Fantasy Football: 5 Things We Learned in Week 9
What the heck just happened?
Week 9 just felt entirely unpredictable, starting with the Arizona Cardinals nearly besting the San Francisco 49ers, and all the way through to Sunday night's unbelievable game. It was so wacky I'm starting to feel nervous for the Dallas Cowboys, who are currently 6.5-point favorites over the mostly-hapless New York Giants for Monday Night Football.
Week 9 was also likely frustrating for many because of just how weird it was, but that's good. There's a lot of new information to consider -- teams we thought were juggernauts looked stoppable, teams we thought were down and out thrived, and we even saw some unexpected breakouts. And that gives us all an opportunity to get a leg up on the competition in our fantasy leagues.
Remember: we are only halfway through the NFL season. Even though it feels like we have undeniable proof behind our beliefs, that half of a season is still only eight or nine games. Some things aren't always exactly what they seem in the NFL, and others can change in the blink of an eye. It's vital to stay abreast of the most recent trends and developments if you want to take down your league mates.
There was a ton to take away from Week 9, but here are five of the most important things we learned.
The Patriots Just Got Shook
Lamar Jackson just absolutely dominated the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football, posterizing their historical defense for 30 offensive points (defensive back Marlon Humphrey also scored on a fumble return, resulting in the final 37-20 score).
Jackson just looked unstoppable against a defense that looked like it could stop anything heading into the week -- or at least, one that could stop a handful of backup quarterbacks, struggling offenses, and an elbow-less Ben Roethlisberger. But really, we can sit here and try to discredit Jackson's performance by picking apart the teams the Patriots' defense had faced to date -- or we can just appreciate that the Pats defense is still good, and that Jackson dunked on them.
Jackson -- and some exciting fourth-down play calls -- routinely extended drives on Sunday night, resulting in back-to-back eight- and nine-minute drives that ended in scores. The young quarterback just kept finding the right receiver -- he targeted 10 different players over the course of the game, with none receiving more than 5 targets -- and when he couldn't, he found or created lanes to get the job done on the ground.
His final stat line of 163 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown, 62 rushing yards and 2 rushing scores doesn't quite capture how dominant he was, but his 28.62 fantasy points certainly did.
And numberFire's Success Rate metrics -- which you can read more about here -- indicated that over 60% of Jackson's passes and over 60% of his rushes added positive value to his team's expected points total. Both of his marks were the highest Success Rates the Pats defense had allowed to passers and rushers (with over five rush attempts), respectively, all season. It was truly an incredible performance.
Jackson shook the Pats' defense, but it's important to note that what Jackson did isn't necessarily reproducible by other teams -- Jackson is a one of a kind quarterback. The Patriots still have a slew of elite defensive backs and one of the most versatile groups of pass rushers in the league. They might not be quite as elite as we thought they were, but don't suddenly start expecting middling offenses to fare well against them.
The Jets Are Actually Just Bad
Speaking of the Patriots' defense, I think they might have actually broken New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. Since facing and face-planting against the Pats, Darnold has thrown 4 interceptions to 3 touchdowns and taken 11 sacks while playing against the Jacksonville Jaguars and... the Miami Dolphins.
The Miami Dolphins just won a game, despite their front office's best efforts to make that impossible. Darnold and the Jets couldn't beat a tanking Dolphins team. Let that sink in.
The team's performance this Sunday was truly abysmal. Darnold mustered up an awful 45.24% Passing Success Rate -- only Mason Rudolph and Case Keenum fared worse against the 'Phins -- while the three sacks he took were the most any team has coughed up to the Dolphins' non-existent pass rush. It was overall a deeply underwhelming and disappointing performance.
But truly the most concerning piece of all of this is that the Jets could still have easily won that game. Darnold's interception came at the two-yard line. Their center snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone when Darnold wasn't even looking. Their kicker missed a 49-yard field goal he shouldn't have had to take -- Darnold took a 9-yard sack just outside of the red zone, taking a fourth-down play out of the question. The team coughed up 105 yards to penalties over the course of the game.
The Jets and Darnold have a handful of soft matchups coming up, but it's clear now after losing to the Dolphins -- the very softest matchup -- that you really can't trust any of them to perform for you in fantasy football this year. The Jets are just a really bad football team.
The Browns Lost to Brandon Allen
If you read that header and thought, "Who is Brandon Allen?" I promise you that you aren't alone.
With Joe Flacco on injured reserve with a neck injury and second-round draft pick Drew Lock not quite healthy yet, the Denver Broncos were forced to start Allen against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9.
And they won.
It was Allen's first time attempting a pass in the NFL after the Jags drafted him in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft -- and the Browns couldn't stop him. That's a pretty major red flag.
The Broncos have fielded a very good defense this year -- they've allowed the fifth-fewest yards per play to opposing offenses despite a slow start -- so the Browns' offensive struggles are somewhat understandable. Baker Mayfield was once again underwhelming, finishing with just 273 passing yards and a touchdown on 42 pass attempts. More surprisingly, Nick Chubb was unable to get anything going, managing just 65 yards on 20 carries.
The Browns' offense was disappointing, but we've come to expect that with the way they've played this season. The most surprising part of this game was that they couldn't stop anything the Broncos were doing on offense.
