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FANTASY FOOTBALL/DFS

10 Thoughts: Week 12 Edition

Talented rookies primed to explode, a potential league-winning quarterback, the immense importance of game scripts, and much more.

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Fantasy Football - Pat Freiermuth

1) Pat Freiermuth is ready to make the leap.
The rookie tight end has made a name for himself recently with Eric Ebron out, averaging 13.9 PPR points in Weeks 8-10. Ebron returned for Week 11, but suffered a season-ending knee injury, paving the may for Freiermuth to dominate looks in the middle of the field and in the red zone going forward. No other NFL tight end came close to Freiermuth in terms of racking up red zone targets in Weeks 8-11, as his 11 red zone targets in that period were four more than second-place Hunter Henry’s seven while nobody else had more than five. If I had to pick a tight end to score the most touchdowns over the next seven weeks I would pick Freiermuth, who has scored four in his last four games, without hesitation. It also doesn’t hurt that Big Ben has publicly praised the rookie multiple times while targeting him at least six times in the pair’s last four games together. If you’re looking for a long-term solution at tight end, Freiermuth should be your top target.

2) Laviska Shenault got the break he needed.
Injuries are an awful thing, but it’s a fact that players can benefit when a fellow teammate goes down. Jamal Agnew was placed on season-ending IR following a hip injury in Week 11, and now Laviska Shenault is set to reclaim his slot role. Following D.J. Chark’s season-ending ankle injury, Shenault was moved to the outside receiver position from Week 5 onward, and the results were predictably horrible, as he caught five or more passes just twice and didn’t record more than 58 receiving yards in any game. Shenault is a slot receiver who doesn’t have the speed or height to win outside, but he’s now highly likely to move back into his natural position. The second-year wideout has shown off his talent in the past and he was a sixth-round pick in fantasy drafts this summer for a reason. Shenault’s value has never been lower, but nobody should be surprised if a move into the slot salvages his season starting this week.

3) Low-efficiency receivers continue to suffer in offenses with passing volume concerns.
There are receivers who only need to catch one pass to pay off on any given week (think Marquez Valdes-Scantling), and then there are receivers who need to catch at least six or seven balls a week to pay off. These slot-exclusive, low aDOT type of receivers need overall pass volume to be plentiful if they are to succeed because they typically peak at 10 yards per reception. Tyler Boyd and Jarvis Landry have both been struggling lately, and they exemplify this phenomenon. Both players are technicians in the slot, but neither receiver could break a big one if their lives depended on it. Unfortunately, they both play on teams that prefer to run the ball, with Landry’s Browns passing at the league’s third-lowest rate and Boyd’s Bengals ranking 20th in 2021 pass rate. As a result, neither player is consistently catching six, seven, or eight balls per week like they had in past years, and that’s why they’re both outside the top 50 in PPR points per game at the wide receiver position this season. As a rule of thumb, I would only start inefficient wide receivers on run-heavy teams like Boyd and Landry when their team is at least a 3.5 point underdog because that typically means that the pass rate will jump up to a respectable number.

4) Jaylen Waddle is a clear late-season breakout candidate.
I believe that Jaylen Waddle has a chance to break out over the final portion of the season for four reasons. First, Waddle is on a team that passes at a very high rate. Miami’s 64.9% 2021 pass rate ranks third in the NFL, so there are tons of targets available. Second, Waddle has dominated those targets consistently. The sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft is averaging a whopping 8.5 targets per game, good for 16th best among all NFL wideouts this season. Third, Waddle is a talented player. The Alabama superstar was the first wide receiver taken in the draft for a reason; he has 4.37 Jets with an innate ability to high point the ball downfield and he’s getting better with each passing week. And, finally, Tua Tagovailoa is back and healthy, and with Tua this season Waddle has averaged 17.9 PPR points per game. All of the ingredients are there for Jaylen Waddle to be a surprise WR2 the rest of the way.

5) Elijah Moore’s talent was never in doubt, and now he’s getting the opportunity.
I’ve been incredibly high on Elijah Moore going back to the pre-draft process because I think he’s an elite talent. Moore’s tape, production, and athletic testing were all off the charts at Ole Miss, he couldn’t be guarded in training camp, and he had unimposing competition (or so it seemed) for snaps across from Corey Davis, so I was all over him as a late single-digit pick in fantasy drafts this summer. Then came 10 weeks of inconsistent and often disappointing production due to a lack of playing time. I was torn during that stage because I knew the talent was special, but you can’t rely on a player who isn’t cracking 60 percent snaps. Thankfully, the Jets coaching staff finally smartened up and made Moore a near full-time player in Week 11, and he predictably smashed against the Miami Dolphins tough secondary, going for 8/141/1 (11 targets) while playing 80 percent of the snaps. There is some slight concern going forward because Zach Wilson is starting this week due to Joe Flacco and Mike White being placed on the Covid list, but I say slight for a reason. I’ll always bet on an elite talent who has a big role, and if Wilson is really that bad Joe Flacco will likely take over again by Week 14 at the very latest. I’m all in on Moore as a current low-end WR3 with borderline WR2/3 upside.

