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The 15: Rookie WR Breakout Week

Shawn Siegele breaks down 15 of the most fantasy-relevant developments from Week 10. Why 15? That’s the jersey number of ultimate quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

As we look forward to tonight’s Game of the Century, I use the RotoViz apps and yesterday’s binge-watch of nine NFL games to present this week’s 15.

1. Out of nowhere, Tre’Quan Smith absolutely explodes. When you combine Smith’s fantastic landing spot with his better-than-expected athleticism and a resume packed with advanced numbers you normally see in a first-round reality pick, it made him 2018’s best second-round rookie value. Or at least that’s where I had him heading into the season. A Week 5 explosion appeared to confirm. He posted 111 yards and two scores in a shellacking of Washington, but then, crickets. Smith caught only eight passes over the next four weeks, including a zero-target bagel in Week 10. In the interim, the Saints signed two washed up vets (Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall) and started to get UDFA rookie Keith Kirkwood more involved. It appeared to be more of the same in Week 11, with Kirkwood involved early. And then this happened.

TreQuan Week 11

In the Saints 48-point reality outburst where Michael Thomas was limited to four targets – that was all he needed to turn in another ho hum line of 4-92-1 – Smith led the way with 13 targets, 10 receptions, 157 yards, and 31.7 fantasy points. I’ve been fighting off trade offers for Smith all season and asking for the moon when countering. This type of performance is why.

2. Drew Brees makes his case for MVP. Last week, I mentioned that Drew Brees was in the midst of his best season. This humiliation of the defending Super Bowl champions puts him in the MVP conversation with Mahomes and may have given him a lead, at least until we see what the ultimate QB can do in LA on Monday night. Brees’ AYA numbers have graduated from the impressive to the silly.
Brees AYA thru 11

3./4. Trade deadline acquisitions haven’t worked out as intended. Riding a winning streak and having just lost Will Fuller for the season, the Texans’ desperation was understandable, but Demaryius Thomas has been a dud since moving to Houston.Thomas thru 11

Thomas had disappointed in Denver, averaging only 11.4 expected points (reEP) per game, but those numbers have cratered since the trade. That is partly to be expected, of course, but his Week 11 zero occurred after plenty of bye-week rhetoric suggesting he’d be liberally targeted. It would be a different story if Deshaun Watson had blitzed Washington without him, but the second-year signal caller looked worse than he has at any point this season.1

In contrast to the hole in Houston, it was difficult to see how a flailing Eagles team would benefit from adding Golden Tate, a manufactured-touches player who, given an offseason to prepare, would likely be an upgrade on Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews, but as a mid-season arrival amounts to little more than a redundant piece. In fact, you could argue that underneath passing weapons are about the only thing this Philadelphia offense had going for it. Judging Tate on a handful of snaps as he tries to familiarize himself with the offense isn’t fair, but his early production helps to underline everything that has gone wrong for the Eagles as they try to defend their title.Tate splits thru 115. D.J. Moore makes his case as deserving of the 1.02. Moore easily won the RotoViz WR tournament last April, led the way in Anthony Amico’s WR projection model, and was one of the reasons John Lapinski has argued that this WR class is so underrated. And after Calvin Ridley2 made a push early by scoring almost 80 points over Weeks 2 through 4, Moore is battling back. His explosion against the Lions featured almost 20 yards per target and offered one of the best all-around performances you’ll ever see from a receiver. He operated as an underneath threat early, hauling in tough catches and taking the big hit. In the third quarter, he broke an 82-yard gain where he held the defender at bay along the sideline and plucked the ball at its highest point before weaving through the Detroit defense and sprinting to their 12. And to top it off, he showed his impressive springs on a late TD where he vaulted to corral a Cam Newton overthrow before toe-tapping in the corner of the end zone.

Moore doesn’t have the track record, but he may already be the best after-catch and/or after-contact receiver in the NFL.3 If 2018 rookie drafts happened today, Saquon Barkley would be the easy No. 1, and Nick Chubb probably trails him at No. 2. After that, Moore joins a group that includes Kerryon Johnson, Sony Michel, and Ridley. A year from now, Moore may be sputtering in a run-first offense while the focus is on Derrius Guice and others, but Moore owners have a great value in the present.

