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10 Thoughts: Week 10 Edition

Is Jonathan Taylor becoming a transcendent running back, some eerie parallels, receivers trending up, and much more!

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Fantasy Football - Jonathan Taylor

1) Jonathan Taylor is transcending into an unstoppable fantasy force.
We’re watching a future hall of fame running back approach the peak of his powers this season, and his name is Jonathan Taylor. Taylor shredded the Jets for 200 total yards on Thursday night football, but with Marlon Mack rightfully riding the bench as of late, JT’s recent production over a bigger sample size is staggering. Over his last four games, Taylor has put together a 67/496/6 rushing line (7.4 yards per carry) while averaging 25.5 PPR points per game. He’s not just doing it on the ground though — Taylor caught 12 passes in Weeks 5-9, and what he did with them is special. In that span, Taylor racked up 212 receiving yards, which means he somehow averaged 17.6 yards per reception as a running back. You rarely see running backs put up those types of efficiency stats over one-game sample sizes, let alone over four or five-game stretches, but Taylor is special, and he’s now sitting on the throne as fantasy football’s RB1 overall.

2) The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills are both struggling to generate offense, and the parallels are striking.
These two teams were the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL a season ago, but things have gone awry in ways that few could have imagined here in 2021. The Chiefs are averaging 12 points per game over their last three, and the Bills are averaging 16 points per game in the two games since their bye. Patrick Mahomes is averaging yards per attempt after he averaged a season ago while Josh Allen is averaging yards per attempt after he posted a mark last season. Both of these teams previously predicated their offenses on aggressively throwing the ball deep, and throwing it often, but defenses have solved the riddle. Every defense facing these teams right now is dropping two safeties deep while playing coverage on every down because they know the offenses can’t run the ball effectively or stay patient in the short passing game. We may be witnessing a historic shift in the NFL if defenses are in fact realizing that running the ball doesn’t matter. I’m extremely intrigued to see how both teams counter this phenomenon, but they’ve had no answer so far.

3) Tee Higgins is close to exploding.
Higgins has been a slight disappointment thus far, averaging 12.9 PPR points per contest, but the second-year wideout is just scratching the surface. Higgins is an extremely talented receiver with no weaknesses in his game, and there’s a reason he was on every sharp analyst’s breakout list this summer. Ja’Marr Chase has gotten all of the love in Cincinnati, and understandably so, but what if I told you that Tee Higgins’ 25 percent target share trails Chase’s 26 percent share by just one percentage point? The touchdowns haven’t gone Higgins’ way, as he’s only scored twice this season, but he’s had some close calls and there’s other evidence pointing to positive regression in that area. The Clemson product leads the team in red zone targets with eight and he’s been peppered in that part of the field over the last three weeks (five red zone targets in Weeks 7-9). Bottom line — Higgins hasn’t been a liability by any means, but I’m here to tell you that what we’ve seen so far is his floor, and the ceiling is going to be put on display the rest of the way.

4) James Conner is an RB1 for the foreseeable future.
I’ll be the first to say that I haven’t been a big fan of James Conner this year. Something about lesser players taking high-value touches away from better players rubs me the wrong way, but all of that is irrelevant now. With Chase Edmonds set to miss at least four weeks with a high ankle sprain, this is suddenly James Conner’s backfield. While I don’t think Conner is an above-average running back, he’s versatile enough to rack up 20+ touches per week in a high-scoring offense. It doesn’t matter who it is — almost any NFL running back getting 20+ touches every week (including receiving and goal-line work) in a prolific offense is going to be an RB1, and James Conner is that guy in Arizona. Oh, and don’t listen to all of those people still clinging on to the Eno Benjamin dream… he’s shown absolutely nothing since being drafted in 2020 as a small, and not particularly quick runner.

