Merry Christmas to everyone in the RotoViz community. I hope you’ve enjoyed the Monday articles, with a bit of a pod emphasis. A large chunk of the draft pods featured teams that went on to a good deal of success, including a BBM semifinal squad with Ben Gretch on Stealing Bananas, a BBM semifinal squad with Peter Overzet on the Best Ball Banana Stand, and an FFPC SF squad with Colm Kelly on RotoViz Overtime.
Our RotoViz Overtime episode for the FFPC Main Event featured a team that made the sprint and scored big in Week 15. One of our Stealing Bananas episodes featured an ME that sat No. 7 overall when I had to take off for my flight home.
But perhaps the craziest result came from one of our listeners, and an RV Radio contest winner. He qualified 10 teams for the BBM semis.
The results won’t all be that consistent or extreme, but I hope subscribing, reading, using the tools and listening to the pods have made your 2023 season one for the ages. As I write to you in the midst of a stretched-out Week 16, I hope fantasy football is contributing in some small way to a happy holiday season.
Just When You’re Out, They Pull You Back In
Pete and I definitely had the strangest of my advancing teams. It wasn’t a great year for the Cooper Kupp, Tee Higgins, Rhamondre Stevenson start, especially if you ended up selecting George Pickens late.
Kupp missed on two heartbreaking goal-line chances on Thursday, but the early Saturday game found our two statuesque playmakers actually getting behind the defense. Higgins followed up his touchdown-of-the-season a week ago by sprinting 80 yards for a score. After a season of disappointment, it’s going to be hard to swear off of him entirely in 2024. Plenty of uncertainty surrounds him, but an impressive track record prior to this year’s injury fest should create a decent ADP floor. Add in a size/playmaking profile that’s rare in the contemporary NFL, and you’ve got some excuses for ignoring his dreadful ball skills this season. (Higgins’ 15% drop rate is worst among receivers with at least 50 targets.)
Pickens is even more controversial. His warts have remained in sophomore campaign: he doesn’t draw targets at an elite volume (21% TPRR coming in) in part because he doesn’t receive that steady diet of underneath targets so necessary to flesh out the profile.
To give credit where it’s due, Pickens came into Week 16 with improved YAC numbers in 2023. Combine that with a vertical profile, and you’ve got an intriguing platform to build a fantasy case. Unfortunately, this map looks like Stefon Diggs circa 2019.
Pickens has also made a point of showcasing the personality quirks that pushed him down in the reality draft. Last week’s refusal to block for his teammates or to chase down a defensive back after an interception reinforced what he hardly even disputes is a selfish persona.
Pickens is difficult to evaluate for the same reasons that Garrett Wilson has been a disappointment, so part of our offseason to-do list will include deciding how much of the blame he shares. (For starters, these two WRs are very different; Wilson came in with a much better track record, draft pedigree, and rookie season. I’m not comparing the two other than to label them as frustrating fantasy busts.)
The massive Week 16 outburst complicates the analysis. By scoring 86- and 66-yard TDs, Pickens demonstrated the ability to finish plays as opposed to catch the ball and fall down. If Pickens is more than a trick-catch-at-the-sidelines receiver, then we might be interested in any future where he’s not mostly catching passes from Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky.
It’s hard to even fathom that Mason Rudolph would be the quarterback to unlock Pickens, but Rudolph has argued his own case in the past. It’s not really been a level playing field given the pick of Pickett and the contract for Trubisky, but he was probably their best hope from the beginning.
You’re Never Safe from Gabe Davis
Almost impossibly, Davis came into the week with goose eggs in four of his last six contests.
And yet it doesn’t really matter how many zeroes Davis posts, you’re going to find a Josh Allen team or two in your playoff pods, and those Allen teams will have inevitably dragged Davis along with them.
The Bills receivers had come into their matchup with Los Angeles on an ice cold stretch. Stefon Diggs had been held below 10 points in four of his last five. He extended that streak against the Chargers. It’s not just a bit of an efficiency drought. Teams are now limiting his looks all over the field, and Allen is forcing it less.
