Quarter-Pole Fantasy Awards
The broken record this time of the year is of course: “It’s been a weird season!” So we’ll spare you that Fantasy Football parlance. Before we run down our awards through the quarter mark, we want to slap a warning label on. These players won’t be the elite, high draft capital players from our drafts. Fantasy MVP’s can be interpreted in many ways. We like to think of an MVP as a player we’re reaping tremendous value on. Somebody who is performing like a high end draft pick, but cost much less to get on our squads.
Like every warning label, this one sneaks in some fine print. MVP’s and Bust candidates should be groomed with a fine tooth comb before presenting them to the public. When we identify some of these stand outs, we’re very conscious of the future. Deciding on specific players isn’t just pinpointing the top players in fantasy who were drafted outside the top 3 rounds. We want to provide players who are likely to continue riding the wave!
Without further ado, here are our Busters, Surprise Prizes, Leap Takers, and the illustrious MVP
Ty: Devonta Freeman - RB - Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman is my choice as the fantasy bust because the hazardous material sign was there for all to see. He fits the mold of an undersized running back who excels between the tackles and in traffic, or at least that's how he’s been used. That profile of player can break down quicker than a running back filling the same role, or seeing the same amount of volume, who weighs 30 pounds more than the 5’8”, 205 pound runner. In the past, Freeman’s dealt with knee, groin, and foot injuries, as well as a history of concussions.
A million years ago, when we were choosing between running backs at the 3rd round turn, Freeman was easy to slide away from knowing he had the most difficult strength of schedule against the run in the first 6 weeks. That schedule has held up. He hasn’t eclipsed 16 attempts on the ground and has 12 carries or less in 3 of the 4 games he’s played. Devonta Freeman is even seeing snap limitations. He’s only exceeded 62% snaps once.
Efficiency also hasn’t been there consistently this season. Well, it has been, but it’s been poor efficiency. He’s been under 2.4 yards per carry in 3 of 4 games. Ultra concerning, is that Freeman ranks outside the top 40 in red zone rushing attempts and has 0 goal line carries!
Now, I don’t mean to condemn Devonta Freeman. The offense is largely responsible for his underwhelming start. The Falcons tried an experiment no team had tried in decades. They drafted two offensive linemen in the first round of the NFL draft. Unfortunately, injuries have hit them hard up front. They looked abysmal in the preseason and have not shown any chemistry or continuity as a run blocking unit. Football Outsiders has Atlanta as their 25th ranked unit in adjusted line yards.
Head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter make for a motley crew in fantasy when talking about running backs. The Falcons have the 5th fewest rushing attempts and the 6th fewest yards. Atlanta had the 3rd fewest rushing attempts last season. More concerning, the pass heavy nature of the play calling doesn’t involve the backs in the red zone.
Devonta Freeman has 0 touches at the goal line and only 1 inside the 10-yard line. Last year, we remember Tevin Coleman was supposed to be extremely valuable once Freeman was declared out for the season. Coleman ended up being completely frustrating. Also frustrating was the use of Ito Smith in the red zone. Judge Ito out-carried Tevin Coleman in the red zone last season 20-17.
Some assumed Devonta Freeman would appear in the bounce back category this year. The avenue for that range of outcomes was touchdowns. Matt Ryan and this offense could be the biggest disappointment thus far. They’ve scored just 70 points in the first 4 games. That has lead to a fantasy travesty at the goal line. The Falcons have given the team’s only two carries inside the 5 this season to Ito Smith- and 3 of 4 team carries inside the 10. Ito smith also had the only 2 touchdowns in the preseason for the Falcons offense while Matt Ryan was on the field.
I won’t argue if you claim Devonta Freeman could still perform as an RB2 for fantasy. This offense will begin to score points, it hasn’t been for lack of trying. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have the most pass attempts in the NFL. Unfortunately, The Running backs have zero targets inside the 20 yard line. Despite the lack of high leverage targets, Devonta Freeman does have 4 targets in every game and has over 20 touches in back to back weeks now. Durability could rear its ugly head though, and that could be a reason we’re seeing so much of Ito Smith.
