Three Things We Learned From Fantasy Football In 2019
No year in fantasy football is ever going to go as prognosticated. It is a violent game, filled with injuries that can derail entire team performances, coaches are fired, players under and/or over-perform and it is a wild rock opera that rages back and forth as its’ own living organism. Of course, our job is to handicap these outcomes as closely as possible and use those outcomes to find as many fantasy points as possible. Every year, we get more data on how we should be approaching fantasy football drafting, DFS best ball, and dynasty fantasy football; this year was no different. It was certainly the year of Lamar Jackson and Christian McCaffrey, the most commonly occurring players on championship rosters but there are real macro lessons to take away from this season.
Throughout the offseason, we will have more research and detailed takeaways from the 2019 season but as we sit here with the season fresh on our minds, I wanted to fire off a few quick thoughts about how the game has changed.
Zero RB Is More Precarious Then Ever
Did running backs get injured at the same rate as always? Of course they did. Of players who were drafted in the top 100 picks, SaQuon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, James Conner, David Johnson, Damien Williams, Kerryon Johnson, Devonta Freeman, Marlon Mack, Tevin Coleman, Derrius Guice, Jordan Howard, and Matt Brieda all missed two or more games with injury. This is not even including players like Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and others who missed just one game due to injury. So, if it is true that all of these highly drafted running backs missed time due to injury, why is this the year that Zero RB was finally declared actually dead by the masses?
The backup running backs in 2019 had a hit rate of about 5%. This is really the biggest shift year over year that we have seen in the way ZeroRB can be applied. When Barkley and Kamara went down, there were actually viable replacements (Gallman and Murray) but in many cases of RB injury, there was an ugly committee that was marked by poor performance. Ty Johnson, Brian Hill, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams, CJ Prosise, Darrell Williams, Jaylen Samuels, Chase Edmonds and other waiver wire pickups had max one good game before being benched, injured themselves or in some sort of fantasy-unfriendly committee. While this does not deter us from the base reality that RB’s get injured at a higher rate than other positions, I think one reasonable takeaway you can have is that players like Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette or Devonta who are not “good” or efficient players have so much more value in just having a steady workload, to begin with.
Running Is Truly All That Matters At Quarterback
Of the top 12 fantasy quarterbacks, only three (Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady) did not rush for 200 or more yards. Lamar Jackson is the top player in fantasy football and threw for only 3,127 passing yards. DeShaun Watson is the second-best quarterback in fantasy this year and has yet to top 4,000 passing yards but added seven rushing touchdowns and 82 rushing attempts. Josh Allen, FREAKING JOSH ALLEN, is the QB6 with more fantasy points than Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz, and Aaron Rodgers because he was able to rack up 500 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Next season, there is going to be no excuse for drafting players like Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, or Jared Goff.
You will always, always, always be able to find streaming candidates off the waiver wire who do not run. This year, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Fitzpatrick were all available off the waiver wire and various points and made this year one of the best for streaming in recent memory. Of course, there are always those who will remember the time streaming cost them a week (it has literally happened to all of us) and insist on taking someone “safe” like Ryan or Rivers but that is not how championships are won. Running quarterbacks always and forever; if they do not work out, get hurt or benched, you pick up a pass-only QB. That is the correct order of operations.
Tight End Is A Wasteland
As of Week Sixteen (the end of the proper fantasy season), only five tight ends have topped 200 PPR points. Only 10 tight ends total averaged more than 10 PPR points per game. Only FOUR tight ends saw 100 or more targets. This is a position that is even more volatile than running back and it is not exactly apparent on the surface why that is. We have of course seen the rise of slot wide receivers as most teams play 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) as their base set so many tight ends play in-line as their base position. Running back targets have also increased in the modern era as the tight end target share has decreased. Also, many of the studs at the position were injured in 2019 (Evan Engram, Austin Hooper, Eric Ebron George Kittle all missed) so that brings the overall range of outcomes down. The actionable advice here is not easy to parse out.
Does the bottom dropping out of the position mean that Kittle/Kelce/Ertz/Waller (??) matter more than ever? That is probably in a value-based drafting equation but none of the stud tight ends had actually studly seasons overall. This will be Travis Kelce’s worst fantasy season of the last three years and neither Ertz nor Kittle challenged him as the top tight end in fantasy. Kelce finished as the 26th-highest scoring player and Ertz will finish as the 49th-highest scoring player in PPR leagues. Just as we probably over-reacted to the Kelce/Kittle/Ertz explosions from last season, it would be unreasonable to drop all of these guys out of the top 50 fantasy players in ADP next year but I do think the mid-round TE gambit again proved to be a bust (OJ Howard, Eric Ebron, Hunter Henry, Delanie Walker) and an area to avoid. With late-season pushes from guys like Tyler Higbee and Jonnu Smith, it would not surprise me if TE-streaming is again the most optimal strategy in 2020.
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