The average person swallows eight spiders a year while sleeping.
It's safe to eat food that's been on the floor for five seconds
Myths can be comical for those who know certain assertions are
myths. Some can be dangerous for those who don't know any better.
Narratives are the same way, particularly in fantasy football
- although they don't typically come with the same humor versus
danger extremes or consequences.
One of the reasons that fantasy owners fall short of their goals
is that they often don't have the time or resources to dispel
some of the narratives or myths in the fantasy football world.
Furthermore, they too often lean on the advice of "experts"
who dish out lazy analysis. Just like trying to improve your golf
shot or softball swing, time and effort are required to find the
answers to the new fantasy football questions that arise each
week. Far too many "experts" stop their research when
they find a convenient answer to their problem or, worse yet,
don't bother to research at all if they stumble upon a conclusion
they like from another analyst.
How do I know the analysis is "lazy"? Because it usually
doesn't take more than a couple of minutes to find a better answer
- if not the right one(s). This happens at the highest levels
of the industry. If you don't agree with that, I would suggest
to each of you that roughly one-third of my job as a fantasy analyst
is to clean up the messes left behind by and/or dispel lazy analysis.
I will never claim to "get 'em all right," but I rarely
offer an answer to a question without providing a detailed explanation.
Fantasy analysts owe their readers/listeners at least that much.
The risk we run as fantasy owners is when we begin to believe
in myths and narratives without questioning their validity, and
it results in us taking a loss during the fantasy playoffs when
we probably should've known better. My focus this week will be
to prove or disprove four common fantasy football narratives or
beliefs that I have heard uttered recently.
1. Kareem Hunt is more productive when Nick Chubb is
Hunt's production with and without
Chubb (per week averages)
Hunt w/ Chubb (eight games)
Hunt w/o Chubb (four games)
Chubb (eight games)
Not only is this assertion false, but it's also not even all that
close to being true. Hunt hasn't had much touchdown luck since Chubb
returned in Week 10, which has resulted in his fantasy scoring average
dropping off. Hunt churned out 275 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving
(317 total) in his first four games with Chubb on 58 touches. In
his last four with Chubb, Hunt has amassed 210 yards rushing and
62 yards receiving (272) on 63 touches. In four games as the team's
featured back, Hunt ran for 254 yards and added 71 receiving (325)
on 75 touches.
As convenient as it would be to stop our analysis there, we need
to dig deeper. Two of Hunt's four non-Chubb games came against
the Steelers (second-stingiest defense versus running backs) and
the Colts (13th). Another one came in one of Cleveland's three
consecutive "weather games." In case anybody requires
an explanation as to why that matters, games with heavy wind or
monsoon-like conditions tend to make offenses one-dimensional
whether they want to be or not, so a defense that is usually bad
against the run has a chance to be at least average that day,
especially if the opposing offense can get its rushing attack
going - as was the case that day for Las Vegas.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to Hunt's "demise"
during Chubb's absence was playing three of those four games without
RG Wyatt Teller. Who is that? In his third pro season, Teller
has earned the best run-blocking grade of any lineman per Pro
Football Focus. Since it would be unfair to Hunt to use his stats
running behind Teller to get a sense of what his presence means,
we'll use Chubb since he has been able to benefit the most from
having him in the lineup. Chubb is averaging 8.2 yards per carry
and 8.07 yards after contact when running behind his right guard.
(To put that into some perspective, he is averaging 5.7 YPC and
3.7 YAC everywhere else.) It would be much more accurate to say
the unfortunate time of Teller's absence hurt Hunt more than Chubb
2. Taysom Hill is bad for Alvin Kamara.
Kamara's production with Drew
Brees and Taysom Hill (per week averages)
Kamara w/ Brees
RB production w/Brees
RB production w/Hill
The problem with saying Hill is bad for Kamara is like much of
the analysis I was discussing earlier. It's never that simple.