Freeman sees the Texans, Cardinals, and the Rams in the next three weeks. The Cardinals are a great matchup and his strength of schedule vs. the run eases up going forward so he may be broadcasted as a buy low candidate. Personally, he is past the “need to see it” phase when it comes to me trusting him in my RB2 slot. Devonta Freeman doesn’t fit the bill of a player to trade for. Trade for a Miles Sanders instead who plays the Miami, The New York Giants, and Washington for fantasy playoffs! Freeman’s bustin’.
Trav: Stefon Diggs - WR - Minnesota Vikings
Displeased. That’s a nice way to frame the feelings Stefon Diggs owners have towards his fantasy production up to this point. Through week four, Diggs is averaging only 8.78 PPR points per game, he’s only had one double-digit performance, with one touchdown and two fumbles lost. Not the return you were hoping to get out of your third round pick!
In week four, he showed us that there’s nothing wrong with Stefon Diggs. He looked great after the catch, caught a nice over the shoulder deep ball, and his fumble was challenged and could have easily been ruled an incompletion on what was a great bang bang play by the defender to punch the ball out right at the catch point. The problem lies in the offensive philosophy of Kevin Stefanski and the shaky play of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
A large part of the disappointment in Stefon Diggs is the offensive scheme run by new OC Kevin Stefanski. The type of scheme Mike Zimmer dreams about. The Minnesota Vikings are currently on pace for under 400 pass attempts. In 2018, they had the 6th most in the NFL with 606. Stefanski’s insertion into the Offensive Coordinator role has brought a massive 180 degree turn in their rush to pass ratio. In 2018 the Vikings ran the ball on only 37% of plays. This season they’re running the ball at an almost 55% clip, spearheaded by Dalvin Cook’s hot start and a defense giving up only 15.75 points per game.
Kirk Cousins’ play, unlike his contract, has not been fully guaranteed. His 735 yards through the first four weeks rank 25th in the NFL and he is yet to throw for more than one touchdown in a game. Ranking 27th in Air Yards, Cousins sits one spot ahead of Eli Manning and two spots behind Cam Newton. Both of whom have played only 2 games this season. As you may have guessed, these numbers do not bode well for Stefon Diggs.
So, this past week was encouraging, especially against that Bears D, but after his first 3 weeks you were probably sitting him on your bench anyway. I benched him for Tyrell Williams in one league. Drafted as a confident 3rd round pick, his owners still have to be displeased. It’ll continue to be tough sleddin’ with Diggs. This team wants to be a high volume rushing offense, so we can’t expect a ton of targets. He’s still a hold for me because in a pinch you could do worse than having Stefon Diggs coming off your bench. You also probably won’t get a great return, but I’m not mad if you sell him for 75 cents on the dollar either.
The only spots where I expect his usage to become more consistent are games where you can predict they’ll have to keep up on the scoreboard, tough with their great defense. Or, if there was a Dalvin Cook injury, I would think they’d have to skew a little bit more to the pass.
Of course, there is plenty of time for the Vikings and their passing game to right the ship. The question, however, is whether they will right said ship.
Looking at their remaining schedule, they play only five bottom half pass defenses and six top half. With four of those six being top 10, per sharpfootballstats.com’s Pass Defense Efficiency. So, while I can see them turning this around to allow for some fantasy production, I don’t see it being in any more than a spotty, boom-bust fashion. A stark contrast from having two WR1s and a TE1, as they did in 2018. As I mentioned, with almost zero current trade value, Diggs remains a hold in hopes that I’m wrong in this, and some consistency can be built in Minneapolis.
Trav: Leonard Fournette - RB - Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette has come back with a fantasy football vengeance this season. After a disappointing season marred by injury, Fournette played only 8 games and finished at RB40 in fantasy, seemingly falling out of favour with his real life football team.
Fast forward to 2019, Fournette is currently RB9 in PPR Formats. Yes, you read that right, in PPR. The transformation to an every down, elite workload running back has been a rare, but pleasant surprise among the running back ranks this season. Already over half way toward reaching his career high in targets. Playing the “on pace for” game, Fournette is looking at just under 100 targets, well on his way to an RB1 season.
