1) Elijah Mitchell is ascending into the elite tier.
Even if Elijah Mitchell didn’t catch a single pass the rest of the way, he’d be a locked-in RB2. The 49ers are running the ball at a ridiculous 73 percent clip over their last three games, and in Mitchell’s last two healthy games he’s handled exactly 27 rushing attempts while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. In a massive development, he also racked up six targets, five catches, and 35 receiving yards while running 15 routes in Week 12. Those were all season-highs by a long shot, and even if Mitchell gets just three or four targets per week, it just adds to his already excellent floor and ceiling. Amazingly, Mitchell also has a variety of external factors in his favor. First, Deebo Samuel is likely to miss at least two weeks with a groin injury. His absence boosts Mitchell’s touch projection, touchdown equity, and overall upside. Additionally, Mitchell’s remaining schedule is mouth-watering to say the least, as he gets SEA, CIN, ATL, TEN, and HOU going forward. Mitchell is a talented back in an elite scheme who projects to touch the ball 25+ times per game against a cupcake schedule the rest of the way — it doesn’t get much better than that.
2) Odell Beckham is finally in a position to succeed.
The narratives on Beckham have been all over the place over the last couple of years. Takes have ranged from “he’s washed” to “watch what he does with a real quarterback,” and we’re about to find out the real story. Beckham now has Matthew Stafford throwing to him and all of the opportunity in the world. In Week 12 Beckham played on a massive 98.4% of snaps, ran 40 routes (one more than Cooper Kupp), racked up nine targets, and put together a 5/81/1 line with an optimal 11.8 aDOT. If OBJ has something left in the tank (and it looked like it last Sunday) it’s hard to see him not succeeding given his role and the offensive environment with the Rams. I’m viewing Beckham like a WR3 with WR2 upside already, and he’s one more good week away from everyone being back in on him the rest of the way.
3) David Montgomery is a prime buy-low candidate.
Fully healthy over the last two weeks, David Montgomery has reassumed his incredibly fantasy-friendly bell-cow role, but the results haven’t been there. Despite getting 35 touches in Weeks 11-12, Monty managed just nine PPR points per game with poor efficiency, but efficiency isn’t the only thing bound for positive regression. 35 touches is a lot, but considering the fact that he led all NFL running backs in snap share and routes run in that timeframe, there should be plenty of additional touches on the way for Montgomery. Any NFL running back can thrive with a workload like that, but Montgomery is a slightly above average back who also has major touchdown equity when his team is in the red zone, so there’s major upside here. I’m viewing Montgomery like a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside on a weekly basis and I’m happy to be above market on him while others are too results-oriented.
4) Tee Higgins is a perfect example of process-oriented analysis paying off.
Variance seems to be at an all-time high in the NFL right now. With fewer and fewer bankable fantasy assets available, it’s easy to get frustrated and go into a results-oriented mindset, but that mindset should be reserved for select analysis over long sample sizes. Tee Higgins illustrates why good process-oriented analysis is still the best tool we have to predict outcomes. Despite being a good receiver in a high-scoring offense with a good quarterback, an excellent target share, Higgins was undervalued prior to last week because the results lagged behind. In Weeks 5-11 Higgins scored between 7.4 and 13.8 PPR points in each game except for one. So, essentially he was massively underperforming given his role and team context, but he was rarely ever busting with a tight distribution. Over that period of time, Higgins was seeing a huge amount of targets, red zone looks with an optimal aDOT, but things never quite clicked in terms of big plays and touchdowns. By the time Week 12 rolled around everyone was tired of the lack of “boom” games, so Higgins had been downgraded in many rankings and he was no longer “a no-brainer DFS play.” Naturally, he proceeded to hang a 6/114/1 line on the Steelers en route to 23.4 PPR points. Now, he won’t do that every week, but the correct process told you beforehand that he should’ve been averaging around 14-16 PPR points per game in Weeks 5-11 instead of 10 ish. If you stayed on Higgins when everyone was off of him it likely paid off handsomely, and there are many more opportunities throughout the season to buy good players with good peripherals when the results lag for weeks at a time.
5) Don’t sleep on Jamaal Williams as an RB2 going forward.
As we discussed with David Montgomery, 20 touch running backs don’t grow on trees, and even if the back getting that sort of volume isn’t a good player, it’s enough volume to score plenty of fantasy points, especially with a portion of those touches being receptions. Jamaal Williams is set to assume that sort of role for potentially the rest of the season after D’Andre Swift suffered an AC joint sprain, and he shouldn’t be underestimated. Williams is a fairly average running back, but he’s capable in the passing game and the Detroit Lions trust him implicitly. After Swift exited early on in the Thanksgiving game last week, Williams handled exactly 20 touches and caught all five of his targets en route to 13.3 PPR points. The efficiency wasn’t there, but this was pretty much a floor game for Williams in the lead-back role, and the ceiling is much higher from both a volume, efficiency, and touchdown equity standpoint. I firmly believe that Williams is being severely undervalued because he’s not flashy and he plays for a bad team — this is a high floor RB2 profile.
