Here’s my final Top 10 for the year, and thus more forward looking than usual. Good luck in your championship games. But if you are in the finals and need a waiver add, let me first opine that I like Peyton Barber (RB), Keelan Cole and Mike Wallace (WR) and Eric Ebron (TE).
1. There seems to have been a paradigm shift at receiver in fantasy. I looked at the top 100 seasons since 2000 by wideouts (points per game, minimum 12 games). In 2013, nine receivers made this overall list. That declined to eight in 2014, seven in 2015, six in 2016 and just two this year (Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins). ZeroRB was a great strategy but like all such strategies born out of its time. But that time seems to have passed. So if you are trying to gain an edge over the competition structurally instead of relying on picking the best players (very hard to do), you’ll probably need to switch to something else.
2. I’m thinking the strategy for next year may be loading up on tight ends. Three of the top 15 receivers this year in fantasy points per game are tight ends: Rob Gronkowski (3rd), Travis Kelce (11th) and Zach Ertz (15th). The prior three years combined there were four, according to Pro-Football-Reference. So Gronk and Kelce could be a great solution next year plus there is the emerging O.J. Howard, who seems to have top 20 upside, and Evan Engram looks like a fantasy stud in the making. Try to get your league to have more flexes as this is an edge for the more savvy and strategic player. Alas, TEs historically have significantly more injury risk than WRs but they are not really being used conventionally anymore in-line so perhaps those injury factors are overstated.
3. Some will discount Kareem Hunt a little because his yards before contact rushing this year of 3.0 vs. NFL average of 2.4 leads the league. But is that a Hunt stat or an offensive line stat? I mean, the running back’s first job is to evade contact, right?
4. The Raiders are first in yards AFTER contact (2.26). So maybe Marshawn Lynch is doing whatever he is doing on his own. But maybe Lynch just runs into people. So while the Raiders are 31st In yards before contact (1.9), Jalen Richard’s number is elite: 2.8. Why is this so? I don’t get the emphasis on yards before and after contact. Remember, add them both up and it’s exactly yards per rush. So what are we gaining? The evasiveness and broken tackle stats are more useful but rely on subjective scoring and a small and thus perhaps more random number of plays. I’ll be looking into whether these stats are predictive and even when they stabilize in the offseason. We have to do a better job measuring running back skill. Otherwise we’re really just betting touches, which for now remains the safest approach.
5. One of the most important stats in fantasy is red zone possessions per game. Not success, just conversions. Entering Week 16, 721 of 1,007 offensive TDs came in the red zone, that’s 72%. And the best thing about red zone possession per game is that it’s very predictive. You can see comparing the last three weeks to the full season, there are not many major outliers. One is the 49ers, and we all know why they are in the red zone so much more often the last three games (fifth-best 4.3 times per game). Seattle has really hit the skids of late (1.3).
6. The expected distribution of these touchdowns is 62% passing and 38% running. The major outliers in distribution are the Dolphins and Seahawks (94% and 90% passing, respectively) and on the other side, the Colts and Titans (31% and 35%, respectively). But most importantly, heading into next season, expect a decline in Eagles passing TDs (77% is very likely to regress) and, among the good offenses, a significant increase in the passing TDs of the Panthers (48%), Saints (50%) and Falcons (54%).
7. Russell Wilson is really airing it out this year, as the NFL leader in air yards from scrimmage to target — 5,015. Ben Roethlisberger is next at 4,852, according to data provided by the NFL.
8. At the other end of the spectrum, Brees leads the NFL in turning every air yard into 1.27 yards. This is a lot like the yards before contact with running backs where it can be used to justify that the player in question is somehow not deserving of his success. But like the running back who finds the empty space to run, Brees is the master at perfectly aiming short passes so they result in maximum yards after the catch. Only four other QBs are over a yard passing per air yard (and none are close to Brees): Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Aaron Rodgers. Jared Goff is there with rounding. Maybe this rather than completion percentage is the best “accuracy” stat. The trailers are DeShone Kizer (.64), Tom Savage (.72), Wilson (.73), Jameis Winston (.74) and Trevor Siemian (.75). Not the greatest company for Wilson and Winston but these two QBs are old school in downfield throwing.
9. Two players who the models hate but who are productive in fantasy are Melvin Gordon and Jimmy Graham. And Graham was named to the Pro Bowl at tight end. Graham’s 5.3 yard per target on 83 targets is the lowest (minimum 80 targets) for a TE since 2008 and fourth-lowest since 2000. There’s only one other player under 6.0 who was over age 30 at the time, Antonio Gates last year. Gates was rightfully faded last season but will people do the same with Graham? I sure will. Graham should at best share the position next year. Graham through last season was 8.22 yards per target, so this decline is very likely a sign of diminishing skill.
10. As for Gordon, the only other back since 2000 to be under 4.0 per carry on at least 180 carries in his first three seasons is Willis McGahee, who left the Bills for the Ravens in his fourth season. The only other since the merger to do it are Karim Abdul-Jabar and John Stephens. Gordon’s fantasy reputation far exceeds his real-life performance.