To look at his sheer volume, Lenny has had 89.6% of the Jaguars’ RB opportunities (RB carries + targets), he’s racked up the 6th most carries in the league, and the 4th most rushing yards with 404 through the first quarter of the NFL season. The most amazing stat, even as RB9, even with the second most touches in the league, he’s got zero touchdowns. ZERO. Surely, one variable in that equation is the goose egg he has in the goal line touches column. Those totals are in stark contrast to his 13 red zone touches, good for 4th in the league at this point. So his touchdown number is not for lack of trying. We should see that correct itself, and likely in short order.
Against the Broncos in week 4, Fournette galloped to the best rushing day of his career. 109 of his league leading 230 yards created came this past week, and his 225 rushing yards were the most in any single game for a running back this year. This offense hasn’t experienced much drop-off since Gardner Minshew took over after Nick Foles’ injury. It’s no coincidence that it’s coincided with a healthy Fournette handling the workload fantasy owners have longed for.
Ty: Darren Waller - TE - Oakland Raiders
Darren is just a blue Waller player. I wish I was a Waller, I wish I was a little bit taller. Waller, Waller Bill y’all! Okay, It’s out of my system. I’ve heard and seen the Waller-taller names, but not so many C.R.E.A.M. themed team names. For shame!
Darren Waller has been better for our lineups than he has been for our team names. In fact, his remarkable story to get where he is right now can be summed up in one sentence. He’s accomplishing all we hoped Austin Seferian-Jenkins would!
His usage, unlike Josh Jacobs, has been ideal. Gruden has made concerted efforts to target him and get him the ball in space. Even using Jets sweeps if necessary. Darren Waller is top 3 in targets at tight end, and has more targets than George Kittle and OJ Howard combined! DW has been hyper efficient catching 33 of his 37 targets! Those 33 catches are more than any other tight end at the quarter pole. He dominates the position in team target share, seeing almost 30% of Derek Carr’s pass attempts. He’s been force fed targets, and he’s taking advantage of them with his catch rate, obviously, but he’s shown great athleticism as well. Waller is 3rd in receiving yards among tight ends and 2nd in Yards after the catch!
His current pace of 120 catches on 150 targets are laughable and very improbable respectively. Regression is ahead. Certainly his efficiency and his volume will be difficult to sustain. Worry not though. Regardless of all he’s accomplished so far this season, he is still without any tallies in the most important category for tight ends in fantasy. Make no mistake, Darren Waller having 0 TDs should correct itself in rapid fashion going forward.
His Weighted opportunity rating (top buy low tool on airyards.com - WOPR) is the highest among Tight Ends. Tyrell Williams has a red zone touchdown in every game this season! Go ahead fact check that. He’s out-targeted Darren Waller 6-3 in the red zone and inside the 10 yard line Tyrell Williams has 4 targets to Waller’s 0.
It’s possible that defenses are keying on Waller. He’s usually the player who got them down there in the first place! He could also be failing to get open. A red zone role wasn’t a niche he was assured of in this offense. He profiles as an athletic yards after the catch tight end, best used in mismatches situation to get chunk plays. Tyrell Williams has taken advantage of defensive coverage and made plays in the end zone. I’d still lean towards Darren Waller having a similar amount of volume and production in the red zone as Tyrell Williams by season’s end. That leaves a lot of touchdown upside for Darren Waller.
Ty: Austin Hooper - TE - Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have largely disappointed for fantasy. Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley and Devonta Freeman have really stung owners. Austin Hooper, however, has been a staple in the passing game through 4 weeks. As a result, this offense has become much less predictable when it comes to fantasy options. Outside of Julio Jones, that is. It’s actually Austin Hooper who’s the leader at his position among the Falcons. Julio Jones is the WR 4 after four weeks. Austin Hooper sits as the TE 2! Let’s go!