6. Kerryon Johnson looks more and more like a star every week. Hasan Rahim profiled Johnson’s uptick in usage in last week’s excellent Zero RB Report, notes that appeared even more prescient during Detroit’s first drive. Johnson carried seven times, finishing it with runs of 12 and 8 that got him into the end zone. The usage app demonstrated how Johnson’s touches and target share were increasing over the last month, and he was the focal point in this one before a third-quarter injury. Reported to be a knee sprain at the time of writing, owners and Lions fans will hope for his return in a couple of weeks.

7. Kenny Golladay rescues a passing attack devastated by trades and injuries. It’s been a tale of three mini-seasons for the rising, second-year star.

Golladay thru 11

Over the first five weeks, Golladay averaged 8.2 targets and 17.6 PPG despite sharing looks with Tate and Marvin Jones. The best size/athleticism specimen of the trio, his highlight-reel catches converted the disbelievers and turned him into a low-end WR1. But a strange thing happened on the way to stardom. Matthew Stafford stopped looking at him. At all. He saw only 2.3 targets over the next three games, the low point coming in Week 9 where Detroit’s flailing offense looked lost without Tate. Golladay’s attempt to fill the vacuum fell flat with only four scoreless targets. Fortunately, the season didn’t end there, and he’s rebounded nicely over the last two, culminating in 14 targets for 113 yards and a score against the Panthers. Golladay came up biggest when the Lions needed him the most, lassoing a jump ball for a 36-yard gain before snagging a prototypical “Golladay catch” for a late 19-yard TD. If you haven’t seen the play – he leaps and grabs the ball high over his head before finishing on his back, almost perfectly parallel to the ground – it’s one of the best of the season.

8. Rookie WR breakout week continued with Christian Kirk. If not for the heroics of Kirk, the Cardinals loss to a minor league team would have been even more dispiriting. After a Week 10 dud, Kirk redeemed himself against Oakland by taking a WR screen 59 yards for the score, appearing to beat every member of the woebegone Raiders at least once in the process. That wasn’t even his best catch of the day. Early in the fourth-quarter with the Cardinals facing 3rd-and-10 from the Oakland 17, Josh Rosen panicked before seeing him late along the sideline. The throw was high and perfectly defended, but the diminutive Kirk caught it at full extension, outdueling the defender in the air before nimbly getting both feet down at the 5. Larry Fitzgerald scored his second TD of the day on the following play. Kirk is another rookie with the entire package, combining run-after-the-catch quicks with intermediate and vertical ability.

9. Was their anything about last week’s fireworks that suggested David Johnson should carry 25 times to just three targets? Look, we all get it. Oakland is bad. Really, really, almost impossibly bad, and if there’s ever a time to believe you can run the ball up the gut despite fielding one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, this would be the game. And it almost worked. If Johnson’s 57-yard score on the final drive isn’t called back due to a Ricky Seals-Jones hold, the Cardinals win, and fantasy owners go home happy. But that’s not what happened, and owners have to be wondering how a Cowboys team with, let’s say, reputedly questionable coaching, can remember to throw seven passes to Ezekiel Elliott (and win!), while Arizona fails to deploy their own ultimate weapon. This game surely marks the end for GM Steve Keim.

10. In news we just reported, Ezekiel Elliott caught seven passes and moves up to No. 5 among RBs in expected points as a receiver.Elliott receiving thru 11

Elliott is on an absolute tear, coming in with just a whisker under 70 points over the last two weeks. A big chunk of that comes in the passing game, a question mark heading into the season. He’s closing in on double-digit EP in both phases of the game, a workload that would move him onto the same level with recent seasons from David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell.

