What We Learned: 2021 Preseason
Check back here every week to listen to Tim: analyze what we saw, discuss who's trending up or down, and jump to some wild conclusions.
1. Christian McCaffery/Michael Thomas: Best fantasy players in NFL history ?
It's time to stop and smell the roses because, this season, we're witnessing history. And no, this time I'm not talking about Lamar Jackson or the Patriots defense. I'm talking about, possibly, the greatest single-season by a running back AND a wide receiver of all time.
First, let's talk Michael Thomas. The Saints WR1 has no less than 16.4 PPR points in any game this season. He has no less than 101 receiving yards or 22.1 PPR points since week six. This season, Thomas has more games above 22.1 points than he has games below that. He is averaging 23.9 PPG, just .1 point per game less than 2007 Randy Moss (the record setting 23 receiving TD's in a single-season Randy Moss).
If he keeps his current pace, he'll finish just 3.0 PPR points shy of 2007 Randy Moss. That doesn't sound right considering, as of now, Thomas has 17 less TD's than Moss (which would equal an extra 102 points), BUT... He's on his way to finishing with 53 more catches and 308 more yards. He will likely close the TD gap (to some degree) before it's all said and done as well.
If Thomas keeps his pace for receptions/yards and scores seven TD's between now and the end of the 2019 season (giving him 13 total), he will officially be the second-highest scoring fantasy WR in NFL history. His totals would place him just 8.4 points shy of Jerry Rice, who finished with 396.8 PPR points in 1995. Rice did that in his tenth NFL season. This is Thomas's fourth.
So far, Thomas has only one game with less than eight catches this season. He is on pace to set the record for most receptions in a single season (held by Marvin Harrison with 143). He is averaging a ridiculous 9.4 catches per game. If he keeps his current pace, he'll beat the record by eight catches (151).
Sure, one could attribute it to the fact that his QB, Drew Brees, is perhaps the most reliable QB there ever was. But the most impressive part of what Thomas has done this year is that he played the majority of this season with Teddy Bridgewater throwing him the ball!
His performance through 11 games this season has been nothing short of incredible. It's safe to say the sky is the limit for the former third-round pick. But even Thomas would struggle to achieve the most fantasy points by a non-QB in NFL history. However, there is another player who is flirting with such numbers this season...
Christian McCaffery is currently averaging 30.6 PPR PPG in 2019. This season, he has more games above 30.1 PPR points than he has games below that. McCaffery already has 16 total TD's this season. Assuming he keeps his current pace, he will claim the title of the highest scoring fantasy season in NFL history. LaDainian Tomlinson holds the record with 482.5 points, thanks to a record setting 31 all purpose TD's. McCaffery is on pace to outscore him by 7.1 points.
This pace is insanely impressive, especially considering he was held to just 7.3 points back in week two.
McCaffery hasn't scored less than 26.1 points since week six. He already has 1,709 yards from scrimmage and is averaging 155 per game. Assuming he keeps this pace, he will finish with 2,485 total yards. That would be the second-most total yards by a non-QB in NFL history (2009 Chris Johnson: 2,509).
This season, McCaffery has five games with multiple trips to the end-zone. He has two games with more than 200 all-purpose yards. He scored over 42 PPR points in both those games. It's safe to say he's the only non-QB who can say either of those things this season.
Of course Lamar Jackson is the front runner for MVP, but McCaffery is right up there with him. Without Cam Newton, he has been the unquestioned offensive leader for the Panthers. He is the very definition of his teams most valuable player. Without him, the Panthers might have only one win in 2019.
McCaffery's touchdowns have made the difference in four of Carolina's five wins this season.
Whatever the case, if you own Thomas or McCaffery this season, chances are you are well on your way to the fantasy playoffs. And if you own both... God help the rest of your league.
Michael Thomas and Christian McCaffery both find the endzone in a thrilling week 11 game that was decided by a last second field goal. Photo's courtesy of CBSsports.com
2. DJ Moore is a top-10 receiver
Over the past four weeks, DJ Moore has filled the shoes of a fantasy WR1. In week 12, it all came together. He came out hot against the Saints, scoring a 51-yard TD on his first catch. Moore finished with a season-high 126 yards, two TD's and 31.4 points on six catches.
In his last four games, Moore has 30 catches 442 yards and two TD's. He has no less than 98 yards or 17.1 PPR points in a game since week eight. In fact, Moore has finished with less than 12.6 PPR points just twice this season. In his last seven games, he has 72 targets.
It has been brewing for a while, but the past four games have been a dealbreaker. If Moore can build on his TD production from last week, his status as a top-10 fantasy WR will be solidified. Hopefully you got him for WR2 price while you still could...
His next two games will be against the Redskins and Falcons. According to FantasyPros, Moore actually has the sixth-easiest remaining schedule among all NFL WR's. So yeah... I'm all in.