We could be witnessing a true next step into top five TE status. More likely, he’s experiencing several forces at work fall in his favour. The Running backs have been used sparingly in the pass game and not at all inside the red zone. Another component is the offensive line. The Falcons and Matt Ryan are 17th in times blitzed, but rank bottom 10 in QB hurries and QB hits. They have suffered injuries and a bad prognostication for what this revamped offensive line could be capable of in their 1st season as a unit.
Austin Hooper has been a huge beneficiary of those woes in 2019 (last season as well). The little deuce Hoop has built up such a strong start that he’s sure to have a huge season at TE this year. Compared to Travis Kelce’s 2016 and 2017 TE1 finishes, several players at tight end, including Hooper, are on pace to blow past numbers Travis Kelce put up. By about 50 PPR points!
The Falcons are 1st in total pass attempts and among the league low in rushing. They’ve proven they are going to be very pass heavy in 2019. The strength of schedule, the offensive line, their amazing stretch of indoor games, the weapons on offense, and finally the Offensive coordinator ALL lend themselves to Atlanta continuing to sling the rock.
Austin Hooper is a rare every down Tight End. He hasn’t played less than 75% snaps all year and should be an 80+% snap player, seeing the entirety of the Falcons targets to Tight Ends.
Hooper is dominating right now statistically. He’s had 9 catches in 2 separate games already, and hasn’t had less than 4 catches in any game. He’s only slightly behind Julio to lead the team in overall fantasy points. He is top 5 among tight ends in targets, receptions, yards, yards after the catch, air yards and Touchdowns! *catches breath*
There are stats I can point to showing his likelihood of sustainability as well. Last season, Austin Hooper was 8th in the NFL in targets inside the 10 yard line. This season he has ground to make up in several high leverage categories such as red zone targets and targets inside the 10. His market share has room to grow as well. Despite being 4th in targets and 2nd in catches, he barely cracks the top 10 in target share with less than 20% of Matt Ryan’s targets. If he continues his torrid pace - and the red zone usage corrects - Hooper is a locked in top 5 TE with week to week consistency that is next to impossible to find.
Hooper plays the Texans this week, who have been the 2nd toughest vs Tight ends this season. It should be a tremendous test to his consistency, and in week 6 he gets the Cardinals. They’re giving up more points to tights ends than a handful of teams are allowing to wide receivers! Arizona is going to set an unbreakable record for points allowed to tight ends in 2019. Austin Hooper will be able to tell his grand-kids - as they help him at the trophy shop - that he contributed to that record in week 6!
Trav: Mark Andrews - TE - Baltimore Ravens
Mark Andrews is a guy who picked up steam toward the end of last season, in turn, he picked up a ton of love in the fantasy community coming into the 2019 season. Critics cited his low snap share, a run heavy offense, and his quarterback’s limitations throwing the ball as reasons he wouldn’t take the leap. Not only has he taken the leap, Andrews has put on a squirrel suit and is flying high near the top of the Tight End ranks a quarter way through the season.
Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ passing game has surprised this season. Still at the top of the league in run volume, their overall play volume has buoyed an efficient, explosive passing attack. Baltimore currently ranks 16th in pass attempts, 12th in completions, 6th in passing yards, and they sit atop the league in passing touchdowns. This is an offense that can sustain viable fantasy options, and with Lamar Jackson throwing 41% of his passes to Tight Ends, that option is big 89 in purple. Mark Andrews.
Currently TE3 in PPR, Andrews has provided arguably the best value in fantasy when looking at his ADP vs. production. His stat line through four weeks looks like this: 28 catches on 33 targets (both 6th at TE), 266 yards (5th), 3 TD (only behind Billy Diss, Will Dissly and his 5 touchdowns. Talk about tight end breakouts...). This is no flash in the pan, Andrews is here to stay.