5) Don’t look now, but Justin Fields is approaching QB1 territory.
Despite operating in one of the worst offensive environments a rookie quarterback has ever seen, Justin Fields is proving the doubters wrong. In Weeks 3-7, Justin Fields went 67-for-116 (57.7% completions) with 746 yards (149 yards per game) and a 2:5 TD/INT ratio while averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. In that same timeframe, he rushed 23 times for 106 yards (21 rushing yards per game). However, in Weeks 8-9, Fields went 36-for-56 (64.3% completions) with 466 yards (233 yards per game) and a 2:2 TD/INT while averaging 8.3 yards per attempt. In those two games, he rushed 18 times for 148 yards (74 rushing yards per game). The improvement is staggering, and it’s time to take notice., as Fields is quietly becoming a legitimate QB1 option. The dual-threat quarterback is a total cheat code in fantasy football and I’ll illustrate that with an example. Let’s say John Doe at QB throws for 220 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 50 yards. Despite the fact that he didn’t do anything remarkable, he scored 20 fantasy points. Now imagine what happens when he rushes for touchdowns or more yards or has an above-average passing game… The floor and ceiling with dual-threat quarterbacks is raised significantly, so don’t underestimate Fields’ potential to put up fantasy points the rest of the way.

6) Donovan Peoples-Jones is quietly emerging as a major threat.
Peoples-Jones was drafted in 2020 because he’s an elite athlete. At 6-foot-2 212 pounds, DPJ runs a 4.48 40-yard dash with a 100th percentile burst score per Playerprofiler. That athleticism has started to manifest itself at the NFL level, as Peoples-Jones has consistently beaten defenders deep in three straight games. He missed some time with a groin injury, but in Weeks 5,6, and 9 (his last three games) Peoples-Jones has gone for 5/70/0, 4/101/2, and 2/86/1 respectively. Those are some serious numbers, and with Odell Beckham Jr. now out of the way, DPJ could be primed for a second-half breakout. I’m aggressively valuing the young wideout like a low-end WR4, and if he can mix in some higher percentage catches to go along with the big plays, the sky is the limit.

7) Tennessee’s defense is playing a little too well.
Out of nowhere, Tennessee’s defense that is seemingly devoid of talent in many places has allowed just 16.7 points per game to opponents over the last three weeks. That’s impressive in and of itself, but even more so when you consider that they faced high octane offenses in every one of those games. I talked last week about how the Titans passing game was primed to explode in wake of Derrick Henry’s season-ending injury, but the defense is throwing a wrench into those plans. Despite not having any real talent at the running back position, Tennessee is content to pound the ball for even just two or three yards per carry if they generate sizable leads, and the defense is allowing for that to happen fairly often. I’ll be watching closely to see how this team’s offense and defense interact going forward, as Ryan Tannehill, Julio Jones, and A.J. Brown’s ceilings are directly correlated.

8) No, Green Bay isn’t going to a 50/50 running back committee.
I’ve already seen some speculating that A.J. Dillon has made up enough ground on Aaron Jones to make this a 50/50 split after each back had 12 touches against the Chiefs, but I seriously doubt that is the case. Green Bay was never going to win their game last week with shell-shocked Jordan Love under center, so it made sense to get A.J. Dillon touches, particularly in the passing game, where he’s still developing. Aaron Jones is an elite all-pro running back in his prime, and Matt LeFleur feeds him the high-value touches. To dispel the “gaining ground” myth that popped up regarding the last few weeks, let’s do some comparing. In Weeks 6-9 Jones has out-touched Dillon 62-43 overall and 14-5 in the red zone while also out-targeting him 22-6. Dillon will get 10-12 touches per game, mostly rushes between the 20s, but this is Aaron Jones’ backfield, and he’ll continue to get the high-value touches as a locked-in RB1.

9) Brandon Aiyuk is so back.
Hopefully, Kyle Shanahan’s ego trip soothed him in some way (or not), but thankfully it’s over now, and Brandon Aiyuk is finally being utilized appropriately. Aiyuk has run a route on 90+ percent of dropbacks two weeks in a row while playing 88 and 93 percent of snaps. In that same timeframe, the talented young wideout produced a combined 10/134/1 receiving line while scoring and 8.5 and 20.7 PPR points respectively. It took a while, but Aiyuk is finally the WR3 everyone drafted him to be this summer.

10) Don’t be afraid to consolidate if you’re a top contender.
It’s very important to be honest when you evaluate where your team stands leading up to the deadline. It’s also very important to understand where other teams stand. If you’re a legitimate contender in a league with one or two other very strong teams, it might be time to reach out to a bubble team. That bubble team may be open to trading a star for two or three good players that can shore up their holes for a stretch run. Consolidating is a risk, but you have to take risks and bring star power to the table to win it all in ultra-competitive leagues. 

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