6) Forecasting game scripts is paramount in fantasy football.
NFL players are intertwined with and affected by game scripts and their team’s corresponding behavior in many ways, and we need to leverage that to our advantage in fantasy football. There are so many examples of this, but I’ll hone in on a few here to illustrate the point. The Packers are a team that needs to be pushed into neutral or negative game scripts by their opponent if they are going to air it out at a respectable clip. When that happens, almost without exception, Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and to a lesser extent, Marquez Valdes-Scantling will all smash like we saw last week when Green Bay passed at a 64.8% clip compared to their 58.1% cumulative pass rate. We can leverage this by taking aggressive positions on Green Bay’s passing game when they are matched up against a strong offense and/or are an underdog on any given week. Next, I want to talk about early-down running backs like Damien Harris and Antonio Gibson. Because these guys don’t have any significant passing game role, they need a positive game script to succeed. If New England gets down by a touchdown or more Brandon Bolden is going to dominate snaps as the pass-catching back, and J.D. McKissic does the same in Washington in those situations. While both Harris and Gibson are technically RB2’s, they become low ceiling RB3’s in games where their teams are an underdog because their workload projection takes a significant hit. There are many more examples, but just make sure that you are being very mindful of projected game scripts when setting season-long and DFS lineups. If you can master that craft you’ll be lapping the field on that principle alone.

7) Dawson Knox’s return has made Cole Beasley almost irrelevant.
It’s no coincidence that Cole Beasley caught 18 balls across Weeks 8 and 9 while playing around 70 percent of the snaps. Dawson Knox was out due to a hand injury for those games, so Buffalo adjusted and leaned on three-wide receiver sets with Beasley in the slot rather than their preferred two-wide setup. Knox returned in Week 10 and Beasley played just 16 percent of the snaps while catching two passes for 15 yards. In Week 11 with Knox in the lineup, Beasley was able to reach the mediocre 57 percent snaps mark, but that was only because Buffalo was in a rare negative script, and he still managed just a 4/23/0 line while Knox racked up six catches for 80 yards. Brian Daboll, the Bills offensive coordinator, has made it clear that he wants to run two wideout sets while featuring Dawson Knox in the passing game. When Knox is healthy we’re looking at 60 percent of the snaps being a best-case scenario for Beasley in rare negative scripts, with less than 20 percent of the snaps being the worst-case scenario in more common positive scripts… that doesn’t sound like a player worth rostering.

8) Jerry Jeudy is elite, and he should be considered a WR2.
At this point in time, most fantasy owners are valuing Jerry Jeudy in the middle of the WR3 tier with players like Brandin Cooks and his teammate, Courtland Sutton. I’m here to tell you that they’re making a mistake. Since coming back from a high ankle sprain, an injury that historically handicaps performance for weeks even after returning, Jeudy has averaged seven targets per game to go along with nearly six catches and 52 yards per game — good, but not great, right? Well, Jeudy hasn’t cleared 80 percent snaps in any of those games as he continues to get healthier, and even at less than 100 percent, he’s 16th among all NFL wide receivers in yards per route run (2.17). It’s scary to think about what the former first-round pick is going to do as he gets healthier and reprises his full-time role. It’s no secret that Jeudy can get open at will as one of the NFL’s best route runners, and it’s no secret that creating separation is the key to commanding targets (see Keenan Allen and Diontae Johnson). When you pair elite yards per route run efficiency with a high target rate it’s a recipe for consistent and prolific fantasy production, and that’s what you can expect from Jerry Jeudy going forward. 

9) Cam Newton is clear QB1 going forward.
I’d take Cam Newton over Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow, and Russell Wilson as my fantasy quarterback going forward. I understand that what I’m saying is a “hot take” of sorts, but hear me out. Rushing equity is king when it comes to fantasy quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts isn’t a high-level passer, but he’s overall QB1 in 2021 thanks to his ridiculous rushing role. Tyrod Taylor did nothing as a passer last week and still scored 20.2 fantasy points because of his rushing acumen. Cam is even better than most rushing quarterbacks because he doesn’t just pile up yards, he also acts like a power running back any time his team gets inside the five-yard line. Let’s establish a baseline projection for Newton. Last season with New England in a significantly worse offense, he averaged 0.80 touchdowns per game, 40 rushing yards per game, and 177 passing yards per game. All of that equates to 17.7 fantasy points per game, but Newton was benched at times in some of those games and didn’t have truly elite weapons like Christian McCaffery and D.J. Moore alongside him. I think a 20 PPG projection for Cam in Carolina the rest of the way is fairly conservative, but even so, he would be the QB10 overall in that category at that benchmark. If you’re stuck streaming mediocre QB2’s every week I can’t think of a player that could help your fantasy team more than Cam Newton.

10) It’s never too early to start preparing for the playoffs.
If your team is in contention right now, you’re likely only a few weeks away from the fantasy playoffs. Depending on how solidified your spot is, it might be time to start preparing your team for the end game. When it comes down to it and you’re staring at your matchup come playoff time you will want every edge you can get with the stakes at their highest. There are a few key areas I would recommend exploring in preparation. First, examine schedules for your ancillary players. You’re starting your stars, but making sure that the supporting cast has optimal matchups is huge. If you need to make what feels like a lateral trade or waiver pickup move to lock in a player with a very advantageous playoff matchup, you do it. It’s especially important to find a QB2 with an elite playoff schedule if you don’t have an every-week QB1 on your roster. Defense is another position where you can get an edge, and I would urge you to add a defense that has a favorable playoff schedule now even if it seems early. These are the little things that differentiate title teams from teams that come up just short. If you start doing the playoff legwork now while others scoff at such a notion this early you’re locking in an edge when you need it most, and there’s nothing more comforting than that.

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