On only 82 routes run, the Oklahoma product has 318 air yards, only Travis Kelce’s 363 are better. To put that into perspective, Kelce has been on the field for over 76 more snaps, and run almost 40 more routes than Andrews. Mark Andrews is clearly the centrepiece of this Ravens passing game. He currently owns 23% of the Ravens targets this year, which is a top shelf workload for a Tight End. He also has the most deep receptions at his position with 6, and he’s third in average depth of target with 9.9 amongst TEs with at least 15 targets. Competing against the likes of Nick Boyle and failed first round pick Hayden Hurst, Andrews has emerged as a versatile weapon, playing 40% of his snaps out of the slot and seeing targets in all areas of the field as a deep threat and a safety net in the continued progression of quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Opportunity is king in fantasy football, and while he may be playing just under 50% of snaps and not running a lot of routes, it’s the quality of the opportunities Andrews is getting that makes his production sustainable. Also working in his favour: of the Ravens remaining 12 games, only the Patriots and Rams aren’t in the top 10 for fantasy points given up to TEs. The resurgence at the Tight End position in 2019 has been refreshing, in my opinion, Mark Andrews is at the forefront of that resurgence with a young QB, dynamic scheme, and a workload that can only grow. Here’s hoping you rode the wave of fresh faces and took Andrews while he was still a value.
Trav: Chris Godwin - WR - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As noted above, our choices for MVP aren’t the guys you would expect. Sure, Keenan Allen, Dalvin Cook, Patrick Mahomes, or Lamar Jackson could be slam dunks in this category, but due to positional importance and fantasy draft investment, those guys are just too obvious. Looking at bang-for-buck alone, my fantasy MVP has to be Chris Godwin. It goes far deeper than the return you’ve seen on your draft investment though.
The fantasy WR3 through 4 weeks, Godwin is on pace for over 130 targets and over 1500 yards. He flipped a switch into boss mode this year. It’s well known that his hype train was over capacity coming into the season. A tantalizing skillset as a 96th percentile SPARQ-x athlete with 4.4 speed, Chris Godwin has been touted by many (like...a lot) to be the wide receiver to own in Tampa Bay. Likely to surpass Mike Evans as the alpha in Bruce Arians’ scheme, and the apple of Jameis Winston’s eye. Or maybe the crab legs under his coat, or the W in his belly...but I digress.
Godwin is getting getting looks all over the field, in the slot, on the outside, in the red zone, and on high leverage plays. In reference to the high leverage situations, Godwin has caught 7 of 9 targets for 77 yards and a touchdown on 3rd and 4th downs, converting all 7 catches for first downs and delivering a QB rating of 150.0. With 386 receiving yards, Godwin ranks third in the league, to further highlight his well rounded game, 148 of those yards have been after the catch, sixth amongst all wide receivers. This passing offense has funneled heavily through it’s receivers, as evidenced by Godwin maintaining a 24% share of targets, even with Mike Evans gobbling up 25%. Much to the chagrin of OJ Howard owners, who’s 9% matches Dare Ogunbowale for third best on the team.
Looking at strength of schedule, Godwin has tough matchups against the Panthers, Titans, Jags, and Lions left on the slate. These are all above average pass defenses per sharpfootballstats.com’s Pass D efficiency. Let’s not forget though, Mike Evans will still keep defenses on high alert, allowing Godwin to work the safety net role he’s been flourishing in up to this point. The flip side of the schedule for Godwin sees them face the Saints twice, the Cardinals, Seahawks, Falcons, Colts, and the Texans in the fantasy championship. This will be a season of tests for the Buccaneers. Can Jameis Winston become a reliable franchise leader, is Bruce Arians’ offense as good as billed, do they have what it takes to be a top player in the hunt for an NFC playoff spot, and can Godwin morph into the elite producer that his talent suggests he can? Through 4 weeks, Chris Godwin has passed his test with flying colours. Many predicted it, some doubted, but regardless, we all get to live it for the next 13 weeks and beyond.
Ty: Cooper Kupp - WR - Los Angeles Rams
During draft season, Cooper Kupp was pushed down draft boards due to coming off a late season injury. We now know, we should stop treating some surgeries like a death sentence. Even when we heard glowing positivity in camp and the preseason, Kupp remained under the radar as a 6th round pick in redraft leagues. He now hasn’t played less than 90% snaps in a game.
