Each week during the NFL season, I will offer up a variety of top-five lists because, well, who doesn’t love a top five list? With that universal love of lists in mind, I give you some of the most overrated and underrated players in fantasy football, as well as the top roller coaster rides at the running back position.
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Fun with Numbers: 5 Interesting Stats
Rush to judgment – Cleveland has allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy PPG to the RB position and it leads the league in percentage of runs allowed (.569) that have resulted in two yards or less. Denver is right behind the Browns with a mark of .568, followed by Arizona (.523), Philadelphia (.521), Miami (.513), Pittsburgh (.511), Carolina (.502) and Tampa Bay (.500). Those are the only eight teams in the league allowing two yards or less on at least half of its opponent’s carries. On the flip side, Kansas City (.356) and New England (.359) are the only two teams that limit opponent rushes to two yards or less under 40 percent of the time.
Chunkin’ it up – More about Kansas City’s (lack of) defense. The Chiefs have allowed the most plays from scrimmage of 10-plus yards, allowing 44 rush plays of 10-plus yards (most in the NFL) and 108 pass plays (second-most in the NFL behind Indy). Cincinnati (with 87 total plays, or 9.7 per game), has allowed the fewest 10-yard plays, with success in the pass game leading the way (65 pass plays of 10-plus yards, second-fewest behind Jacksonville’s 63). On the run side, Minnesota has allowed just 10 runs of 10-plus yards, well out in front of the next closest challenger (Philly, with 16 rushes of 10-plus yards).
Marquee targets – It may not come as a surprise to hear that Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry and DeAndre Hopkins are tied for the lead in games of 10-plus targets this season (7). However, Marqise Lee being tied at seventh (four games) could raise a few eyebrows considering he entered Week 11 available in about 40 percent of leagues on ESPN/Yahoo. Lee has seen double-digit looks in three of his past four games, averaging 75.5 yards and scoring two touchdowns in that span. With the fifth-easiest rest of season schedule at the WR position, Lee makes a strong case to be universally-owned going forward.
Cool Brees – Buffalo managed a rare feat in a loss to the Saints in Week 10, holding Drew Brees to 200 passing yards or less without a TD pass. It is the only time in the past seven-plus seasons (since ’10) that Brees has been held to 200 pass yards or less without a TD pass. By comparison, Alex Smith has 18 such games in that span and even the elite quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (7) and Tom Brady (4) have had at least a few trip-ups. Brees did run for a TD on Sunday versus the Bills, though, so you have to go back to 2009 to encounter the last time Brees threw for 200 or fewer yards and did not account for a rush or pass TD. He actually did that in back-to-back weeks in the ’09 season – Weeks 4-5 against the New York Jets and, wouldn’t you know, the Buffalo Bills.
Road Warriors – Tom Brady, Alex Smith and Andy Dalton are the only QBs with a QB Rating of over 100 on the road since ’15. On the other end of the spectrum, Joe Flacco (75.4) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (74.6) have the lowest QBRs among signal callers with at least 16 road games from ’15 to present.
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5 Underrated Fantasy Players
Tevin Coleman, ATL, RB – Coleman, who was the No. 17 RB in fantasy points in ’16, currently sits in the exact same spot (17th) in fantasy PPG this season (min. six games). However, at 87% in Yahoo leagues, he ranks 25th at running back in ownership percentage and was only the 27th RB in ADP in preseason drafts. From ’16 to the present, Coleman has logged 15 games with 8.0-plus fantasy points, 12th-best among running backs, and only three less than teammate Devonta Freeman. On a fantasy points per touch basis, Coleman has been about as good as it gets.
Michael Crabtree, OAK, WR – Crabtree is en route to outperforming teammate Amari Cooper in fantasy value for a third straight season. In ’15, Crabtree’s first season in Oakland and Cooper’s first season in the NFL, Crabtree was taken, on average, as the 56th WR in fantasy drafts, while Cooper was selected 19th – Crabtree finished 20th in fantasy points at WR that season, while Cooper clocked in at No. 23. In ’16, Crabtree went, on average, as the 38th wide receiver, but delivered top 12 WR results, whereas Cooper was taken 12th at WR and finished No. 14 at the position in fantasy scoring. This season, Crabtree was WR20 in ADP, compared to Cooper’s WR11, and Crabtree is once again proving the much better investment, as he’s No. 8 at WR in fantasy PPG (min. six games) compared to No. 37 for Cooper. Perhaps we might finally see the two swap places in terms of draft-day hierarchy at WR next season, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Rishard Matthews, TEN, WR – Just 37th among wideouts in percent ownership, Matthews is currently top 25 at the position in receptions (36) and yards (513). Last season, he was the overall No. 13 WR in fantasy points, and was 29th in ’15 in fantasy PPG at the position (min. 10 games). With one of the 10 easiest rest-of-season schedules at the WR position, Matthews should continue to outperform his ownership cost.
Orleans Darkwa, NYG, RB – Darkwa, who ranks just 31st in percent ownership at RB, has produced the 18th-most fantasy PPG at RB since Week 5 (min. four games). He’s also fifth in YAC/attempt among RBs that have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps. The threat of a timeshare with rookie Wayne Gallman has become much ado about nothing as Darkwa owns a decisive touch advantage over his teammate in the past four games (68 to 31). And, with a 5.1 yards per carry mark, Darkwa joins Kareem Hunt and Alex Collins as the only RBs with at least 75 carries averaging 5.0 YPC. Darkwa has legit RB2 appeal to close out ’17.
