Biggest fantasy surprises, disappointments through 4 weeks

Yahoo Sports Fantasy Minute

With a quarter of the Fantasy Football season over, let’s look at all the positions for actionable data to make ourselves better for the next quarter of the season.

Quarterbacks

The emergence of Jared Goff is most surprising. While I wrote last year that Goff had a decent chance of still being really good, he has been great. He has the highest passer rating through four games of any first or second-year quarterback since 2000 (minimum 100 attempts), according to Pro Football Reference. He’s also only 22, and all but three in the top 20 are 23 or older in the selected year. Goff also leads all passers in YPA through four weeks at 9.16. Here are the last five QBs to lead the league in YPA through four weeks: Matt Ryan (10.5), Andy Dalton (10.2), Dalton (8.6), Peyton Manning (9.4), Cam Newton (9.5). Consider those the range of possible outcomes for Goff. That 10.2 Dalton year was high quality before an injury. Newton is hard to read because of the running. So let’s go back one more year to 2011 and the answer is: Tom Brady. So Goff is probably really good but could be Andy Dalton 2.0. This Dalton floor for Goff  feels right for this season.

We covered ZeroBadQB during draft season, but we acknowledged that the tricky part was naming  the teams that were hopeless at QB and thus hopeless offensively. My picks of those five or so teams were from the field that included: Rams, Texans, Broncos, Jets, Browns, Bears, 49ers, Jaguars, Eagles. Four of those teams, the Browns, Bears, 49ers and Jaguars are still dead. But joining them for me right now through four weeks are the Ravens and Dolphins. Knock those players down a tier from their conventional rankings. So Jay Ajayi for example is no longer a RB1. He’s a RB2. Maybe he and the other Dolphins can open things up if Jay Cutler shows something soon.

In other big QB developments, Matt Ryan isn’t throwing TDs but his rate is just 3.7% of attempts and his YPA of 8.21 suggests it should be about the 5.8% and 5.6% of the QBs surrounding him. Ryan is a buy. He has earned about eight TD passes so far with his 135 attempts, not the actual three.

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Running Backs

I’m not surprised by Kareem Hunt being very good. Of course I’m surprised he’s the best fantasy asset in the sport and averaging and absurd 7.4 yards per carry. Christian McCaffrey is a glorified receiver who can’t navigate the tighter pro spaces between the tackles and is averaging just 2.9 per tote. Joe Mixon has been brutal so far (2.6 per carry). You didn’t want Browns in the top five rounds, I told you, but some of you picked Isiah Crowell (2.9 per carry) anyway. Another rookie in a disappointing crop when it comes to efficiency outside of a couple of guys: Leonard Fournette, who I called 3.4-nette in the preseason when he slammed the NFL for being easy compared with the SEC. But now he’s 3.5 per carry and no longer a fun nickname.

The problem so far is some of the best runners (Alex Collins, Tevin Coleman, Tarik Cohen) are not solid bets for for rushes. I do recognize that yards per rush is not a perfect stat, no stat is perfect, but looking deeply at yards before and after contact, there’s not that much variance from yards per rush and we simply don’t know how bettable things these new stats are.

But here are the backs in the top 10 in averages in those two newer stats: Hunt, Collins, Jamaal Charles. That’s it. If we extend to backs in the top 20 in each of these categories: Rob Kelley and Wendall Smallwood make the list. I’ve talked about Smallwood a lot on the Breakfast Table Podcast with Scott Pianowski and I still like him but LeGarrette Blount is running surprisingly well.

Let me add that I was wrong about Todd Gurley and he’s a definite hold not because he’s proven he’s an elite runner but because of the high volume he’s consistently getting in the passing game, plus the fact that Goff is the best young quarterback in years for the reasons mentioned earlier.

Wide Receivers

Josh Hermsmeyer of Rotoviz has pioneered an air-yards model for projecting wide receivers. The idea is that the receivers who get the most air yards when they’re thrown to will have the greatest opportunity to be productive because if they merely catch the ball, it’s a big play. Of course, efficiency declines on the longer throws. And this model only works at a decent target threshold — let’s call it six per game. That model pulls (air yards per target in parentheses): DeSean Jackson (21), Brandin Cooks (just 24 targets but 18.9), DeVante Parker (15.1), Jaron Brown (14.6), Stefon Diggs (14.5), Alshon Jeffery (14.5), Robby Anderson (14.25), Devin Funchess (13.5). No one else is over 13 air yards per target. The only thing actionable here is to pick up widely available Jaron Brown, Anderson and Funchess.

The other development at the quarter turn with wide receivers is the relative paucity of targets. There are just a handful of wideouts averaging nine targets or more per game (a figure that will get you 144 targets — good but nothing great); that used to be the minimum for a No. 1 fantasy wide reciver. Those guys now are DeAndre Hopkins (who gets little downfield action), Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Keenan Allen, A.J. Green, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and DeVante Parker. Nothing we can do there as all were drafted to be these guys.

There’s no volume to chase now. Jaron Brown and Funchess are getting about seven targets a game, which we can live with. So there’s another reason to pick one or both of them up.

Tight ends

There is some spillover to the tight ends though. Some teams are using these guys as downfield weapons. Here are those that beat the NFL average at the position of 7.2 air yards per target by posting at least 8.0, in order of targets: Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, Delanie Walker, Jared Cook, Seth DeValve, Kyle Rudolph, Coby Fleener, Cameron Brate, Austin Hooper, A.J. Derby, Tyler Kroft, Vernon Davis, Hunter Henry.

Kroft is the best pickup short-term given he’s only recently played due to another Tyler Eifert injury and Dalton likes throwing TDs to TEs. Kroft was a 2015 third-round pick.

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