The move to Joe Brady allowed Buffalo to breathe and get their poise back, but the biggest move was a heavier emphasis on James Cook. Their mighty mite blossomed over the last month, yet almost lost this one with a critical fumble. The Bills went right back to him, but holding onto the ball has become a serious issue.
Easton Stick put up a good fight against Buffalo and looked much more poised with another week to get his bearings. Similar to the situation with Tommy DeVito, his ability to get out a run puts pressure on a defense and gives the Chargers a chance to keep the chains moving. Keep an eye on his last two starts to get a feel for how you want to stash him in deep SF leagues.
Breece Hall Is Going to Challenge Christian McCaffrey in 2024
The morning games were a weird mix of backup QBs trying to rally their teams to victory. Sam Howell’s first pass was dropped and his second was dropped/batted up in the air for an interception. I’m not sure I’ve witnessed a receiving corps play his poorly, and I’ve watched all of the Chiefs games. Washington continued to do things like get punts blocked and commit weird, unnecessary penalties to extend New York drives.
You have to do all of that to let New York get up 27-7. It’s a month worth of points for the Jets.
Jacoby Brissett entered with six minutes left in the third and had to deal with more bad drops, yet he quickly engineered three TD drives, giving the Commanders a fleeting lead in a contest both teams would have really liked to lose if not for the embarrassment that comes from losing to this particular opponent.
In the end, Trevor Siemian led a game-winning FG drive. The contest featured 31 possessions and 85 New York plays. Breece Hall drew a ridiculous 16 targets.
To put that in context, it’s seven more than he’s drawn at any time during a season where he already ranked third in targets.
The Jets star continues to emerge as a true EP double-double threat. His 43 fantasy points included 95 rushing yards and 96 receiving yards. His fluidity as a big, fast back is something special, and he pulled down some off-target offerings, including a one-handed over-the-shoulder catch to pick up a key first down late.
Hall also found the end zone twice, and the second offered a combination of extension, contortion, and body control that somehow put last week’s Higgins TD to shame. Hall’s ability to change direction and accelerate is unparalleled in a back of his size, which is good in general and in the particular since he does go down fairly easily when encountering road furniture around the line of scrimmage.
The aforementioned Garrett Wilson had about three plays in this game where his change of direction skills defied physics and bordered on the preternatural. He also had an end zone target and several other medium-deep chances where you’d like him to demonstrate a little more grit in contested catch situations.
I Find Myself Rooting for Detroit to Lose Late Fairly Consistently
Maybe my favorite Sunday morning performance came from Nick Mullens, who threw for over 411 yards and attacked deep like a madman. He did have to deal with Kevin O’Connell’s wrath on a number of occasions when he threw picks into double coverage – there were four in total – but when three other QBs on the roster have already been hurt or benched, you might feel like you’re playing with a bit of rope.
This was vintage FitzMagic or peak Jameis Winston, and it launched K.J. Osborn to a 5-95-1 day. Of course, part of that stemmed from injuries to Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson, and that’s the brutal part of fantasy – losing studs in the season’s penultimate week. This might even be the toughest Sunday to lose a player. You want both your teams and your players to live the dream for one more week.
Justin Jefferson was the real story. His performance offered a reminder of why he’s still going to be very much in the mix for the 1.01 next season. Nobody looks the part of alpha WR quite like Jefferson. Although not a hulking behemoth, his mix of functional thickness and long arms combines with freakish agility, elite body control, and solid speed to spoil us with an epic mix of route running fluidity, catch point brilliance, and after-catch magic that matches and perhaps even eclipses greats like Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, and Calvin Johnson.
The numbers (6-141-1) tell part of the story in this one, but you need the images to really experience it: the roar he unleashed after bouncing up from a vicious hit, the sliding grab through contact to stay in bounds on his touchdown, the chest heaving as he kneeled in defeat – a spent mix of disbelief and anger after Mullens’ final heave came out late and knuckling.
If that final attempt hadn’t slipped and/or experienced some serious turbulence en route, Jefferson would have scored a game-winning TD to wrap the furious comeback.
