, he successfully extended plays outside the pocket, and we started to see his raw talent blossom. Adam Gase’s offenses have been known to favor the slot receivers (Jarvis Landry and Danny Amendola led the team in targets for Gase’s three years in Miami), but Darnold’s continued development will be good for all of his receivers. I don’t think Anderson will finish the season in the top 12, but I believe he’ll have a much more consistent WR2-type season with Darnold entering year two.