We’re 13 weeks into the NFL season. A few plots have played out to our expectations. Far more has gone far off the chain of our projected storyboard.
Each week of the season brings with it a new set of questions. Here, we’ll attempt to lay out five of the most pressing in the NFL that week. The answers to those will reveal deeper truths about how the rest of the story of the 2019 NFL season will unfold.
We’ll find that these revelations will have a lasting impact on not just fantasy managers, but the league as a whole.
Can Ryan Tannehill keep it up?
Perhaps the best coaching decision of the 2019 NFL season belongs to Mike Vrabel. It is almost impossible to overstate how much the complexion of the Tennessee Titans has changed since they switched from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill as the starting quarterback.
Mariota simply stalled out the offense and kept the thrilling parts of the team hidden away from the public eye. Under Tannehill, everything has been better. Derrick Henry has been on a monstrous tear under Tannehill’s 5-1 run. Since Tannehill’s takeover, the hulking back leads the NFL with 724 yards at a ridiculous 6.1 yards per carry and eight total touchdowns. His 4.1 yards after contact per attempt is bested only by Lamar Jackson (minimum 50 carries).
Rookie receiver A.J. Brown has caught on and continues to rip off big plays. He’s averaging over 17 yards per catch since Tannehill took over. Expect Brown to be a mega-popular breakout candidate headed into the 2020 fantasy season.
Make no mistake, the Titans have hardly turned into a high-flying pass attack under Tannehill’s watch. He ranks just 23rd in dropbacks since Week 7. However, his stunning efficiency is what’s sprung this leap for the Titans from the basements of doldrums to one of the most intriguing operations in the NFL.
Ranks among QBs to start multiple games this season:
- Completion rate: 2nd (72.7%)
- Yards per attempt: 1st (9.1)
- TD rate: 2nd (6.8)
- Passer rating: 2nd (113.9)
- Adjusted Yards per attempt: 2nd (9.4)
It’s not even close to outrageous to suggest Tannehill has been one of the most efficient passers in the league since he took over — that’s just a straight fact. However, it’s worth wondering how long he can keep this up. Tannehill isn’t a stranger to stretches of effective play. Those just quickly faded with injuries or too timid an approach to the game. He’s unlikely to be this player for the long haul but it’s been refreshing to see Tannehill play with more reckless abandon. Perhaps being the guy to replace the guy is a weight off.
While we should be on alert for some slight normalization in Tannehill’s play, it’s hard to project it over the next two weeks. In Weeks 14 and 15, the Titans draw the Raiders and Texans. Those pass defenses rank 25th and 27th in Football Outsiders metrics.
Is it finally Darwin Thompson’s time?
After rising to become one of the most popular late-round sleepers deep into August, the time for Darwin Thompson may have finally arrived. Make no mistake — he’s hit the majority of waiver-wires by this point. But attrition may have brought us another late-year fantasy option in the Kansas City backfield for the second season in a row.
Darrel Williams just hit IR this past week. Damien Williams did not practice on Thursday with a rib injury that’s had him on the shelf of late. The only other backs on the roster outside of Thompson are veteran LeSean McCoy and a returning Spencer Ware. The latter hasn’t logged a touch in the NFL in almost a full calendar year. The former has been wildly ineffective this season.
Among 62 players who have logged 50-plus carries this year, LeSean McCoy ranks 54th in broken tackle rate and 57th in yards after contact per attempt. Only David Montgomery (sorry Brad), Kalen Ballage (sorry to everyone) and three quarterbacks have recorded fewer yards after contact per attempt than McCoy.
Thompson is coming off his first extended look of the season. He played 24 snaps last week and hit the Raiders for 44 yards and a score on 11 carries. It’s a hunch but there’s enough evidence to suggest that Thompson could be on the rise in the Kansas City backfield. He should be rostered in every fantasy league, at least on an exploratory basis.
Why is Sean McVay trying to take an L?
Sean McVay answered the inquiring media this week, “Me not being an idiot,” when pressed on why Todd Gurley was seeing increased usage. Normally I’m overwhelming pleased when head coaches show self-awareness but something about this instance doesn’t fit for me.