It would have been no more than Detroit deserved after another flaccid attempt to run out the clock on their own previous possession. Prior to that moment, Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Jahmyr Gibbs had shredded the surging Minnesota defense. You run out of superlatives for St. Brown (12-106-1), who worked the middle relentlessly and continues to establish himself as the best possession receiver in football.
And yet he was overshadowed by another monster performance from Gibbs, who is simply too skilled and too fast for defenses to corral. It’s one thing to have game-breaking speed; it’s another to complement it with such great footwork and vision. Gibbs dances through traffic on the interior and evades ankle tackles on the outside. In each instance, his ability to avoid the first defender without losing momentum helps actually deploy his speed and makes him a threat to take any play the distance. If you got a chance to see his 14-yard score in this one, you understand why any red-zone touch for Gibbs feels like a goal-line carry.
Fantasy managers who rode into the semis on Goff’s coattails would have liked a more dynamic fantasy total, but the backs were simply too good. Sam LaPorta projected for a substantially worse matchup than the WRs according to the PMR, and that’s how it played out. Jameson Williams caught five of his six targets and is starting to build momentum toward a reality playoff breakout.
Jaylen Waddle Will Break Your Heart
The Dallas/Miami matchup only met expectations if you had Jason Sanders in your lineup. (Sadly, he was on both of my sprint ME benches.) The vaunted Cowboys defense bottled up the Miami running game a week after slowing the Buffalo passing attack, but in each case they needed to do more than slow the opponent’s signature. Sometimes bending is breaking.
Dak Prescott was less flustered and more resilient than a week ago. Everything might have been different if not for the aborted goal-line snap on their opening possession. CeeDee Lamb rallied them back a few minutes later and joined the long TD brigade with a 49-yarder, but the offense bogged down after that. They went five drives without scoring a TD. Brandin Cooks made a highlight grab to put Dallas back in the lead before Tua Tagovailoa orchestrated a clock-killing FG drive to end it. (This game featured only 18 drives.)
Tagovailoa has struggled to get enough on his deep ball recently, but he threw consecutive deep strikes to Tyreek Hill and Waddle on their opening drive. In a rare trading places moment, Hill failed to haul in the difficult-but-catchable target while Waddle showed off the hands. (It would be the only catch for Waddle, who left the game with eye and ankle injuries.)
Kyler Murray Isn’t Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields as a Runner, But At Least He Has Baker Mayfield’s Arm and Zach Wilson’s Pocket Presence
The Bears have been playing good defense since midseason, and if not for a couple of recent late-game meltdowns, they’d be thinking about playoff upsets instead of contemplating what to do at QB in the offseason.
Whatever they decide, the future’s bright. You expect them to stick with Fields, but he just enhanced the trade package if they decide to start over. Every time I watch Lamar Jackson break contain, break a couple of ankles, and break a long run, I feel like I’m watching a singular talent, the type I may never see again.
But then I watch Fields, and the two players are magnificent in both their similarities and subtle differences. Fields also glides, and his ability to accelerate at the second level helps him beat angles that should have worked. At one point late, the Cardinals appeared to have him walled off short of the first down, only to still be grasping at air 37 yards later.
Fields is the bigger arm talent, with plus accuracy all the way out to the full extent of his serious arm strength. Jackson is the more intuitive passer, inaccurate but with a flair for the moment and an ability to hit on the deep pass once a play has broken down. His superior instincts and far, far superior situation put him in position to make a Super Bowl push. Don’t be surprised if Fields is there a few years from now, hopefully with the type of coaching staff and overall organization that he deserves.
By contrast, Murray looked lost for the duration on Sunday, constantly moving off open underneath reads only to launch one deep and out of bounds. His struggles in the pocket are also becoming increasingly pronounced. Though he took only two sacks, Murray constantly experienced the phantom rush, ducking his head, and spinning blind into the pass rush lane. The Cardinals need to add a lot more talent around him – Michael Wilson failed to bring in a single one of his four targets – but they might want to start by starting over.
Congrats to Amari Cooper. I haven’t seen that game yet, but what he accomplished was truly historic. Good luck to everyone on Christmas day. With three games still to go in Week 16, plenty of time remains for a serious twist in your semifinal fortunes.