Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 17

Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 17

Player Analysis

Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 17

Aside from a smattering of leagues who still brave the vagary and volatility of Week 17, we’ve put a bow on Fantasy Football 2017.

Hopefully, St. Nick – and no, not likely Nick Foles – delivered a league championship this past weekend, but if not, you have plenty of company in most of the rest of us who fell short.

And amid the convoluted playoff-scenario breakdowns, pending coaching changes and the never-ending parade of college bowl games, December’s final week offers us an opportunity look back and sift through the significant stats, notable numbers and illuminating integers of the season that was what they mean for the coming year’s fantasy fortunes.

Now, sure, we can’t possibly get to everything in one mere column, but, in a slightly different version of TTT this week, we’re highlighting three of the more intriguing developments/storylines that shaped Fantasy 2017 and what they mean going forward.

Here goes …

The rapid rise of the Rams

You likely don’t need to read any more about Todd Gurley’s fantasy MVP season – especially if he just got done running over, around and through your dreams in the fantasy playoffs – but bear with me anyway.

Gurley rolled up an astounding 107.1 fantasy points (123.1 in point-per-reception scoring) in Weeks 14-16 – the three primary fantasy postseason weekends – and the latter total ranks as the best such Week 14-16 stretch by any player in any season since 1990, according to ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft. So, yes, your fantasy Super Bowl loss to that team named the Gurley Men was truly historical in a real sense.

That fantasy tour de force puts Gurley comfortably ahead of the standard-scoring and PPR season-long running back rankings entering Week 17, sitting 62 points ahead of Le’Veon Bell in standard scoring and 41 ahead of Bell in the PPR ranks.

In the season-long quarterback rankings, you’ll find Gurley’s teammate, second-year signal-caller Jared Goff, sitting ninth with 3,804 passing yards and 28 touchdown tosses. That may not seem that overly impressive on the surface for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but considering the total-bust, worst-QB-in-the-league narrative that was hung on Goff all offseason after his 1,089-yard, five-TD showing in seven winless games as a rookie, it’s been the fantasy and reality turnaround story of the season.

Finally, in the season-long fantasy wide receiver ranks coming out of Week 16, we find the Rams’ Cooper Kupp (24th) and Robert Woods (28th) and Sammy Watkins (30th) all sitting among the top 30 on the standard-scoring list with a combined 2,243 yards and 18 TDs between them.

Considering all the above, it’s hardly a surprise then to find the Rams as the highest-scoring team (31 points per game) entering the season’s final weekend, but it another sense, it’s nothing short of a major shocker considering the Rams were the league’s lowest-scoring team (averaging a measly 14 points per game) only a season ago.

That’s why the 11-4 Rams have wrapped up their first division title since 2003 and Wonder Kid 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay is a shoo-in for NFL Coach of the Year honors.

Yes, one under-the-radar coaching change can make that much of a difference in reality – and fantasy.

A similar story – only with a later start – looks to be playing out in the same division as Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers are finishing the season on roll and are 4-0 since QB Jimmy Garoppolo took the helm in Week 13. Shanahan, by the way, was the offensive coordinator of last season’s top-scoring team, the Falcons, who – by the way – are averaging 11.7 fewer points per contest this season with essentially the same cast of players.

Keep that in mind at your fantasy draft next summer, and don’t be afraid to take a gamble on the players playing for a new offensive-minded coach who you feel has a good chance to raise all boats on a team seemingly dead in water.

Fantasy M*A*S*H

Untimely and season-altering injuries occur in every season – it’s the nature of the NFL beast – but the number of standout players felled by various maladies this season is unlike any most longtime league followers can remember.

And even setting aside the injuries to non-skill-player All-Pros such as defensive end J.J. Watt, cornerback Richard Sherman, offensive tackle Joe Thomas, guard Marshal Yanda, safety Eric Berry and linebacker Ryan Shazier, there were still way more than enough to alter fantasy fortunes at every position and stage of the season.