The Saints' rushing production at running back with Hill starting
has increased by just over 30 yards per game despite adding just
3.2 more rushing attempts. Kamara has actually been every bit
as efficient as a runner (4.8 yards per carry and minimal difference
in touchdowns) with Hill as he was with Drew Brees. He is getting
1.4 more carries per game with Hill. The obvious difference for
Kamara is what is happening as a receiver. With Brees, he was
seeing an average of 8.9 targets - a mark usually reserved for
elite wideouts. With Hill, he is getting targeted at about the
same rate as Jordan Howard (or Michael Turner, if you want to
go back a few years) in his prime.
Let's first consider game script. New Orleans gave up at least
23 points in each of its first seven games. Combine that with
the arm strength of what we might expect from a 41-year-old quarterback
and there is bound to be plenty of opportunity for running backs
to get involved in the screen game and the like. Not only do the
quarterback's limitations call for it, but the dynamics of how
the game is playing out does too.
Over the last five contests, New Orleans has allowed a total
of 44 points (8.8 points per game). When given the choice to put
away an opponent or protect a two-score lead, coaches overwhelmingly
tend to lean toward the latter - especially with inexperienced
starting quarterbacks. The Saints have played to their defense
and their opponents' weaknesses during Brees' absence. As much
it pains Kamara's fantasy owners, coaches tend not to pass - even
if they are easy-to-complete throws like the screens and dump-offs
that Kamara thrives on - when they know they can turn to the run
and not have to deal with the risk of getting a pass deflected
or a bobble from a receiver that could lead to an interception.
Kamara's short catches have effectively been replaced by quarterback
runs for Hill.
Kamara's fantasy owners also got spoiled with the absence of
Michael Thomas. In the six games Thomas missed over the first
two months of the season, Kamara was on a 133-target pace. (His
career high is 105.) I'm sure that knowledge doesn't help soften
the blow for those owners who want the Superman version of Kamara
they were getting, but it should be noted that target pace is
right in line with Christian McCaffrey's average from the previous
two seasons (133). In short, it was always going to be difficult
for him to maintain that pace.
Even with a three-game sample to "prove" Hill is bad
for Kamara, I don't believe we have nearly enough evidence yet
to say that with any conviction. In those three games, New Orleans
trailed for just 21 minutes - in the first half - of its Week
11 meeting with the Falcons. That was Hill's first start. The
Saints haven't fallen behind since (10-plus quarters). Hill acknowledged
the game plan changed in the hours after it was announced that
the Broncos would not have any quarterbacks available for their
Week 12 meeting with the Saints - one that would require him to
be a game manager. (Why pass when you don't have to, especially
when a quarterback is making his second career start?)
Week 13 might have been the first time we have seen something
resembling the offense HC Sean Payton envisions for his team post-Brees.
Hill attempted 37 passes after airing out a total of 39 times
in his first two starts combined. Kamara still didn't benefit
much, seeing only three targets and matching the total he saw
in his first two games with Hill, but I tend to believe that is
as much of a product of game script, managing Hill to a small
degree and Payton
playing to how Atlanta defended his offense more than anything
In short, I don't believe that Kamara's return to fantasy dominance
relies solely on Brees' return. If we dismiss the Denver game
as a one-off (as
it appears Payton does), what we have is two games against
the Falcons to make conclusions. Kamara's fantasy owners also
need to pray that upcoming opponents start finding more success
against the Saints' defense and force New Orleans to get out of
the comfort zone it has established pounding the rock with Hill.
Unfortunately, I doubt that happens this week against the Eagles
in what should be another relatively easy victory. I anticipate
Brees will push to get back in time for a Week 15 showdown with
the Chiefs, rendering the whole point moot.
The last point I'll make for now is this, and it may be the most
important one regarding this topic: the Saints are heavily invested
in Kamara - he signed a five-year extension worth $75 million
in mid-September - and Payton believes Hill (two years, $21 million
in April) is Brees' successor. Perhaps I'm giving New Orleans
a bit too much credit, but I highly doubt the Saints sink that
much cash into both players without having seen some evidence
in practices and/or scrimmages that Hill can and will lean on
Kamara when the situation calls for it.
