It’s easy enough to look at overall stats from the previous year and assume that they were evenly distributed over the season. That’s not the case for most players though usually significant differences between their first and second parts of the season are due to declines. More interesting are the players that improved over the course of the season and that ended on a stronger note.
Such players often carry that improvement into the next year and yet are undervalued by those not aware of the progress and increase in production that they showed. Here are the ten players that saw increases in their production and offer more promise for 2019.
- Baker Mayfield (Browns) – Through his first seven starts, he threw for 1,768 yards and 10 touchdowns. His final seven totaled 1,957 yards and 17 scores. The per-game pace of his second half would have totaled 4,473 yards and 39 touchdowns. That would be more scores than all but Andrew Luck (39) and Patrick Mahomes (50). And he did that with mostly road games and a tougher schedule down the stretch.
- Derrick Henry (Titans) – He won’t come at a discount this year if only because we all remember the 238 yards and four scores he laid down on the Jaguars in Week 14. But that alone doesn’t fully explain how he rushed for only 300 yards and two scores in his first eight games, and then 759 yards and ten touchdowns in the second half of the season. His eight-week pace would total 1,518 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns over a 16-week slate. Those marks would both be tops among all running backs from last year. That happened in the first year for head coach Mike Vrabel.
- Nick Chubb (Browns) – The rookie ended with a respectable 996 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, plus 149 yards and two scores via 20 receptions. But the Browns opened the year with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson as the primary weapons. That ended by Week 7 when Hyde was sent to the Jaguars and Johnson’s workload was dialed back, Chubb totaled just 52 runs for 318 yards and three scores over his first eight games. The next eight racked up 140 runs for 678 yards and five scores. He only caught two passes in the first half but 18 in the second. That pace of the final eight games would have produced 280 carries for 1,356 yards and ten scores with another 278 yards and two scores on 36 catches. That sort of production would have ranked as the No.6 fantasy back for 2018.
- Damien Williams (Chiefs) – The Kareem Hunt fiasco played out in Week 12 and left the Chiefs in dire need of a starting running back. With Spencer Ware still ailing, they turned to Williams who had only spot duty in his five-year NFL career with the Dolphins and Chiefs. Including the playoffs, Williams scored ten times over the next seven games including three in the AFC Championship. He wasn’t as explosive as Hunt, but he proved what even an average back could do in a great offense. The Chiefs gave him a two-year extension and now the wait is to see if they bring in a challenger for carries.
- Robert Foster (Bills) – The Bills struggled through the first half of the year with a very young team in their first year under OC Brian Daboll while a rookie quarterback learned the ropes. One of the several positives that came out of 2018 was this undrafted wideout from Alabama. He had little use until Week 10 when he blew up for 105 yards and a score on three catches. He went on to score three times in the final six games and turned in three 100-yard games. The pace of those final seven games would have produced a 16-game total of 58 catches for 1175 yards and seven touchdowns. Foster has already become the long-ball target for Josh Allen.
- Zay Jones (Bills) – Equally as encouraging, Jones stumbled through a horrific rookie season despite being the fourth-overall wideout selected in 2017. He started the first half of 2018 with just 25 catches for 281 yards and one touchdown. But the Bills got better and so did Jones connection with Josh Allen. He went on to catch 31 passes for 371 yards and six scores in his final eight games. Five of those touchdowns came over the last five games. Foster showed up as the deep threat and Jones became the red-zone target.
- Dante Pettis (49ers) – The speedster from Washington was selected as the fourth-overall wideout last year (2.12) and his first game with Jimmy Garoppolo ended with two catches for 61 yards and a score. Garoppolo exited the season and Pettis promptly sprained his knee. He didn’t show up again until Week 12 when the 49ers were on QB No. 3. Over his next three games, he scored four touchdowns and even totaled 129 yards on five catches with two scores in Seattle during Week 13. The return of Garappolo and more time in Kyle Shanahan’s offense is even more promising.
- Adam Humphries (TB) – He ended his fourth year with the Buccaneers with a career-best 76 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns. But he was only a bit player for the first seven weeks until recording all five touchdowns over his final nine games while averaging around 60 yards per week. He ends his rookie contract and the Bucs will either retain his to be the slot receiver or promote Chris Godwin into the role. That would allow Humphries to test the free agent market where he’s hoping to net $8M a year. His final half of 2018 should attract interest.
- Josh Allen (BUF) – There’s no arguing that the 1.07 pick last year was disappointing in his first six games. He broke 200 passing yards just once and threw only two touchdowns. He missed the next five weeks with an elbow injury. When he returned in Week 12, he was significantly better. Allen threw for over 200 yards and at least one score in five of his final six games, totaling eight touchdowns in that span. He added five more scores as a rusher and topped 90 rushing yards in four of the final six weeks. Over the final six games of 2018, Josh Allen was the No. 1 fantasy quarterback in the NFL. True.
- Lamar Jackson (BAL) – The rookie finally took the reins in Week 11 and never looked back. While he only threw over 200 yards once in his seven starts (and just 204 yards at that), he scored at least once in all but one game. With Joe Flacco already sent to the Broncos, Jackson is the unquestioned starter. His fantasy value doesn’t stem from his passing. Jackson rushed for an average of 76 yards per game and turned in four scores as a runner in his seven starts. That doesn’t help the receivers much but it did make him a top ten fantasy quarterback when he played. The Ravens new OC Greg Roman will design the offense around Jackson’s talents.