6) A fully healthy Rob Gronkowski looked dominant in Week 12, but he’s still undervalued.
The season is long, and at this time of the year it seems like it’s been years since the first few weeks of the season, but what happened then still has some relevance now. In the case of Rob Gronkowski, he burst onto the scene in Weeks 1-3, averaging nearly 20 PPR points per game while catching four touchdown passes before he suffered serious ribs and back injuries that kept him out until Week 11. In two games since returning in Week 11, he’s averaged 16.2 PPR points per game without any touchdowns. There’s no debating it — Gronk has been the best tight end in all of fantasy football when healthy. It hasn’t been a case of flukey efficiency either, as he’s averaging eight targets per game to date to go along with eight red zone targets in five healthy games… the utilization is off the charts. Most around the industry have Gronk in the TE8-TE10 range for the rest of the season, but I can’t justify ranking him outside of the top five at the position.
7) If you are willing to take risks in fantasy football, consider taking the opposite position of the market in regards to small sample sizes.
The NFL season is really comprised of multiple seasons interwoven together. Things change and they change fast, and there are often opportunities to fade the public when they do. Skill is overrated in terms of predicting future production after a small sample size event occurs and in some of those cases a strong majority of consensus forms amongst the market. Cam Newton coming into Week 12 was the perfect example, and I was on the wrong side alongside the public. I was sold on Cam as a locked-in QB1 the rest of the season and as a cash game lock in DFS, but he fell on his face and looked like a quarterback who doesn’t belong in the NFL anymore. If you faded Newton in DFS and didn’t spend FAAB on him and/or traded him away in season-long formats when everyone else bought in after one good Week 11 game, you benefited a ton from being contrarian. Funny enough, now that everyone is down on Cam after a bad one-game sample, you could be contrarian again and buy a bounceback this week. While there is usually some validity behind the market’s consensus stance on things, small sample sizes, especially in the NFL, offer plenty of opportunities to profit with a contrarian approach. I recommend giving it a shot or at least questioning how confident you should be when taking a stance on something after any small sample size phenomenon.
8) Taysom Hill has major fantasy potential.
The thesis behind Taysom Hill as a potential QB1 is simple — he’s going to run the ball a ton while chipping in additional fantasy points as a passer. In four starts last season in Weeks 11-14 Hill averaged 21 fantasy points per game. In those games, he averaged 208.5 passing yards and threw for two touchdowns while averaging 52 rushing yards and rushing for four touchdowns. If we see Sean Payton fully commit to him as the starter there’s no reason to think that he can’t come close to replicating that production, though I doubt he averages 200+ passing yards again. Even if Hill averages 17 fantasy points per game, that would make him the QB14 overall in points per game in 2021, but there’s a lot more ceiling. Hill is no sure thing because Sean Payton could pull the plug at any time or mix in Trevor Siemian on some plays, but fantasy managers who don’t have a QB1 on their roster should take a shot on him.
9) Antonio Gibson isn’t a sure thing following his big Week 12 performance.
Against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night football, Antonio Gibson racked up 30 carries for 111 yards to go along with seven catches for 35 yards. The peripherals were also promising, as Gibson ran 18 routes to J.D. McKissic’s 16 while playing a season-high 68 percent of the snaps. With all of that said, the efficiency wasn’t there, and the week before Gibson ran exactly zero passing routes while playing 49 percent of the snaps. My point is that Gibson’s utilization had been poor as a pass-catcher all year long prior to Week 12, and all of his peripherals have fluctuated wildly all season long, so it would be unwise to read too much into one game. There’s a chance that Gibson finally gets the passing game role he deserves, but I want to see it again before buying in based on the larger sample size we have.
10) Ameer Abdullah will be an underrated asset in deep PPR formats for the rest of the season.
Chuba Hubbard had his chance to be an every-down bell-cow the first time Christian McCaffery suffered a serious injury, and he was extremely inefficient. Now, with CMC out for the year, Ameer Abdullah is set to play a major role alongside Hubbard. After CMC left the game in Week 12, Abdullah played 29 snaps to Hubbard’s eight, tied Hubbard with two carries, ran 22 routes to Hubbard’s three, and out targeted Hubbard six to one. This was a losing game script of course, but with how poorly the Panthers are playing, there should be more of those to go around. I don’t expect Abdullah to out-carry, or even out-touch Hubbard most weeks, but in PPR I’ll take the player who chips in some carries while catching five or six balls over the inefficient early-down grinder. Time will tell, but I see Abdullah being a J.D. McKissic type of RB3 who functions as an excellent depth piece at the position in deeper formats.