Fantasy Football: 3 Things We Learned in Week 12
Perhaps more than anything, fantasy football is a game of adjustments. Season-long fantasy doesn't end at the draft, and smart managers learn to take the trends and data that each week of games offers and apply it to their roster decisions moving forward.
This weekly piece will look at trends from the previous slate of games and determine which trends in snaps, usage, and matchups are actionable moving forward.
Alvin Kamara Won't Be Leading You to a Fantasy Championship...
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
We saw it coming after last week but might have just dismissed it to a one-game sample. Now, the lack of expected production is a two-game sample, and we need to officially be wary of Alvin Kamara as long as Taysom Hill remains quarterback.
Average target share per game before Taysom Hill: 26.8%
Average target share per game with Taysom Hill: 9.3%
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) November 30, 2020
Before Week 11, the last time Kamara received two or fewer targets in a game was in November 2018, when the New Orleans Saints beat the Philadelphia Eagles by 41 points and didn't need Kamara to do anything.
This just is not supposed to happen to a player of this caliber, but the Saints are committing to Latavius Murray in the running game (31 rush attempts to Kamara's 24 the past two games), and Hill seems to have eyes for only Michael Thomas (47.5% target share last two weeks) on the rare occasions Hill does throw.
This is a new Saints offense we are dealing with, one that is going to focus on ball control and wearing out people with a one-two punch of Murray and Hill running the ball.
This presents a serious problem for a consensus top-four pick from preseason drafts. We no longer can count on Kamara as a weekly RB1, and we need to temper expectations headed into the fantasy playoffs, especially since the Saints' next two opponents (Eagles and Falcons) are top 12 in fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs.
...But Austin Ekeler Just Might
It's very possible that Austin Ekeler was not fully healthy in Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills. But if this is the usage and efficiency we get from Ekeler when he is playing hurt, I can't wait for the healthy games still to come.
In a game that must have made Keenan Allen mangers reach for the Xanax, Ekeler took over the role as the target leader for the Los Angeles Chargers, recording 16 targets (most among any player through Sunday's games) and a 31% target share.
From a broader perspective, Ekeler was on the field more than he was in any of his other three healthy games this season. He finished the game with a 73% snap share, which is considerably higher than what we saw from him in Week 1 through Week 3.
Bell cow Austin Ekeler pic.twitter.com/16TJ69Li4w
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) November 30, 2020
It's true that this was just one game, but considering how much Ekeler was involved coming off major injury, we must determine if the performance was predictive of any future usage. After all, the Bills allow the 10th-fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers but do give up the 9th-most points per game to running backs. Maybe it was just a product of the matchup and a high game total?
The most encouraging this about the role Ekeler played on Sunday was the goal-line duty. According to Nathan Jahnke, when the Chargers were within four yards of the end zone, Ekeler played five snaps to Joshua Kelley's one. This is the opposite role these players had the first three weeks of the season, so that is a very encouraging sign.
Ekeler's remaining schedule through Week 16 matches him up against the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, and Falcons. Three of those teams rank in the top half of most fantasy points allowed to running backs this year. And the one team that doesn't -- Atlanta -- allows the 10th-most receptions and 4th-most receiving touchdowns to running backs.
If you were able to stay in playoff contention despite Ekeler's injury, you are about to be handsomely rewarded.
AJ Brown: 2021 Fantasy Football MVP
Speaking of league-winners, A.J. Brown might be just that for managers this year, as well. If you are in a dynasty or keeper league and already looking to next year, Brown is the player who might just win you a 2021 championship.
Even ignoring the fluky onside kick return for a score, Brown torched the Indianapolis Colts for 98 receiving yards and another touchdown, and he was a yards-after-the-catch monster once again.
Ryan Tannehill & A.J. Brown (69-yard TD)
Brown gained +42 YAC over expected on the play, according to our YAC Over Expected model (5th-most on a play this season).
Brown leads all WR in YAC over expected since entering the league in 2019 (+412)#TENvsIND | #Titans pic.twitter.com/UzaQiSm8Ds
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 29, 2020
The yards-after-catch ability Brown possesses is clearly not an aberration as he has been doing it for almost two full season now, leading the NFL despite missing three games earlier this year.
The one and only thing holding Brown back from jumping into the elite of the elite receivers is his target numbers.
Here is a list of (non-obvious) wide receivers who have at least 10 targets in a game this year: Quintez Cephus, Russell Gage, N'Keal Harry, Greg Ward, Isaiah Ford, Marquez Callaway, Braxton Berrios, and teammate Corey Davis -- twice! Care to guess who is not on that list?
Brown has not received more than nine targets in a game this season, so it's fair to say we have not seen his ceiling. For the rest of this year and going into 2021, if the Tennessee Titans mix in slightly more passing, Brown could be an elite wide receiver likely to fall to the end of the second round in next year's drafts.