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The 15: Key Bouncebacks at RB in a Week Full of Byes and Star Turns

Shawn Siegele breaks down 15 of the most fantasy-relevant developments from Week 9. Why 15? That’s the jersey number of ultimate quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Although he looked out of his element trying to kill the clock in the fourth quarter, Mahomes was majestic again, throwing for 375 yards and three scores. The beneficiaries were Travis Kelce (7-99-2) and Kareem Hunt, who is taking them in from distance (50-yard receiving touchdown) and being delivered to the goal line with Todd Gurley-like frequency.

With six teams on the bye, it was difficult for many fantasy owners to field full squads in Week 9, and late-week downgrades to players like Stefon Diggs and Rob Gronkowski didn’t make it any easier. Those without a superstar were put into further distress by the monster weeks from many of the usual suspects. Eight running backs and six wide receivers are now averaging more than 20 points per game.

We jump into The 15.

1. Todd Haley’s NFL coaching career should be over. After entering the year with 50-plus receptions all three of his NFL seasons and coming off of a 74-catch, 13.8 PPG campaign, Duke Johnson was the forgotten man in Cleveland. He began Week 9 with no more than four catches in any game and only one contest with 50-plus receiving yards. He exited with nine catches for 78 yards and two scores. The Game Splits app puts an exclamation point behind the damage Haley did to Johnson.Duke splits 2

2. Freddie Kitchens impressed in his debut as Browns offensive coordinator. Kitchens managed to revitalize Duke Johnson while keeping Nick Chubb involved to the tune of 22 carries for 85 yards and a score. This is no small feat with Cleveland likely to trail early and often, but it’s key to the comfort of fantasy owners and the startability of both players. The Browns also managed an impressive two-minute drill to score right before halftime and cut the Chiefs lead to 21-15. Cleveland spread the ball around as advertised, with David Njoku (53), Antonio Callaway (51), and Jarvis Landry (50) all going for at least 50 yards. There were an additional 14 attempts spread between Breshad Perriman, Rashard Higgins, and Damion Ratley.

3. We finally saw the real Tevin Coleman. A lot of ink has been spilled about the usage of David Johnson in Arizona, but for Tevin Coleman owners, his role has been just as big a flash point. After weeks of slamming their dynamic speedster into the line, Atlanta’s game plan against Washington morphed into something out of the Alvin Kamara playbook. Coleman had crested three targets only once this season and was sitting on 32 receiving yards as a season-high. He set a new mark for 2018 with a 39-yard TD early. It was one of the best-blocked plays you’ll see all year, but also featured Coleman’s trademark burst. He went on to shred the previously stout Washington defense for 156 yards from scrimmage, and two scores. The 32.6-point game pulls him safely into the RB2 tier and hints at more to come.

4. It’s over! Julio Jones finds the end zone. The relief was palpable after he fought through a would-be tackle at the 3-yard line in the final stanza. Arguably the game’s best receiver and certainly it’s freakiest athlete since the retirement of Calvin Johnson, Jones went 12 games between scores and accumulated over 1,300 receiving yards since he last found the end zone. It defies belief that Matt Ryan would have hit Jones for the first time on his 19th TD of the season, that rookie Calvin Ridley would have already scored seven times, or that Coleman – who hasn’t even been involved – would have found pay dirt four times through the air. Let’s hope the floodgates open.

5. Maurice Harris explodes for a 10-catch breakout. You could be forgiven for not being familiar with Harris starting the day. He’d garnered eight targets in Week 5 but that gave him only 17 on the year, one less than he’d managed in his first two seasons combined. In fact, the former UDFA had accomplished quite a bit just stick on an NFL roster after barely eclipsing 1,000 career yards at Cal from 2012 to 2015.

M Harris BSS

Some of the specifics may not be repeatable – a big deficit combined with significant opportunity in a decimated WR corps – but Harris’ Week 9 wasn’t a fluke. He contorted his body for multiple circus catches en route to turning 12 targets into 10 catches for 124 yards. The highlight-reel plays stood in sharp contrast to another drop-filled afternoon from Josh Doctson.

6. Get used to video game plays from Curtis Samuel. Several RotoViz scribes had Samuel in the top five of a loaded 2017 rookie class, but his debut season was derailed by numerous injuries, including a devastating broken ankle that prematurely ended his campaign. Samuel still has a volume problem – he touched the ball only three times against the Bucs – but his hybrid ability has been on full display in recent weeks. On a play where Cam Newton faked to Christian McCaffrey before pitching to D.J. Moore, Samuel then took a second pitch on the reverse, went around the left side, and weaved his way back through the entire Bucs defense to score in the extreme right corner. He later caught a 19-yard TD pass, going high across the middle to lasso Newton’s errant throw. As Devin McIntyre was remarking to me last week, defenses must deal with McCaffrey, Moore, and Samuel in both the run and the pass games, and the Panthers are moving toward a devastating, positionless offense.

7. Christian McCaffrey is now the eighth RB over 20 PPG. After finding the end zone only once in his first six contests, McCaffrey has back-to-back two-score games, and his owners have to be ecstatic about how they occurred in this one. Although he did lose a potential short-yardage plunge to fullback Alex Armah, McCaffrey twice punched it in from inside the 5. Uncharacteristically unselfish in this one, Cam Newton might have been playing against himself in fantasy, but if McCaffrey can add at least some goal line work to his receiving scores, the 20-PPG seasonal barrier is attainable.

