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FANTASY FOOTBALL/DFS

10 Thoughts: Week 15 Edition

The most improbable WR1 in years, assessing underperforming stars, navigating the fantasy football playoffs, in this edition of 10 Thoughts.

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Fantasy Football - Hunter Renfrow

1) Hunter Renfrow beat the odds to become a WR1 at the most pivotal time.
The jokes about Hunter Renfrow looking more like an accountant or a plumber than an NFL player had been flying since the slot technician was drafted out of Clemson in 2019, but nobody is joking now. With Darren Waller out over the last three weeks, Renfrow has been nothing short of dominant — in fact, he’s become a bonafide WR1. Over the last three weeks, Renfrow has averaged 23.1 PPR points per game. In that timeframe, he ranks first in the NFL in catches (30), second in yards (353), first in yards after the catch (150), and sixth in yards per route run (2.94). Aesthetically, Renfrow’s profile is the antithesis of a WR1, but he’s taught us all that production trumps everything, and that any player who combines talent with hard work can succeed at the highest level if things break the right way.

2) Rashaad Penny is breaking out, three years later.
There were high hopes for Rashaad Penny coming out of San Diego State after he broke records and was selected by the Seahawks in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. However, he’s played in just 33 of 61 possible games in his career due to various injuries that sapped his explosiveness. Up until recently, Penny never had enough time in between injuries to regain his form and explosiveness, but with major injuries behind him he’s starting to show off the skillset that made him a first-round pick way back when Against the Texans in Week 14, Penny piled up a 16/137/2 rushing line and once reception while totaling 26.8 PPR points. The numbers speak for themselves, but more importantly, Penny looked like the SDSU version of himself, making guys miss left and right while showing off breakaway speed. While he is still a major injury risk, Penny has asserted himself as the clear No. 1 back in Seattle, and he might just be the surprise RB2 that contributes to fantasy championships this season.

3) Take advantage of the Covid chaos.
It’s no secret that Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on the NFL right now. While it’s a nuisance for every fantasy owner, there are also plenty of opportunities to thrive amidst the chaos. Your league-mates, players you face off against in DFS contests, and probably your neighbor will all be aware of star players missing games with Covid, but there are layers to unpack behind every absence, star player or not. As a somewhat shallow example, with Odell Beckham Jr. out this week against the Seahawks, Van Jefferson skyrockets into the low-end WR2 range, but most people will still view him as a middling WR3 at best. On a deeper level, against Kansas City on Thursday night, the Chargers’ star rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater will be out. Most people won’t bat an eye at that news as far as fantasy football goes, but it could mean a lot. Maybe Justin Herbert will struggle to throw deep due to a lack of time in the pocket, or maybe he’ll need Austin Ekeler to pick up more blitzes and run fewer routes. Those are the things you need to consider to be on top of the fantasy football game. Every time a player goes on to the covid list, you are granted another opportunity to be one step ahead of competitors who are too ignorant or lazy to assess the situation in-depth… don’t waste those opportunities, especially with the fantasy football playoffs in full swing.

4) Gabriel Davis is stepping into a voluminous role on the outside, and he might not lose it.
Davis is set for starting wideout duties in Buffalo this week with Emmanuel Sanders (knee) out for at least one game, and he has a chance to establish himself as a dependable fantasy option. Davis’ playing time has been sporadic through two NFL seasons, but he’s shown a remarkable ability to find the end zone despite being such a young player. Through 29 NFL games, Davis has caught 11 touchdown passes on just 101 targets (a typical amount for a starting WR in one full season), and he’s averaging 6.5 targets per game when he runs more than 30 routes this season. Additionally, schedule-wise Davis will avoid both Stephon Gilmore (Week 15) and Bill Belichick’s notorious star WR double teams (Week 16) before facing off against a lowly Atlanta Falcons secondary in Week 17 if he keeps the job. The former UCF star could lose his spot to Emmanuel Sanders if the veteran is healthy enough to play at some point again in the regular season, but Sanders had been struggling for some time and a Buffalo team pushed to the brink of playoff contention is going to be focused on playing their best players. At the very least, Davis is a high-end WR4 with WR3 upside for Week 15, but he could also emerge as a legit WR3 for the remainder of the season if he’s given the opportunity to do so.

5) Justin Fields is an excellent playoff pickup.
Mere weeks ago Justin Fields was an ascending fantasy quarterback gaining helium as he scored 25.3 and 18.1 fantasy points (both top 10 QB finishes) in Weeks 8 and 9 respectively, but a rib injury forced him to sit for the better part of three games afterward and he was left on waiver wires everywhere. Fields returned in Week 14 however, and he once again finished as a top 10 option at the position, racking up 224 yards passing, two passing touchdowns, and 74 yards on the ground against a solid Green Bay Packers defense. The rookie has now run for an average of 74 yards per game in his last three starts, and there’s no reason why he can’t be a Jalen Hurts Esque QB1 with the ridiculous rushing floor going forward. If you don’t have a QB1 on your roster, I would do whatever you can to secure Fields’ services for a deep playoff run.