It’s somewhat surprising to see Kupp so successful with Jared Goff not providing the top 10 quarterback play he demonstrated the past 2 years. Citing Jared Goff’s drastic splits with and without Cooper Kupp, the writing was on the wall. Over the last 2 seasons in 24 games with Cooper Kupp Goff had a 103.1 passer rating good for 6th best among Quarterbacks. In 11 games without Kupp, Jared Goff’s passer rating dipped to 85.7 (27th)
Past the quarter mark in the season we’ve seen a different Rams team. Goff isn’t a QB1 for fantasy. Even his 500+ yard performance was most notable for the fact the Rams lost, and Goff dropped back 70 times to pass!
The offensive line shoulders the bulk of the blame. Andrew Whitworth hasn’t played up to his usual level. At his advanced age you also have to imagine his production would be worse in the back half of the season. The other 4 Rams offensive linemen have been turnstiles. The Rams were the worst graded offensive line by PFF in the first 4 weeks! Worse than Arizona, and worse than the Cincinnati Bengals.
I mentioned that Goff is sucking it up. Brandin Cooks has plagued fantasy owners as well Averaging only 8.44 PPR points per game, he is now in the concussion protocol after their week 5 TNF matchup at Seattle. The run game has suffered equally, leaving Todd Gurley touchdown dependant and wildly unpredictable.
Cooper Kupp though! He’s been the Rams MVP through 5 games and it’s not close. He was top 5 in targets heading into Thursday Night football, and he saw 17 more targets! Almost twice as many as Robert Woods. The ineffectiveness of the Rams offense, in particular the pass protection, has facilitated huge volume for Cooper Kupp. The chemistry he shares with his quarterback has made Jared Goff lean on him over and over again.
Kupp sits 4th in the NFL with 28% target share. Impressive for a team considered to have 4 weapons in the passing attack who command targets. In the face of adversity, Goff has keyed on Cooper Kupp. He is such an easy target for a quarterback. When you look at Matt Harmon’s reception perception you see Kupp faces historically low rates of press coverage. He also runs almost 70% of his routes vs. zone coverage, which is wild. He plays a role almost no other wide receiver plays. Somewhat similar to how a move tight end is used.
Cooper Kupp has always been targeted heavily in the red zone. In 2017 he was top 10 in the NFL in red zone targets, oblivious to the fact that he was a rookie who had numerous detractors. Last season, playing only half of the Rams’ games, he was again on pace for 20 red zone targets, which would have lead the team and placed inside him inside the top 10 yet again.
A top 5 WR finish is in the tarot cards for Kupp this year. He should be top 10 in targets, receptions, and targets in the red zone. Thats a lethal combination. He already has 3 touchdowns in the red zone this season, showing no signs of slowing down. Cooper Kupp has 11 career red zone touchdowns and 15 total tallies in 28 games. Only 18 of which he’s started.
Going forward the Rams offense has room to make huge strides. Their offensive line won’t finish as the worst graded unit. The kinks should be worked out while Todd Gurley continues to prove he is no longer the absolute focal point of this offense.
What we have seen is a funnel to the wideouts in this offense. Heading into week 5 the Rams were targeting their wide receivers at the highest rate in the league with 70% of Goffs targets going to the WR group. Gurley’s owners know, Jared Goff and the Rams are targeting RBs at the lowest rate in the NFL at 11.6 %
There is room for Kupp to continue if not exceed this torrid streak. Bradin Cooks was concussed and while they have an extended week after playing on TNF, concussions are trending towards at least a one week absence. The Rams are also using their Tight ends extensively in the red zone. Kupp leads the team with 6 red zone targets but heading into week 5 Gerald everett had 5 and Tyler Higbee had 4! All 4 of Tyler Higbee’s came inside the 10 yard line, which leads all Rams pass catchers. With that correcting itself over time, we’ll continue to see heavy red zone volume for Cooper Kupp, much like we saw in week 5.
I tweeted out some important stats that show Kupp is constantly improving. We've clearly seen that his standing on this offensive totem pole has risen. We’re seeing the birth of a star. With sustainability looking to be entirely probable, Cooper Kupp gets the nod as my fantasy MVP.