3. Jonathan Taylor has taken over the Colts' backfield.
(Cue up the Paul Rudd's "Hey
Look at Us" soundbite.) As recently as three weeks ago,
it would have been ridiculous to suggest such a statement could
be made heading into the fantasy playoffs. However, life comes
at you pretty fast in the NFL. After Nyheim Hines balled out in
front of a national audience in Week 10, the Colts relied heavily
on Taylor in the second half of Week 11 once it was determined
Hines wasn't "hot" after about two carries in which
he received poor blocking. Indianapolis couldn't establish anything
resembling a ground game after Taylor was ruled out for Week 12
due to being a "close contact" to a COVID-19 person,
possibly advancing the idea that the Colts need to start featuring
him. From purely a box-score perspective, Taylor returned with
a bang against the Texans; his 91 rushing yards were the second-most
by a Colts back this season (he had 101 in Week 2) and marked
the second time in his last two games he reached 90.
So that's it; the Colts learned their lesson and Taylor's 16
touches in Week 13 are a sign they are finally ready to commit
to him, right? Week 13 was encouraging, but it seems as though
HC Frank Reich and RB coach Tom Rathman still aren't ready to
commit to anyone any sooner than they have to. Through three quarters
versus the Texans, the touch count was 8-6-5 (Hines-Taylor-Jordan
Wilkins). Thankfully, Taylor's fantasy owners were able to take
a deep breath early when he was left uncovered for a 39-yard TD
catch on one of his five first-half touches. It wasn't until the
fourth quarter that Taylor recorded 10 of his 13 carries and 16
touches, resulting in 70 of his 91 rushing yards. (For what it
is worth, Hines and Wilkins combined for 22 yards on their 11
carries for the game.)
It's important to remember that we can't view this year's rookies
through the same prism as we typically view first-year players
every season. No rookie had an "ordinary" offseason
in 2020. Yes, Zoom learning is better than just winging it during
training camp, but it's almost impossible to get used to the speed
of the pro game - not to mention the volume of information and
coaching points being dispensed - over a month during the summer.
This year, the lingering threat of COVID-19 had to weigh on their
minds just as much as getting used to a new life in a new town.
That's probably why it was a big moment for Taylor's fantasy owners
when he talked about the game "slowing down" for him
after the Week 11 win over the Packers.
I sometimes look at sports in the same way as I do the real world.
What I mean in this case is that no writer, construction worker,
mail clerk or any other person that gets hired for a particular
job should be expected to be considerably better than their peers
in a similar job within the first year. Those people are the exception,
not the rule. This applies to NFL rookies, even at a position
like running back that comes with a less sharp learning curve
than other positions. Taylor deserves his share of the blame for
his lack of success early on. While wasn't getting a ton of help
from his offensive line, he also didn't help himself very often
when he had the opportunity. Now that he's enjoying some success,
it's likely not because he has arrived either. Progress is rarely
a smooth climb uphill, especially when the coaching staff has
repeatedly made it clear their word is not their bond to the media.
Consider the following quotes
"Jonathan (Taylor) is ready. He'll step up and do a
great job." - Reich
- Reich in the days after Marlon Mack was lost for the season
in the opener. (Taylor enjoyed a 49-9 snap advantage over Hines
in Week 2 before essentially splitting snaps with Hines for the
next four weeks and seeing fewer total snaps than Hines in the
first three games after the bye.)
“(Taylor has) done everything that he needs to do.
It’s just about getting experience. The more he gets, the
better he’s going to be.” - Rathman
“I think (Taylor's) getting better every week, running
with more confidence. I feel really good about where he’s
at and the trajectory he’s on.” - Reich
- During the Colts' bye week, Rathman and Reich hit us with a
double feel-good dose of Taylor. After earning his second-highest
snap total of the year in the game before the bye, the rookie
saw declining snaps for three straight games - the low point coming
with 17 snaps in Week 10 - until he rebounded with 34 snaps in
"Jordan (Wilkins) has done nothing but earn more opportunities,
and he’ll continue to get more opportunities." - OC
- Sirianni after Wilkins' 20-carry effort in Week 8 against the
Lions. Wilkins played a total of 42 snaps over his next three
Like it or not, this coaching staff has shown it will let early
results drive who plays and how much. I don't think there's any
question we've seen a better version of Taylor in recent weeks,
and perhaps all of this noise has been Reich and Rathman's way
of pushing the rookie to where they want him to go. Taylor's fantasy
owners would like to believe he's earned the right to handle 15-18
touches per week. It should play out that way for the next two
games at least, although I tend to believe it happen mostly because
of soft matchups (Raiders and Texans) and not be because he has
been anointed as the man. The question then becomes if Taylor
is on a four-game roll by the time Week 16 rolls around, will
he have earned enough trust to see a heavy workload if he gets
off to a slow start against the Steelers?