3. Is Baker Mayfield back?
The Browns offense FINALLY played to their potential in week 12, all it took was a game against the Dolphins. Former Offensive Rookie of the Year Baker Mayfield enjoyed his best game of the season in week 12. He threw for 327 yards and three TD's (his first game with three passing TD's this season), and finished with a season-high 23.6 points.
The offense was firing on all cylinders as Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham and Mayfield all finished with 20 PPR points. Impressive, but then again... Who hasn't had their best game of the year against Miami this season? I can certainly name a few... Which begs the question; was it a fluke, or is Baker Mayfield back?
I am of the firm belief that Mayfield is on the cusp of a roaring comeback. Here's why: over the past four weeks, Mayfield has no less than 17.1 points in any game. Sure, one of those games was against the Dolphins, but the other three? The Broncos at Mile-High, at home against the Bills, and a primetime matchup with the Steelers. Those are three VERY tough matchups that Mayfield has played admirably in. Over that span, he boasts an 8:1 TD-INT ratio.
Mayfield has now thrown multiple TD's in three straight games, something he failed to do in his first eight. He has back to back weeks with three total TD's and over 21 fantasy points, also something he hadn't achieved yet.
So, if you ask me, I'm thinking Mayfield is back, and more importantly, can be trusted in fantasy again. He seems to have matured a bit and he's playing like it. After next week's game against the Steelers (who he beat for 21.8 points two weeks ago) he gets to play the Cardinals and the Bengals twice... If you can find a schedule that sounds friendlier than that, you let me know.
4. Eagles defense is heating up
I know how this is going to sound, but the Eagles defense, believe it or not, is not terrible. In fact, they've been playing pretty damn good. Dare I say... Elite?
Elite may be an overstatement, but one could definitely make the argument.
Hear me out. Last week, I was hard pressed for a streaming defense, so I dived deep into the research, possibly deeper than I ever have before. And what I turned up, the best available defense was... The Eagles?
"It can't be," I said. "Against Seattle? I must be crazy."
Turns out I was crazier to think the Broncos D/ST could score positive points against Josh Allen and the Bills.
The Eagles, surprisingly enough, finished with 11 fantasy points against the Seahawks in week 12. Philly held Russell Wilson to just 200 yards passing. They forced Wilson to turn the ball over multiple times, the first time he's done that in a game this season. But it's not just the Seahawks they've suffocated recently.
Over the past four weeks, the Eagles have allowed no more than 17 points in a game. Including against New England and Buffalo. It is a huge turn around after they began the season allowing an average of 30 points per game weeks 1-7 (if you exclude a week five matchup with the Luke Falk-led Jets).
During this resurgent span, the Eagles have allowed the second-least fantasy points to QB's, the fifth-least points to WR's (trust me, I didn't make that up), and THE least points to tight ends. They've also accumulated 14 sacks, four turnovers and a blocked kick.
According to FantasyPros, the Eagles have the fourth-easiest remaining schedule among all NFL defenses. They play Miami next week. They have two matchups with Giants and one against the Redskins in the fantasy playoffs. I never thought I'd say this, but the Eagles defense could be a league winner.
5. Ryan Tannehill... A top-10 QB?
Speaking of a league winner... I'm going to go ahead and answer my own question by saying yes, I do believe Tannehill is currently a top-10 QB. After a 32.4 point performance against the Jags in week 12, I'm convinced.
Here is a list of QB's that have outscored Tannehill in fantasy since he took over as the starter for the Titans:
- Lamar Jackson
...That's the whole list.
Weird right? Most of us wrote him off as kind of a lame NFL QB after he fizzled out in Miami. But I guess it'd be fair to say that not even Aaron Rodgers could save that team. However, a little change of scenery and Tannehill is thriving.
He has multiple TD's and no less than 18.9 points in any game he's started this season. He has three straight games with at least 37 rushing yards and has picked up three rushing TD's in those three games.
Tannehill is currently averaging 22.5 PPG.
According to FantasyPros (can you tell I like using them?) Tannehill has the second-easiest remaining schedule for a QB this season. He needs to be added if he's still available in your league.
6. Bo Scarbrough is a workhorse
Despite scoring just 7.8 points in week 12, Bo Scarbrough looked the part of a workhorse back. He finished with 98 yards on 18 carries (5.4 YPC) against the Redskins. He did lose a fumble, and still has yet to make any sort of impact in the receiving game, but he is by far the Lions most effective rusher.
Scarbrough was a stud at Alabama, so this doesn't come as a huge surprise. If anything, it was a surprise to see him fall all the way to the seventh round of the NFL draft, but I digress. Scrabrough has looked very solid, but as much as I like his talent, I'd advise fantasy owners to beware.
He has a very threatening upcoming schedule, including games against Chicago, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Denver. According to FantasyPros strength of schedule metrics the Lions have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule for an RB. He has passed the eye-test so far, but I don't think I'd test my luck with him, especially in the fantasy playoffs.