Here’s a rundown of only some:

  • Andrew Luck, a top-10 fantasy QB in four of his first five seasons, never recovered from a lingering shoulder issue despite some early-season pie-in-the-sky hope by the Colts and never took a snap in Indy.
  • Julian Edelman, fantasy’s 13th-ranked PPR wideout a season ago, went down with an ACL tear in the preseason and didn’t play a game for the defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots.
  • David Johnson, fantasy’s No. 1 standard-scoring and PPR back in 2016, suffered a season-ending wrist fracture in Week 1 and finished with 90 yards on 17 touches for the year.
  • Greg Olsen, a top-six fantasy tight end in each of previous five seasons fractured his foot in Week 2, and although he came back in Week 12, he’s totaled only 16 receptions for 181 yards and one TD in six games through Week 16.
  • Dalvin Cook, the Vikings’ stud rookie running back, was among the best at his position, totaling 444 yards from scrimmage and two TDs in three-plus games before bowing out with an ACL tear in Week 4.
  • Odell Beckham Jr. was off to another scintillating start for the Giants – 25 catches for 302 yards and three TDs in three-plus games – before fracturing his ankle in Week 5.
  • Aaron Rodgers, no introductory bio or stats needed, broke his collarbone in a Week 6 loss to the rival Vikings, and although he did make a controversial one-week return to throw for 290 yards, three TDs and a trio of interceptions in Week 15, the Pack, the NFC North race and an untold number of fantasy seasons were simply never the same.
  • Deshaun Watson, the Texans’ rookie QB, was the talk of the first half of the season after rolling up 1,968 yards of total offense and accounting for a league-leading 19 TDs in 6.5 games before tearing his ACL in practice in early November. His per-game 28.55-fantasy point average still will lead all QBs in 2017.
  • Carson Wentz, the second-year Philly QB, was in thick of the MVP races in both fantasy and reality with 3,296 passing yards and a franchise single-season-record 33 TD passes in 13-plus games before suffering an ACL tear on a run late in the Eagles’ Week 14 over the Rams. It didn’t stop Philadelphia from clinching the NFC’s No. 1-overall seed two week later, but it left his fantasy owners with a gaping hole at QB one week into the fantasy postseason.
  • Antonio Brown, fantasy’s No. 1 wideout for five years running now, had just reached 100 receptions for a record fifth-straight season earlier in a monumental Week 15 game against the Patriots when he suffered a partially-torn calf muscle trying for a catch in the end zone. He was finished after two receptions for 24 yards in the contest, torpedoing the fantasy semifinal hopes of many a squad.
  • Greg Zuerlein, still the league’s top kicker through 16 weeks with 38 field goals, 44 extra-points and 158 total points, even wasn’t immune to the carnage as he was placed on injured reserve with a back issue only last week, sending his fantasy owners off in an untimely dash to the waiver wire in the days leading up to fantasy championship weekend.

There will still be key injuries in 2018, starting this offseason, but the degree of star carnage we witnessed this season isn’t likely to repeat itself.  Still, there are lessons to be learned.

As always, fantasy general managers can never have enough quality running backs and receivers – that hasn’t changed. But 2017 showed us that depth is vital even at positions like quarterback where rostering only one QB has been the long-time standard operating procedure in many leagues.

Rookie RBs rule

Unfortunately, with Watson’s just-discussed injury, it looks no rookie QBs will finish among the top 20 at the position in terms of total fantasy points. And barring, a big regular-season finale from Kupp, no rookie will crack the top-20 wideouts this season, either.

At tight end, the Giants’ Evan Engram (fourth) and the Bucs’ O.J. Howard (14th) are rarities as rookies currently ranked in the top 20.

Meanwhile, running back is the position where rookies have made the biggest 2017 impact with four – the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt (third), the Saints’ Alvin Kamara (sixth), the Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette (eighth) and the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey (14th) – currently in the standard-scoring top 20. It’s even more pronounced in PPR scoring, where Kamara (third), Hunt (fourth), McCaffrey (eighth) and Fournette (ninth) make up almost half of the top nine coming out of Week 16.

This season is the fifth year in the last six featuring multiple rookie RBs with at least 150 standard-scoring fantasy points, and if McCaffrey can tack on 6.8 more points in Week 17, the 2017 season will join the 2013 and 2008 campaigns as the only seasons with four first-year 150-point RBs in the last 20 years.

In between, wide receivers have snared the fantasy spotlight  in recent seasons such as 2014 (Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Jordan Matthews) and 2011 (A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Torrey Smith), but currently no rookie wideout is on pace to reach 125 fantasy points (standard scoring), and the top three wideouts selected in this past spring’s draft – the Titans’ Corey Davis (fifth-overall pick), the Chargers’ Mike Williams (seventh) and the Bengals’ John Ross (ninth) have combined for all of  44 receptions, 462 yards and no TDs through Week 16.

Sneaking a peek ahead, but the 2018 draft could usher in another crop of impressive first-year backs with Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Stanford’s Bryce Love and LSU’s Derrius Guice heading the list as potential first-round talents.

Running back has traditionally been the easiest position for rookies to make an NFL fantasy impact, and look for that to continue.

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