4. Ryan Tannehill struggles when Derrick Henry thrives
and vice versa.
It stands to reason the quarterback would delete suffer in an
offense that relies so heavily on Henry. Let's check the validity
of that statement. Below is a week-by-week breakdown of Tannehill
and Henry's fantasy point totals:
Tannehill and Henry's weekly point
After playing 21 regular-season games together, it's safe to say
Tannehill and Henry have complemented each other very well. In 10
of those 21 games, Tannehill has scored at least 25 fantasy points
(six points per passing TD). In 18 of the 21, he's managed at least
20 fantasy points. As for Henry, he has topped 20 fantasy points
10 times and 15 fantasy points 15 times.
Let's dig a bit deeper. Is it possible for both players to have
blowup games in the same week? If so, how often has it happened?
Is there a magic number of attempts either one must reach?
It stands to reason that Tannehill (25 fantasy points) and Henry
(21) have met or surpassed their averages only four times in the
same game, including once the season (Week 6). Asking two players
with somewhat opposite agendas - given Tennessee's decision to
ignore Henry as a receiver most of the time - to erupt in the
same game is a tall order, especially since playing with tempo
is not part of Tennessee's MO.
Somewhat interestingly, last week's 31.6-point effort was Tannehill's
sixth 30-point performance and the first time Tennessee lost one
of those games. In four of those six 30-point performances, Tannehill
has accounted for four touchdowns. (He attempted no more than
28 passes in any of those outings.) In the other two huge performances,
he threw for at least 389 yards. (He had 41 and 45 pass attempts
in those contests.) Henry's 15 carries in Week 13 were his fewest
in those same six games. Those 15 carries against the Browns were
his second-fewest in any contest since Tannehill became the starter.
His 16 touches were tied for his lowest mark in that same span.
As for Henry, he has scored at least 27 fantasy points in six
of his 21 games with Tannehill. It should come as no surprise
those same performances also account for six of the eight times
Henry has scored at least two rushing TDs (all wins). His success
in those instances has not had a profound effect on Tannehill's
bottom line, as the ex-Dolphin has found a way to run or throw
for at least two TDs (and score at least 20 fantasy points) in
five of those contests.
How often do both men get shut down in the same game? Not often.
The two fantasy forces have failed to combine for 40 fantasy points
only three times since they started working together - all of
which have happened this season. One of those three times was
a 39.5-point effort in Week 1, so it's debatable if that even
qualifies as a bad game. Regardless, the drop-off in scoring efficiency
should isn't overly surprising. RT Jack Conklin (PFF's ninth-ranked
run blocker in 2019) bolted for Cleveland in the offseason and
LT Taylor Lewan was lost for the season in Week 6. It is rare
for a team to lose its bookends on the offensive and remain so
efficient. Fortunately for the Titans, Tannehill and Henry have
persevered. Still, it is at least somewhat notable that Tannehill's
completion percentage is nearly six percent lower in 12 outings
this year than it was in 12 games in 2019. Similarly, Henry has
experienced a slight drop in his yards per carry (5.1 to 4.9).
Both players have a great opportunity to improve those marks
and maybe even carry their fantasy owners the rest of the way.
Henry faces the four most forgiving defenses against running
backs - all of which are allowing an average of at least 28 fantasy
points to the running back position - to wrap up the regular season.
Tannehill isn't quite as fortunate, although Jacksonville (third)
and Detroit (ninth) in Weeks 14 and 15 still stand out as exceptional
matchups for him.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured
in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010.
He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football
internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst
on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s
“Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy
Sports Writers Association.