8. Adam Humphries – owner of four previous TDs in 51 career games – makes it a long day for owners of the other Buccaneers. Humphries has had bigger days from a yardage perspective,1 but the two scores were a surprise. Meanwhile, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Chris Godwin combined for 88 scoreless yards in a game that featured extended garbage time and four Ryan Fitzpatrick TDs. Humphries entered the game with slightly worse numbers catching passes from Fitzpatrick, so this isn’t one we can blame on Jameis Winston.

Humphries AYA

9. O.J. Howard looks like the next tight end star. In a season featuring virtuoso performances from Kelce and Zach Ertz, a breakout campaign from George Kittle, and not much else at TE,((Eric Ebron and Jared Cook also deserve a mention, although Cook, in particular, has been difficult to play.)) Howard owners suddenly have the firepower to compete. A ridiculous athlete but a block-first TE at Alabama, Howard didn’t enter the season in a great position from a volume perspective. The Bucs sported a three-headed monster at WR and a competing TE in Cameron Brate. Many expected the veteran to maintain some of his advantage after going for 159 more receiving yards last year. Instead, Howard has been the story. Remarkably consistent with 50-plus yards in seven of eight games, Howard scored his fourth and fifth TDs of the season against the Panthers.

10. Adam Thielen’s miracle run finally comes to an end. It wasn’t really a miracle, as there was nothing fluky about Thielen’s dominance in a run of eight 100-yard games to begin the season. Operating without his partner in crime and limited by a Lions defense using liberal double teams to keep him from breaking out of a tie with Calvin Johnson, Thielen finished with only 22 yards. He did find the end zone two plays after Dalvin Cook ran out of gas at the tail end of a 70-yard run. (Somehow both Lions defenders tasked with Thielen lost track of him on the 2-yard score and weren’t even in the vicinity as he hauled it in.) Thielen is one of the best players and best stories in the NFL, and I’m hoping he starts another streak next week.

Here’s a quick look at how his streak compared to Megatron’s.

Thielen recordMegatron record

11. It’s a great time to buy Dalvin Cook. The better time might have been two weeks ago, but many owners are reluctant to sell an injured player with a high ceiling, even with a good offer.2 Dynasty owners frustrated by the injuries may take this week to get out, and, while there’s plenty of risk, the upside is considerable, especially now that Cook’s star is obscured by the flurry of huge fantasy seasons at RB. Cook demonstrated the two key elements of his profile against the Lions – gamebreaking runs and comfort as a receiver – and plays in a sneaky offense. The Vikings may not be the Saints, Rams, or Chiefs just yet, but this week offered another striking example of the value in offenses that deliver you to the goal line over and over during a game.

12. It wasn’t exactly addition by subtraction for the Lions in Game 1 of the post-Golden Tate era. What happens when you trade Matthew Stafford’s safety valve and don’t have a plan in place to deal with it? 10 sacks, evidently, a new Vikings record. Stafford had been sacked only 13 times heading into the game and hadn’t seen this type of onslaught ever in his career, not even during Joe Lombardi’s tenure, where leaving multiple rushers unblocked was a staple of the protection packages. How do the Lions cope going forward? We know Marvin Jones is a No. 2, a long career in the shadows of Keenan Allen, A.J. Green, and Tate attests to his fit (and success) as a secondary player. The hope and expectation falls on the shoulders of Kenny Golladay, but the early returns are discouraging. After a stretch of five games to start the season where he averaged almost 18 PPG, Golladay has been quiet in three straight. He often appeared to be swallowed up by single coverage against the Vikings, and Stafford made little attempt to throw open his 6-foot-4 wideout.

13. Demaryius Thomas may not be dead yet. In his Houston debut, Thomas gained 51 of his 61 yards on two long catches during the first drive. He vanished at that point, allowing DeAndre Hopkins to do what he does (10-105-1), but there’s plenty of room for enthusiasm in his new locale. Thomas gets a mildly favorable schedule after the Week 10 bye and an offense in which no secondary receiver earned more than three targets against the Broncos. But Deshaun Watson is the main reason for optimism. Thomas may be in decline, but he’s been inefficient with any QB not named Peyton Manning.3DT splits

14. The Courtland Sutton Superstar hype will have to wait another week. I’ve been pointing out the similarities between Sutton and last year’s rookie second-round star, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the Thomas trade suggested the Broncos also love what they see. Unfortunately, his debut as a starter didn’t quite go as planned. He failed to haul in what would have been a 37-yard TD on Denver’s second drive and finished with only three catches for 57 yards. That was more than Emmanuel Sanders managed but disappointing in light of Jeff Heuerman’s performance.

15. The Broncos may have found their TE. In 34 games entering the weekend, Heuerman had only gone over 50 yards twice and never earned more than seven targets. On the other hand, the 2016 third-round pick out of Ohio State was on a solid run, seeing four or more targets in six of his last seven games. Those aren’t gaudy numbers, but they were enough to keep him off the bye-week wire in many 20-roster-spot leagues. For anyone desperate enough to start him against the Texans, he responded with career highs in every category – 11 targets, 10 catches, 83 yards – and added what was the go-ahead score at the time.

Good luck tonight, everyone. If you need a 20-point game from Amari Cooper or Corey Davis, this is as good a week as any for them to right their careers. If you need to hold off a 30-point game from Ezekiel Elliott, I’m rooting for you.4


  1. He entered Sunday with two 100-yard games to his name, and the 86 yards just barely bettered his earlier performance against Atlanta.  (back)
  2. The reasonable logic suggests the price will rise after a strong, healthy performance, and the seller may feel more comfortable with the same offer at that point.  (back)
  3. Using the AYA app, we can split out his results starting with the 2012 breakout.  (back)
  4. Unfortunately, I need -10 points from Elliott to win my most important league. It’s on to Week 10 in that one.  (back)

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