6) Amon-Ra St. Brown has evolved into a legitimate WR3.
In a logical turn of events, St. Brown has become Jared Goff’s safety blanket ever since D’Andre Swift suffered a shoulder injury on Thanksgiving day. In the two games Swift has missed, the rookie wideout has gone for 10/86/1 and 8/73/0 respectively while racking up a whopping 24 combined targets, and it’s become clear that he’s the No. 1 option in the passing game right now. Jared Goff will always be a low aDOT quarterback due to his inability to effectively or consistently throw the ball deep, so St. Brown’s outlook is secure so long as Swift remains out. It was initially thought that the star running back would be back by Week 15 or 16, but he hasn’t come close to practicing yet, and one has to wonder why a 1-11-1 team would let their star play again at all this season. St. Brown’s matchup against the Cardinals this week is rough, but he’s the type of high floor option that can get by regardless, and his matchups against the Falcons and the Seahawks in Week 16 and 17 make him an excellent option when you need him most.

7) There is still hope for James Robinson
I get it — Robinson has been atrocious fantasy-wise as of late with injuries nagging him and Urban Meyer incompetently running the Jaguars into the ground — but hear me out. Robinson is reportedly getting healthier (don’t be spooked by a Thursday DNP, it’s a scheduled rest day), there is immense pressure on Urban Meyer to feed him, and the schedule couldn’t be better. The former UDFA sensation has the best schedule of any remaining running back, and it’s not even close. In order, Robinson gets the Texans (sixth-worst vs RB’s), the Jets (worst in the NFL vs RB’s), and the Patriots (15th vs RB’s) in the fantasy football playoffs. The offensive ecosystem may be ugly, but we’ve seen Robinson thrive regardless at times this year because he’s a very good player. Bottom line — I refuse to fade a true plus talent with an elite schedule regardless of how poorly things have gone as of late.

8) Beware the three commandments of the fantasy football playoffs.

  • Go with your gut. This one is simple — if a start/sit decision, waiver wire pickup, or anything else comes down to splitting hairs, go with your gut. Nothing feels worse than not trusting yourself and suffering for it when you were the one that got yourself to the playoffs in the first place. 
  • Adjust for your opponent. The first thing I do before making my start/sit decisions in the playoffs is look at who my opponent is trotting out there. If I look at my opponent’s team and immediately quiver, that’s a sign that I should opt for ceiling over floor when making start/sit decisions. Oppositely, if I look at my opponent’s lineup and feel really good about things, I should be more willing to start players with a bankable floor over volatile options. 
  • Lean into the matchups. Never be afraid to stream players with elite matchups at positions where you’re not strong (QB and TE especially). Matchups do matter if they are strongly positive or negative, regardless of what some claim. Essentially, I weigh a player’s talent and past production/underlying stats against the matchup. If there is a player who hasn’t produced as well but has an elite matchup, I may opt to play him over a guy who has been producing with a brutal, bottom-three matchup on tap. It’s difficult to clarify because these decisions can be so specific, but in general, you should at least be willing to weigh past production against the singular matchup in the playoffs instead of just auto-playing the player who has produced more lately.

9) D.K. Metcalf’s peripherals all point to positive regression.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it — Metcalf has been a stone-cold bust in 2021 as a second-round fantasy pick who has failed to clear 15 PPR points in more than half of his games this season. Things have also gone from bad to worse lately with the Ole Miss product failing to clear 11 PPR points in any of his last four games. However, in those games, he’s totaled a combined 28 targets (20th in the NFL), six red zone targets (fourth in the NFL), and 420 air yards (sixth in the NFL). If you offered me those utilization metrics guaranteed over that period of time, I would take it as a Metcalf owner. Now, there’s something to be said for performance on the field not matching up with the peripherals, but we’re also talking about a proven superstar talent in D.K. Metcalf, so I’m more inclined to say that positive regression is coming in a big way. 

10) Aaron Jones’ Week 14 performance was fool’s gold.
On the surface, it’s hard to argue with Jones’ 65 all-purpose yards, two touchdowns, and 21.5 PPR points from Sunday night’s game in Week 14, but there were negatives as well, as A.J. Dillon out-snapped Jones 35-29, rushed 15 times to his five, and was a factor in the red zone. Keep in mind, that Jones, who seems to have the passing game role mostly to himself, was out-snapped 35-29 and out-touched 15-8 in a game where Green Bay passed at a high 62.5% rate while being pushed by Chicago. If the touch disparity was this bad in a game where Green Bay didn’t jump out to a lead, what’s going to happen in more positive game scripts? I guess we’ll have to see, but we almost certainly will get to see, because Green Bay takes on Baltimore, Cleveland, and Minnesota going forward, all of whom have been scuffling to a certain degree as of late. I’m still valuing Jones like a solid RB2, but that’s only because this offense scores so many points, and he’s surely going to have down games if he continues to operate in the same role going forward.

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