11. No game featured as many playmakers as the hilarious tilt between the Giants and Bucs. Outside of Kansas City, I’m not sure any franchise can compete with rosters that include Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Saquon Barkley, Desean Jackson, Evan Engram, O.J. Howard, Chris Godwin, and Sterling Shepard. And that doesn’t even include Bucs like Peyton Barber and Adam Humphries, both of whom managed at least 60 yards and a score in this one. Of course, there’s a big difference4 between these 3-7 squads and teams like the Rams and the Saints. The television commentary in this one alternated between eulogizing Eli Manning’s career and showing random stats mocking the two-headed monster of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston. If you could create the perfect Frankenstein from these beleaguered passers, it would throw the ball deep into triple coverage every play.Fitz Winston INT

Fitzpatrick was finally benched after throwing one too many deep passes that looked conspicuously like punts. Winston entered and immediately appeared to be running a tip drill for the Giants defense. Fitzpatrick is still throwing TDs at a greater rate than Jared Goff, but a 4.9 percent INT rate will earn a seat on the bench, even if that means playing the man who throws more INTs than anyone but Nathan Peterman.5

12. Saquon Barkley moves to No. 1 in my dynasty rankings. Colm and I have debated this on RotoViz Overtime, and I’m officially making the move for my personal rankings. It’s questionable to bump an RB from this type of offense above a talent like Todd Gurley in the Rams juggernaut. But again consider the non-QB talent. You can’t focus exclusively on Barkley with Beckham and his running mates in the passing game. The Giants may have the NFL’s best at both RB and WR, with a potential star in Engram at TE. Selecting Barkley over a QB may have been the type of delayed-gratification move6 that ends up putting New York’s 2019 draft pick in position to succeed. That pick probably won’t be as talented as  someone like Mahomes, but he’ll find an even better offense around him. And for Barkley, it was just another game with 150-plus yards from scrimmage and three TDs.

13. With my pro-Diggs resume, I have more than a little bias on this, but there are only three WRs I’d rather own in dynasty. After Stefon Diggs returned from a chest injury to pile on 31 points against the Bears, the statement isn’t even that provocative. Diggs just misses the 20-PPG tier, a group that includes Tyreek Hill after he put up 32.7 points in Week 10. Of that list, Thomas, Beckham, and DeAndre Hopkins are the clear top three in some order. Julio Jones and Antonio Brown are the luminaries of the sport, but already well beyond the age where you should be selling.7 That leaves us with Adam Thielen, Davante Adams, and Hill. I like the arguments for all three, but I’ll take Diggs. Thielen’s sidekick recorded his seventh game with double-digit targets and fourth with double-digit receptions. And it should have been even bigger. Diggs was also open for an easy 40-yard TD early on, but Kirk Cousins badly overthrew him.

14. It wasn’t high-profile, but Anthony Miller contributed to rookie breakout week. Miller’s Week 3 shoulder dislocation was serious enough that our in-house medical expert recommended caution. Playing at likely far less than 100 percent, Miller’s recent four-game stretch becomes even more impressive.Miller thru 11

Miller only caught two passes against the Vikings, but one went for a crucial TD and extended his double-digit PPG streak.

15. T.Y. Hilton buried the Titans early. Ben Battle has been encouraging you to buy Hilton all season, and, after an interlude marred with injuries and disappointing performances that sandwiched the Week 9 bye, the whole thesis was finally on display. Hilton caught all nine of his targets and turned them into 155 yards and two scores, and that line doesn’t include a 35-yard PI. The big blow was a vintage 68-yard TD that put the Colts up 17-0.

Good luck tonight, everyone. If you have players left, you’re still alive in what should be an instant classic. Happy Thanksgiving!

  1. Watson went into a shell after the early score to DeAndre Hopkins, and Houston only survived due to a 101-yard INT return score and Washington’s own gaffes.  (back)
  2. Another undervalued prospect.  (back)
  3. You may prefer the after-the-catch jets of Tyreek Hill, who certainly wouldn’t have been caught from behind on the long gain, but Moore is at least in the conversation.  (back)
  4. Or at least one crucial difference among many.  (back)
  5. Among passers with at least 10 attempts, only Peterman has a higher rate than Winston.  (back)
  6. A fortuitous result, since it was intended as the opposite, an instant gratification talent grab.  (back)
  7. On a team-by-team basis, it can certainly depend on roster construction and short term goals, but the key to remember here is that building dynasties relies on making moves that create the most total value while mitigating risk, not trying to time sells perfectly such that you own a veteran star right up until the point of collapse.  (back)

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