7. Mason Rudolph (rightfully) benched
Steelers QB Mason Rudolph was benched in the third quarter of a week 12 game against the 0-10, now 0-11 Bengals. And rightfully so. Rudolph was, to put it lightly, highly inefficient on Sunday. To put it into perspective, Rudolph was benched in the third quarter and his backup, Devlin Hodges, threw for as many yards as him (85) on his first two pass attempts.
Mike Tomlin has yet to confirm whether or not Hodges will be the starter next week at Cleveland but, for fantasy purposes, let's hope Rudolph stays on the bench. In nine starts this season, he hasn't passed for over 251 yards once. He hasn't scored over two TD's or 16.9 fantasy points in any game this season, and those 16.9 points came against the Bengals back in week four... Congratulations Mason.
Prepare for things to escalate, because if I'm being honest, Rudolph is just awful and I hope I never have to watch him play again. Call me insensitive, but he's so bad at football, I didn't mind watching him get bopped in the head with his helmet last week. That's what you get for throwing four picks and instigating a fight... Obviously, that was an unacceptable occurrence on multiple levels, and I definitely don't condone Garrett's actions, but Mason Rudolph could retire tomorrow and I'd probably celebrate.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has been, perhaps, the biggest fantasy bust of 2019. If Big Ben was out there, obviously things wouldn't be so bad. With most backups in this league, things wouldn't be so bad. But with Rudolph, there's not much room for them to get worse.
If Devlin Hodges draws the start in week 13, and boy do I hope he does, I'd be inclined to give the Steelers offense a slight boost in my rankings. Not by much, but a boost nonetheless.
8. Sam Darnold: not completely useless
Don't look now, but Sam Darnold might actually be an NFL QB. The Jets schedule has been easy, (faced the Giants, Redskins, and Raiders past three games) but that shouldn't take away from how impressive Darnold has been.
In his last three games, Darnold is averaging 25.1 fantasy PPG. He has nine total TD's (two rushing) and just one turnover during this span. But somehow, in a game where he threw for 315 yards, he got the ball to red-hot Jamison Crowder just twice. Instead it was the ice-cold Robby Anderson who led with way with four catches for 86 yards and a TD. Just like we drew it up.
In any event, Darnold is a good bet to keep his success going for at least two more weeks. He'll take on the Bengals in week 13 and the Dolphins in week 14.
9. Chris Godwin explodes... Again.
In week 12, Godwin finished with 184 yards. It was the third time this season where he had at least seven catches, 125 yards, and two TD's. It was also his third game north of 150 yards, his fifth game with over 100, his sixth game with seven or more catches, and his third game with 31 PPR points or more this season.
A game like this was long overdue for Godwin, who hadn't topped 13.9 points in four straight weeks. It was encouraging to see him pull through considering his schedule is a breeze in the fantasy playoffs.
I was pretty harsh on Jameis Winston last week, but I'll say something nice about him for the Bucs fans out there. He's damn good at getting his receivers the ball. Even if he does cost his team games with his questionable decision making, at least he can keep his receivers fantasy relevant. Now, if only he could split the points between Godwin and Evans instead of one or the other each week...
10. Don't quit on Mixon
Yeah, he burned me this week too. I don't blame you if your first thought was "here we go again". After three consecutive weeks of at least 17 PPR points, Mixon crashed back down with just 7.9 points in week 12. But hey, it's not his fault he's on the worst team in football.
From the outside looking in, it seems like Mixon had a bad game. But if you watched him play on Sunday, you know he didn't. He began by gaining just 15 yards on his first seven carries. After that, he gained 64 on his next 11 (5.8 YPC).
In the second half, Mixon broke off an amazing run where he reversed field and somehow turned what should have been a five yard loss into a five yard gain, similar to his TD last week. Unfortunately, thanks to him being completely forgotten about in the passing game, it didn't equate to many fantasy points.
If you ask me, I forgive him. Especially considering his opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not allowed an RB to even scratch the surface of a top-10 week all season. I say keep the faith. He has a tough matchup in week 13 with a Jets defense that just held Josh Jacobs to 36 total yards, but after that it's smooth sailing.
In the fantasy playoffs, Mixon will face Cleveland twice (allowing eleventh most yards to RB's and an average of 4.6 YPC) and Miami (fifth-most points, and a league-high 1,428 rush yards/64 redzone touches allowed to RB's this season).
Andy Dalton will reclaim the starting job in week 13. Who knows? Maybe Mixon and the Bengals offense get a boost. If only AJ Green could get on the field...
Tim Brosnan, Fantasy Sports Analyst/Freelance Journalist
Tim Brosnan is a college-educated sports journalist from the New Haven, Connecticut area.
Brosnan earned his Bachelor's Degree from Castleton University where he majored in Media & Communication, with a focus in Journalism.
During his tenure as the sports editor of the Castleton Spartan newspaper, Brosnan created the segment 'Tim's Fantasy Tips'. It began as a simple weekly start/sit column, but since then, the idea has grown into so much more.
Brosnan has taken his experience/passion for fantasy football and combined it with his journalistic know-how in order to bring you a completely original, well-informed, multi-layered fantasy football advice experience.
We hope you enjoy.