Phillip Lindsay averaged over 10 yards per carry -- he averaged a casual first down each time he rushed the ball. Allen completed 12 of his 20 pass attempts and threw 2 touchdowns. Noah Fant -- a tight end -- broke off a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown, blowing by the entire Browns secondary on his way there.
The Browns are a group of extremely talented football players on both sides of the ball, but there's something fundamentally wrong with this team. Their defense should have feasted on a third-string quarterback making his NFL debut three years after being drafted. Instead, they allowed the Broncos to score on four of their nine real drives.
This iteration of the Browns is not as bad as the teams they've fielded in previous seasons, but it's in contention as the most disappointing one. It's safe to say this Browns team is a matchup to be targeted -- not feared -- for fantasy purposes.
Devin Singletary Is a Baller
Devin Singletary's rookie season has had a few stops and starts to kick things off, but one this is becoming clear -- he's a baller.
Singletary was an electric back in college, notching 66 rushing touchdowns in three years at Florida Atlantic. If that seems like a lot of touchdowns, that's because it is a lot of touchdowns. The biggest knocks on him heading into the NFL Draft was that he was not a prolific pass-catcher in that time -- his catch totals dwindled in each of his seasons -- and that he didn't profile as a particularly athletic prospect.
So what does he do when he enters the NFL? He establishes himself as pass-catcher while playing behind the eternal Frank Gore, notching five receptions in his very first game, while posting elite efficiency numbers on the ground. He suffered a hamstring injury early on and has been eased back into the rotation over the past three weeks, but in Week 9, Singletary convincingly surpassed Gore on the depth chart.
Singletary had previously demonstrated that in negative game scripts, he would get the nod over Gore -- that was evident in their Week 1 nail-biter against the Jets and in last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
But this week, Singletary dominated the workload in a win over Washington, toting the rock 20 times for 95 yards and a score while catching 3 of his 4 targets for 45 yards. His 23 touches far outpaced Gore's 11 -- and Gore only managed 15 yards on those 11 touches. Singletary played on 66% of the teams offensive snaps, whereas Gore was in just 34% of the time.
It's unclear whether or not the Buffalo Bills' opponent dictated this shift in running back workloads, but it is certainly clear that Singletary deserves a bell cow work load like the one he had in college. Singletary is averaging an absurd 6.7 yards per carry in 2019 and adds an element to the passing game that Frank Gore hasn't provided since maybe 2010.
Singletary is only owned in 72% of Yahoo! leagues as of this writing -- if he's out there on your waiver wire, make sure you snag the young breakout running back before it's too late.
The Ole Miss Receivers are Budding Stars
It's kind of crazy that D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown played on the same team in college -- both represented the Mississippi Rebels between 2016-2018. Both wideouts declared for the 2019 NFL Draft. They both tested like superstar athletes, and both measured in as massive men for the wide receiver position.
NFL teams valued both of them as second-round talents -- the Tennessee Titans selected Brown with the 51st-overall pick, while the Seattle Seahawks famously made Metcalfde Metcalf the final pick of the second round. And now, both receivers are making their mark on the NFL.
Metcalf (525) and Brown (429) are first and third, respectively, among all rookie receivers in receiving yards. Metcalf's five touchdowns pace the class, while Brown's three are not far behind. Given the differential in quarterback play, it's fair to assume that Metcalf and Brown are equally talented rookies, and that's frankly bananas. They aren't just dominating their rookie classmates -- they are both top-36 in the league in total receiving yards at the wide receiver position.
Both receivers put on shows in Week 9 -- though Metcalf's performance easily took the cake. MVP-favorite Russell Wilson connected with Metcalf on 6 of his 9 targets for 123 yards, a touchdown, and a 2-point conversion. Metcalf's touchdown perfectly illustrated the traits that made him such an exciting prospect. He muscled through physical coverage from a Buccaneers cornerback, created separation by changing direction as soon as he had leverage on the defender, and then finished the play by racing the defender to the end zone for the 53-yard score. And he made it all look easy.
Brown didn't quite hit the ground running like his former teammate, who basically earned a starting receiver role in the preseason. Brown's ascension has been slower, but not due to his own play -- he popped off for 100 yards in his Week 1 debut, but the Titans staff has decided to slowly work him into their receiver rotation instead of treating him like the stud he is. The Titans have been a frustrating team to follow for the past few years, and their decision not to feature Brown is certainly a head-scratcher.
However, he's been extremely efficient despite their low-volume passing offense and despite their unwillingness to give him an every-down role. In Week 9, he caught 4 of 7 targets from Ryan Tannehill and converted them into 81 yards. He's averaging almost two full yards per target more than the other receivers on the team, and despite his limited opportunity all around, he has still found ways to flash his impressive skill set.
Both of these young studs have been playing out of their minds in their rookie seasons. We haven't seen a pair of receivers come out of the same school the same year and play like this since Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry back in 2014.
Metcalf and Brown are superstars in the making. While most rookie receivers take some time to develop before becoming fantasy-relevant, these two are bucking that trend. With a handful of favorable matchups coming up in the next few weeks for both of them, you should feel comfortable starting either receiver in your flex.