The only thing that has stuck in our collective memory from the weekend is Dak Prescott’s injury. Almost everything else feels like it happened in another lifetime. The Chiefs legitimately losing to the Raiders was immediately lost in the ensuing news cycle. The ‘rematch’ between Nick Foles and Tom Brady on Thursday night would’ve been erased from our minds if not for Brady’s social media self-awareness. It’s not a cliché to say the season has been a blur because every day has been its own event. Almost every hour has been waited on for an update that could reshape not just our fantasy leagues but the NFL itself. But, we get this Thursday off. The league in its seemingly infinite capacity to shuffle the schedule like a deck of cards has left us with some time to process before we dive back into the action on Sunday. So, without a game to preview, I decided to take a look back at three of the offseason narratives that shaped our draft strategies and ultimately lead us here. Some are fun and others could be why our fantasy teams are struggling as we approach the midway point in the season.
What Made Sense in August
This list isn’t all-inclusive, but these were some of my favorites. For transparency, I believed in each of them with some nuance applied and taking a data-driven stance isn’t a poor strategy. However, we’ll need to move off of our priors and adjust to new information as it comes our way.
Narrative: Rookie wide receivers will have trouble adjusting without an offseason.
This line of thinking made sense with some logic applied. We could realistically project targets for players like Henry Ruggs and CeeDee Lamb given their respective draft capital and landing spots. However, the prospects for Van Jefferson and even Tee Higgins were clouded with uncertainty as they joined teams with multiple established veterans ahead of them. Regardless, the 2020 wide receiver class has been as advertised. A total of 13 receivers were selected in the first two rounds of the draft. So far, 11 have played in more than half of their team’s games (Jalen Reagor and Denzel Mims are both on IR). Six different rookies have finished as a Top-24 receiver through five weeks. Chase Claypool just finished as the WR1 in Week 5 after CeeDee Lamb landed as the WR6 in Week 4. Collectively, the top of the rookie class has had an average target share of 15.5% with an air yards market share of 22.8%. They are WR2s that consistently fell in redraft leagues due to situations out of their control. But what we’ve seen is what we knew before they were drafted. This class will rival the famed 2014 class that gave rise to some of the best receivers in the league. They just need more time.
Narrative: Josh Allen will be the 2020 MVP.
Verdict: Hung jury.
If not for his Week 5 disaster, Josh Allen would be firmly in the MVP conversation. At the very least, he’s objectively the most improved player from 2019. He had a -3.1% Completion Percentage over Expected (CPOE) and -0.01 Expected Points Added (EPA) per Pass. Both were well below the league average for measuring quarterback efficiency. Allen’s flipped the script in 2020. He ranks in the Top five for a predictive composite metric that looks at both CPOE and EPA per Play. Week 5 was his first time outside of the Top 12. We can assign some credit to a favorable opening schedule, but his Week 3 performance is a glaring counterpoint. Los Angeles has held their other opponents to fewer than 20 points in every other game except for when Josh Allen hung four touchdowns on them. It gives some certainty to the authenticity of ‘Josh Allen 2.0’, but he’s still prone to panic-inducing plays that remind us we’re not that far removed from 2019. Stefon Diggs also deserves credit for his strength at separating from defenders giving Allen some leeway in his accuracy. However, should Allen be crowned the MVP it’ll be because of Brian Daboll and Sean McDermott. Their increased use of play action (up to 41.6%) and passing on second and long (79.2%) has created an efficient offense for Allen to thrive. We’ve still got most of the season ahead of us, but Allen can vie for the top honor if he continues to play well.
Narrative: Let Russ cook.
Verdict: The nerds have won.
The arguments for or against the Seahawks morphing into a Russ-centric offense were like philosophical debates from college. Nothing was off the table as a point to consider. Wilson’s career 8.4 Adjust Yards per Attempt and 51.9% deep-ball completion rate were constantly referenced by those in favor. Brian Schottenheimer legacy of conducting heavy-rushing schemes were touted by the naysayers. Even Pete Carroll’s decision to throw in their Super Bowl XLIX loss resurfaced as a reason for Russ being held in check. Regardless, the results speak for themselves. Seattle is undefeated and Wilson is in the MVP discussion yet again. Russ’ +12.6% CPOE is by far the highest on the season and it’s no fluke as the team is passing at the third highest rate in the league through five weeks (63.6%). The Seahawks let Russ cook and they now stand as the only 5-0 team in the league. Much like Buffalo, the coaching staff is setting Wilson and the team up to win through play-calling with increased passing on second down (82.9%) and in the red zone (70.5%). Wilson’s also eighth in the league for percentage of throws over 15 air yards rate (20.1%). The offense has truly taken on a new form with nine different players with touchdown receptions including Chris Carson, who has already matched his career total in receiving touchdowns. We’ll continue to celebrate with every passing touchdown and Cable Thanos video. Let’s just hope Carroll continues to believe in unleashing Mr. Unlimited.
How to Adjust
Most of the rookies are rostered, but it’s worth checking in on the status of either Reagor or Denzel Mims since both have spent time on IR. We have concerns about their team situation, but there’s a path to targets once they’re back on the field. We’re yet to see Mims, but Reagor’s already flashed his talent in his short stint in action. With Josh Allen and Russell Wilson, the situation isn’t as straightforward. It’s not like we can draft either. But we can acquire their pass catchers. Allen has made ancillary players like Cole Beasley and Dawson Knox viable in multiple weeks this season. Wilson has done the same for David Moore and Will Dissly. The floor may be low, but capturing a piece of a productive offense can be what wins us weeks as the bye weeks start to pile up.
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Bad Timing or Good timing?
Melvin Gordon, by his own admission on social media, didn’t approve of the league rescheduling their Week 5 contest against the Patriots. To cap off his unexpected free weekend, Gordon was caught driving under the influence late Tuesday in Denver. The Broncos and the league are yet to issue a punishment but speculation about a suspension has already begun. The 2020 NFL Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse states ‘…discipline for a first offense will be a suspension without pay for three (3) regular or postseason games.’ While we wait on more news, the team may give us a clue as to what will become of Gordon given the latest addition to the free-agent market.
Le’Veon Bell is expected to decide on which team to sign with before the weekend. After a long-awaited breakup, Adam Gase can continue to passive aggressively cause the demise of some other Jets player as New York remains winless. Bell joins the list of expensive running back contracts that barely got out of their infancy before being terminated, but there’s hope the three-time Pro Bowler can revitalize his career. Leaving Gase seems to be just the boost players need to return to fantasy relevance. Depending on Bell’s landing spot, he may not even make it to the waiver wire for us to capitalize on his next move.
Cam Newton has been activated from the COVID-19 list, is back practicing with the Patriots, and will be back under center against the Broncos in Week 6. Julio Jones and Mike Evans did not practice on Wednesday. Julio’s status is up in the air, but Evans did not have a setback on his ankle injury and is expected to practice later in the week. His teammate, Chris Godwin practiced in limited fashion, and the team will continue to evaluate his status over the next two days. Leonard Fournette remains sidelined with his ankle injury. DeSean Jackson practiced in limited fashion on Wednesday, but he had similar participation all last week prior to being ruled out. Any fantasy manager still rostering Jackson should continue to monitor his progress throughout the week prior to their matchup against Baltimore.