I’ve led this article over the past few weeks with details on overarching themes to the entire fantasy football season. We discussed Jon Gruden as a rare fantasy friendly coach in today’s game. We discussed how bizarre of a year 2019 has been. I’m going to continue with these themes as we finish out the season, because the ability to get a grasp on league-wide themes is vital in fantasy football. It is much more important to take a wider lens of the entire league, rather than focus in on singular players that you hope to hit on in drafts. This is a key differentiating factor in fantasy football from other sports, in my opinion. The theme I present this week is distribution in the passing game through air yards.
Prior to the season it was evident that many organizations were determined to spread the ball around instead of feeding “target hogs”. This has come to fruition in a big way, arguably more than expected. Though air yards are not the end all be all of predictive measures in NFL passing games, they do represent opportunity. Any increase in opportunity increases the chance that a wide receiver will accumulate fantasy points. As we know, football is a fickle game. Simply increasing our odds is often the best we can do. Through week 13 there is only one player in the NFL with more than 1400 air yards per AirYards.com. That player is Mike Evans (1767). Evans is having a huge season, but this isn’t truly about him. It’s about the lack of players… like him. Here are the number of players in previous seasons with more than 1400 air yards through week 13:
- 2018: 7
- 2017: 3 (although there are 4 additional players within 10 air yards of this years #2 player)
- 2016: 6
- 2015: 8
- 2014: 5
Take this data for what it is worth. It isn’t time to hypothesize, nor discuss how to approach this moving forward because honestly there isn’t anything we can do about it right now. The decrease could be due to injury to top wide receivers. It could be due to a change in philosophy among the league. It could be somewhere in the middle. It could be any number of details. For now, all I know is that there is a significant drop off in top end fantasy football wide receivers in 2019 and solving this puzzle will be a key to the 2020 fantasy football year.
Here is what else I found for week 14:
DVOA Oddities (Source: Football Outsiders)
Earlier this season we looked at DVOA oddities on both sides of the football. I wanted to revisit as we near the finish line and there are two units sticking out to me as the ultimate shockers. The first being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being #22 in offensive DVOA. This offense has provided us with 2 of the 3 top fantasy wide receivers on the season, as well as the QB7. This shows that reality doesn’t always mesh with fantasy results. If you polled casual NFL fans it would be likely that they would argue that the reason Tampa Bay is not a winning football team is because they allow so many points (#30 in NFL). However, on a rushing yards per play basis (#2 in NFL) and passing yards per play basis (#16 in NFL) this defense has been excellent. Then, why so many points given up? Turnover margin. Tampa Bay is 27th in the NFL at -.6 per game. The bottom 10 of that category is a who’s who of atrocious and disappointing teams.
The second oddity is the Houston Texans defense. The Texans come in at #25 in defensive DVOA, the worst in the NFL among team with winning records. The defense has deteriorated further after JJ Watt’s injury (#20 in defensive DVOA after week 8), while only playing one good offense in that time span (Ravens). The Texans still have a perception as an “average” defense. However, they are bottom half in the NFL in adjusted line yards, broken tackle percentage, pressure rate, and do not have a qualifying corner back in the top 45 in success rate. They are set up for plenty of shootouts even against the average offenses that remain on the schedule in Denver, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay, as they attempt to close out the AFC South.
Mike Gesicki – The Plug in TE You’ve Been Waiting For (Source: AirYards.com and Player Profiler)
I touched on Gesicki in the ROS 80 yesterday, but wanted to reiterate that any playoff team searching for a tight end needs to make the add. He remains under 25% owned as of this writing on Yahoo! Gesicki has over 6 targets in each of the past 5 games. He is 2nd in air yards in that time span. He is 7th in air yards overall on the season among tight ends. He is 4th in ADOT on the season among tight ends who have more than 20 targets. Gesicki will play 3 teams in the Jets, Giants, and Bengals who look to be good against tight ends, but are overall atrocious in the pass game. Gesicki spends 38.5% of his snaps in the slot. He is not a lineup and block tight end that these defenses are supposedly adept at stopping.
Devonta Freeman Set for RB1 Week – (Sources: Football Outsiders)
Freeman has had two explosive weeks in the 2019 season. These games occurred against Houston and Arizona who are both bottom 10 in fantasy points allowed to the running back position. The Carolina Panthers are 4th worst in adjusted line yards and 31st in the league in open field yards allowed. Freeman is currently #20 in the consensus week 14 rankings. Freeman played 67% of snaps in his return against the Falcons and is a top 10 option that can be plugged in to any 1st round playoff match-up as a 3 point favorite at home.
Xavier Rhodes – 2019s Worst Cornerback in the NFL (Source: SportsInfoSolutions)
Rhodes signed a 5-year contract extension in the summer of 2017 and was revered as a lock down cornerback. He trended poorly towards the end of 2018, but 2019 has been an entirely different monster. Rhodes is dead last among qualifying cornerbacks in success rate. He is allowing 10.1 yards per pass attempted in his direction, which is bottom 10 in the league. Rhodes is the primary component to Minnesota falling out of the top 10 defenses in DVOA. Rhodes will face Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Davante Adams. This isn’t going to get any better and it is the primary weakness of a team who has made gigantic strides on the offensive line year over year. Overall, don’t be afraid to play quarterbacks, or wide receivers against Minnesota in the fantasy playoffs. They are allowing passing yardage on a per game basis in the bottom half of the NFL.
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