Hunter Henry, LAC, TE – Admittedly, Henry has been a fantasy minefield this season, with four games scoring 1.1 fantasy points or less. However, volatility comes with the tight end territory, and there’s been much more good than bad with Henry in his young career, as he ranks third at the position in total games with at least 7.0 fantasy points from ’16 to the present (12th, behind only Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce). With one of the top five easiest remaining slates at the tight end position, I view Henry, currently No. 12 at tight end in ownership percentage, as a better upside play down the stretch than at least Jason Witten and Kyle Rudolph (see below), TEs currently owned in a higher percentage of leagues than Henry.
5 Overrated Fantasy Players
Amari Cooper, OAK, WR – Cooper is on his way to failing to deliver on his ADP for a third straight season. Last week, I listed him as one of the top roller coaster WRs in the league due to his propensity to deliver all-or-nothing fantasy results on a week-to-week basis. This season, he’s been mostly on the “nothing” side, returning 3.3 fantasy points or less in five of nine games, and only twice topping 5.8 points. Currently 37th at WR in fantasy PPG (min. six games), Cooper is still owned in 98% of Yahoo leagues and 97% of ESPN leagues.
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT, QB – Big Ben is top 11 in ownership percentage at QB in both Yahoo and ESPN leagues, but he’s far from an ideal QB1 for fantasy purposes. In ’16, he was 17th at the QB position in fantasy points, thanks to two DNPs – he missed four games the previous season and has only played a full 16-game slate three times in his career. His 255.3 passing YPG this season is the second-lowest mark of his past nine seasons. Moreover, after averaging two rushing touchdowns a year in his first seven seasons, he has combined for just two rushing TDs (as many as Kirk Cousins had in Week 10) in his past 95 regular-season games. We also can’t dismiss his road woes in recent seasons (though it hasn’t been as big of an issue this season) as he’s just 16th at the QB position in fantasy points on the road since ’14. Roethlisberger has talked of retirement in recent offseasons and questioned whether he still had “it” after a five-interception performance against Jacksonville in Week 5. From a fantasy standpoint, his best days are clearly behind him, and he’s probably best served as a luxury backup in fantasy leagues as opposed to his current back-end QB1 standing.
Joe Mixon, CIN, RB – I’m as guilty of hyping Mixon as anyone, as I was adamant that he was the RB from the ’17 class with the best all-around NFL skill set. And, while that may be true, his talent has not been able to overcome his environment, specifically an O-line ranked second-worst in run blocking by Football Outsiders. Mixon is 30th among RBs in fantasy PPG (min. six games), but his 91% ownership in Yahoo leagues ranks 19th at the position. Mixon has touchdowns in back-to-back games, but the second-toughest rest-of-season schedule at the RB position makes it hard to buy into a Mixon breakout.
Sammy Watkins, LAR, WR – In his past 17 regular-season games, Watkins has combined for just 59 catches, 802 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Only two of those 17 contests resulted in a WR1 (top 12) performance, while nine of them returned fantasy production outside the WR4 (top 48) range and two outings clocked in outside the top 40 at WR. In the Rams’ top-scoring offense (32.9 PPG), he’s a distant third among the team’s receivers in total targets (just 34, compared to 59 for Robert Woods and 54 for Cooper Kupp).
Kyle Rudolph, MIN, TE – Among tight ends with at least six games played this season, Rudolph sits at No. 18 in fantasy PPG, but he’s the sixth-most owned TE in both ESPN and Yahoo leagues. Rudolph was a top three fantasy tight end last season with Sam Bradford under center, posting a career-high 840 yards (which was 345 more yards than his previous career best). With Case Keenum running the Vikings’ offense for most of this season, Rudolph, at 34.2 YPG, is on pace for 547 yards this season, a pretty standard yardage clip for Rudolph before last season’s breakout. With such a high ownership percentage, clearly many are still holding out hope for Rudolph to return to his ’16 levels. But he hasn’t yet reached the 50-yard mark in a game this season, and he’ll face the fourth-toughest TE schedule the rest of the way. His owners may want to consider other options – like Jared Cook, who is averaging almost 97 yards over his past three games, and faces the easiest rest-of-season schedule at the TE position and is owned in about 25% fewer leagues than Rudolph.
5 of the biggest Roller Coaster Running Backs (peak-and-valley production from week to week)
Derrick Henry, TEN – Henry is the poster RB for this category, with six career games of 12-plus fantasy points and 15 games of 5.4 points or less - and only one game on his career slate has landed between those two peak-and-valley benchmarks.
Ty Montgomery, GB – Since moving into a backfield role for Green Bay last season, Montgomery has been an undulating fantasy ride. He’s played 19 regular-season games from Week 6 of ’16 (when he started taking RB snaps in earnest) to the present, and in that span he’s delivered seven double-digit fantasy efforts and 10 games of 5.6 fantasy points or less (seven of 4.4 or less).
Isaiah Crowell, CLE, RB – Crowell was the No. 14 fantasy RB last season and he’s had 21 double-digit fantasy efforts in his 56 career games, but he’s never put together three 10-point efforts in a row. He’s also posted 24 games of 5.4 fantasy points or less.
Christian McCaffrey, CAR – Run-CMC’s fantasy production has been a yo-yo through his first 10 NFL games, with four games netting him 11.7-plus fantasy points and four games of 5.2 points or less.
Bilal Powell, NYJ – In his past 33 regular-season games, Powell has peaked nine times (with each of those games delivering at least 13.9 fantasy points), but he’s also hit the valley floor 13 times (under 5.0 fantasy points). Of course, Powell’s biggest issue is the inconsistent workloads afforded by his employer. Among running backs with at least 250 carries since ’15, Powell leads with an average of 4.95 yards per carry.