With just a few weeks left in the season, most Fantasy football players’ seasons are probably over. I hope yours isn’t — I’m still alive in three of my eight leagues heading into Week 15 — but if it isn’t, you can still find something to use this week, as half of my Hot Takes for Week 14 are looking ahead to next season. You might not be drafting for another nine months, but it’s never too early to look ahead.
Sunday wasn’t a fluke for Donte Moncrief
Moncrief was a popular breakout pick this season, winding up the No. 26 wide receiver off the board at FantasyPros.com’s ADP, typically going off the board as a mid-fifth round pick. Injuries derailed his season, but he had been a useful Fantasy option before Week 14, averaging 9.1 Fantasy points per game. That would have been good for WR2 value most weeks, a solid return on your investment even with the injury.
However, the bottom dropped out in Week 14, as Moncrief was held without a catch in a loss to the Houston Texans , and it exposed the shaky core beneath his production. Moncrief hasn’t topped 64 yards in any game this season, and you have to go back to Week 11 in 2015 to find a game where he did it again. All in all, Moncrief has just three games with more than 70 yards since the start of 2015, or two more than oft-ignored deep threat Phillip Dorsett .
Moncrief has papered over that with six touchdowns this season, a rate of one every 4.7 catches. Maybe he can sustain that pace moving forward thanks to Andrew Luck ‘s brilliance, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And, as we saw Sunday, if he doesn’t find the end zone, Moncrief really doesn’t bring anything to the table at this point.
You can drop Matthew Stafford
Stafford is going to be a popular MVP pick this season, with his league-high eight game-winning drives and 9-4 record. However, while he has managed to mostly keep rolling despite the retirement of Calvin Johnson , we’ve probably seen the best stretch of the season, thanks to the finger injury he suffered Sunday.
Stafford will have to play with a glove on his throwing hand after tearing a ligament in his middle finger, and you have to imagine this injury will limit him moving forward. The Detroit Lions ‘ offense, all short passes and efficiency, should be designed to cover up any losses in either velocity or accuracy Stafford might have as a result of the injury, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an issue. Stafford has been a good, not great, Fantasy quarterback for most of the season, and this injury could be enough to push him down a tier or two.
If the injury can’t, tough matchups against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in the next two weeks should.
The Carolina Panthers don’t have a No. 1 WR
Kelvin Benjamin has somehow managed to remain the No. 23 wide receiver in Fantasy for the season, which is more of a testament to how mediocre the position has been than anything else, because Benjamin just hasn’t been any good this season. Oh, he got off to a strong start, but 35.6 percent of his Fantasy points for the season came in the first two games; he ranks just 49th at the position since Week 3.
Benjamin just doesn’t look like he has developed much at all since his rookie season, which is understandable given the knee injury that kept him out all of last season. However, the Panthers’ passing game has regressed as a whole, and the reliance on Benjamin has to be a part of that. Cam Newton has been force feeding Benjamin, without getting much out of it, and he hasn’t looked like the same quarterback who was spreading the ball around so well a year ago.
The Panthers might be better served sharing the ball more equitably moving forward, if only because Benjamin has done nothing to make deserve an elevated role in the offense.
Looking ahead to next year…
I still believe in Russell Wilson
Wilson was so good last season, and still so young, that it was easy to assume he would just keep getting better as he moved forward. He was arguably the best quarterback in Fantasy over the season half of the 2015 season, and ended up with 34 touchdowns to just eight interceptions, finishing as the No. 3 quarterback in the league, closer to No. 2 than No. 4. Wilson’s weapons were all in their primes, and with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch , he was only going to pass the ball more, leading to even more impressive numbers.
That hasn’t been the case, unfortunately. Wilson has passed the ball more, upping his attempted from 30.2 per game to 34.1, however he has moved in the wrong direction in every other conceivable way. Wilson is throwing touchdowns less often than ever before in his career, while also sporting the worst interception rate of his career; his 7.6 yards per attempt also ranks as the worst he has managed in any season. By any measure, Wilson is enduring the worst season of his NFL career.
And yet, I still believe. His recent slide has been ugly, but much of his struggles this season seemed to be the result of ankle and knee injuries that greatly limited his mobility. When he has been at his best this season — Weeks 9-11 in particular — Wilson looked exactly like the guy we saw a year ago; efficient as a passer and capable of making plays with his feet, even if he hasn’t run nearly as much as in the past.
Things have fallen apart of late, with just two touchdowns to eight interceptions in his last three games, the worst stretch of Wilson’s career so far. I don’t think Wilson has regressed necessarily, but it’s fair to wonder how much his knee remains an issue. The bigger problem might be an offensive line that has left him especially exposed recently. If the Seattle Seahawks continue to scrimp on the line, Wilson’s degree of difficulty will remain higher, but a bad offensive line is only compounded by his limited mobility. With an offseason to rest up, I would bet on Wilson looking a lot more like 2015 than 2016 next year.
Carlos Hyde will be a first-round Fantasy draft pick next year
This might be stretching it just a bit — although maybe not in a 14-team league — but I could see Hyde moving into Round 1 consideration if he continues to close out the season strong. Hyde has managed to stay mostly healthy this season, and really is the lone bright spot in this San Francisco 49ers offense at this point. He is all but certain to finish with his first 1,000-yard season, and is on a 16-game pace that would push close to 1,500 all-purpose yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Hyde has proven to be a strong fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, and has especially benefited from Colin Kaepernick ‘s presence in the read-option, rushing for 6.3 yards per attempt over the last four games, highlighted by his 193 yards on 17 carries in Week 14. Hyde has always had this ability, but hasn’t had the starting role or the health to take advantage of it.
The health will remain a question, and his value could hinge on whether Kaepernick and Chip Kelly return in the offseason. The former looks much less likely to return than the latter, but you have to like Hyde’s fit in Kelly’s offense no matter who is under center, so health is the real concern. However, with the running back position outplaying wide receivers on the whole in 2016, it’s possible we see a return to the days of the early and mid-2000’s, when running backs dominated the first round of Fantasy drafts. If that happens, Hyde could absolutely push his way into first-round discussions.
It’s still worth drafting WRs early
This was the year the Zero-RB draft strategy went mainstream, which is some really bad timing. There were some high-profile busts at the top of the RB tier — notably Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley — but the position has actually been the class of the Fantasy world this season. Compare the scores of the top-30 running backs this season to the top-30 WR, and the trend is obvious: running back has been, on the whole much more valuable than wide receiver:
Of course, Zero-RB has never been about wide receivers being better than running backs, as much as it has been about them being less risky and more predictable on the whole. That has worked out for Antonio Brown , Odell Beckham , and Julio Jones , the first three WR off the board on average this season, and three of the top WR in the league this season. However, DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson are just two of the high-profile busts at wide receiver, while the top tier of running back features a handful of high-drafted players, led by David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot, two of the top four off the board.
Still, you could have an elite running back this season even without an early-round investment. Melvin Gordon and DeMarco Murray haven’t been that far off Elliot and Johnson’s pace, and were freely available in the fourth and sixth rounds on Draft Day respectively. Plus, while Johnson and Elliot have held up remarkably well to their workloads so far, Gordon may be done for the season, while Murray has been dinged up at times as well. And, with both Johnson and Elliot on pace for nearly 400 touches each — not counting the playoffs for Elliott — both will be prime candidates for regression and injuries heading into next year’s drafts.
Running back as a whole looks better than wide receiver right now, but the opposite was true at this time last year. As good as some of the best backs out there have been, I’ll still feel more confident building around the elite receivers next year.
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