Gurley’s workload had not followed much of any discernable pattern for the majority of the season. He’d get goal-line work at random moments and get subbed out for Malcolm Brown in others. He’d see a single target in a game then get 11 thrown his way the next. Prior to Week 11, he cracked 17 carries just once.
The last two weeks have been a bit steadier. In the Rams most recent two wins, Gurley averaged 24 touches. Sandwiched between those was their blowout loss to the Ravens where Gurley played a whopping 96 percent of the snaps. All the while, he’s averaged 4.3 yards per carry and run well behind LA’s remade power-blocking offensive line.
McVay doesn’t really need to take the “L” on not using Gurley more to start the season. Honestly, he’s been put in something of a tough spot with an obviously hampered running back on a bloated salary. The weekly usage report is a direct result of McVay being unable to say, “Yes, the front office handed out a massive deal at a time when Todd was a different player but we all need to adjust to a new reality.” In my view, he’s made the best out of a bad situation and now might finally be on the other side of it.
Before the 2019 kickoff, it was my opinion that Gurley would either be a slow starter as they managed his workload or a slow finisher as he ran out of gas to end the season. It was just going to be impossible to tell heading into the season. Now it looks like he will be something closer to the former.
Here in Week 14, Gurley has another pristine matchup. The Seahawks are a bottom-half run defense, ranking 18th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Their tackling has been a huge source of the problem. According to Sports Info Solutions, they allow the second-most yards after contact per attempt (3.0) and the sixth-highest broken tackle rate (11.2%).
Will the Vikings split the backfield?
Dalvin Cook’s injury finally got fantasy managers to get a move on. Alexander Mattison’s rostership was wildly low all season because let’s face it: No matter how much we honk about pickups in articles, videos, etc., what really moves the needle is big news and bottom-line production.
With Cook being one of the most prolific players in fantasy this season, his going down on a widely consumed Monday Night Football game sent enough shockwaves. It also helped that Mattison was the direct replacement that everyone watched play, recording 73 total yards on eight touches with a 49% snap rate. Mattison jumped up to a 60% rostership mark, a 33% leap, and even that still feels too low.
On Thursday, Mike Zimmer echoed Cook’s own sentiment that the star back will play and be close to 100% against the Lions this week. Without putting too much of a tinfoil hat on, it’s worth wondering the Vikings will still look to give him more of a break than usual.
They know Mattison can ball. The team brass even gave comparisons to “their new Latavius Murray” when they drafted him. We saw them split the work between Cook and Murray before. It would also make some sense to make sure Cook doesn’t re-injure this shoulder, especially since he was dealing with a chest injury prior to Week 13.
The Vikings can’t afford to look ahead. However, they would certainly prefer all hands be on deck for their Week 16 Monday night matchup against Green Bay that could decide the division. Minnesota could decide to split the backfield just a hair more than usual with a capable Mattison keeping Cook fresh. It’s a guess but it could be enough considering they can barrel over Detroit no matter what. The Lions have ceded the 10th-most rushing yards on the season and are tied for the third-highest broken tackles allowed since Week 8.
Did a super sleeper at tight end just appear in Carolina?
Change is here in Carolina. It may go a bit beyond the head coach spot. Interim head coach Perry Fewell didn’t seem optimistic that Greg Olsen will be available this weekend. That brings his supposed pass-catching backup, Ian Thomas, into the mix.
It’ll be as razor-thin a play as possible, considering Thomas had caught just one ball and was barely playing heading into Week 13. Yet, when Olsen went out with a concussion, we saw Thomas reappear. He played on 43% of the team snaps, almost doubling his previous season-high of a whopping 22%.
Thomas has a resume too. Last season as a mere rookie he snagged 74% of the balls thrown his way. He was particularly hot to close the 2018 season. Over the Panthers last five games, he piled up 246 yards and scored twice while averaging 6.4 targets per game. We know he can produce when given a snap rate north of 75% and that could be in the cards this weekend.
Again, this is all razor-thin but considering he’s the stone-minimum ($10) on Yahoo DFS, it’s well worth the plunge. He doesn’t need to do much to pay off that cost. And he gives you access to several high-end studs. You could do a lot worse than this streamer against a Falcons team that allows the seventh-highest yards per attempt (8.9) on throws to tight ends.