Throughout the course of a 16-week season, there are numerous opportunities
for fantasy owners to improve their squad. Usually, those opportunities
come via the waiver wire when key starters get hurt or demoted on
good "real" teams, generally leaving the "next man
up" on the depth chart to make a name for himself.
Not all "improvement opportunities" are that obvious,
however. Sometimes, there is a ton of value to be had in players
who have failed to meet preseason expectations and/or been victims
of their situation. It takes a special set of circumstances that
one team - especially a winless one through four games - can provide
owners with help almost across the board. I believe that team
is the New York Jets. (Yes, the same Jets who have scored a total
of two offensive touchdowns through four games.) Allow me to explain.
Just over a month ago, the Jets entered the season with reason
to believe they could go .500 and maybe even contend for a playoff
spot. While the majority of people across the country were not
particularly interested in Bills-Jets in Week 1, I was. New York
needed 2 1/2 quarters to build a 16-0 lead against a defense that
most people are just now starting to realize may be pretty good.
Had it not been for a late third-quarter injury to C.J. Mosley
and the kicking woes of Kaare Vedvik, New York probably gets that
By now, just about anyone with a passing interest in the NFL
knows what happened next - Sam Darnold was diagnosed with mononucleosis
days after the loss and the offense bottomed out after turning
to Trevor Siemian and then Luke Falk against a trio of teams with
nasty defensive fronts (Browns, Patriots and Eagles). Darnold's
return to practice - and ultimately game action - in Week 6 is
not going to save the Jets' season, as it's more likely than not
they are 0-6 with upcoming games against the Cowboys and Patriots.
However, one would be hard-pressed to find a more accommodating
second-half schedule for offensive players on one team than what
the Jets have to look forward after their next two contests.
Let's go position-by-position to make things a bit easier:
While his 28-of-41, 175-yard effort in Week 1 versus the Bills
hardly qualifies as a masterpiece, it's important to remember
Buffalo hasn't allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 250
yards since Tom Brady
did so in Week 8 of last season. Only one quarterback over that
same stretch (Ryan
Tannehill) has thrown for more than one score and only one
Stafford) was able to complete 68 percent of his passes as
Darnold's return is not going to have a dramatic effect on the
quarterback position in fantasy, so don't pretend as though anything
I've said to this point suggests he will be a QB1 from here on
out. However, he can be expected to bring the quality of play
at the position to an acceptable level and allows HC Adam Gase
to open things up to his liking. Between the level of competition
so far and Darnold's unfortunate illness, Gase hasn't had a chance
to do that yet. The first-year coach talked during the offseason
how he wanted to play with pace and (finally) had a quarterback
to execute that vision; no matter how much readers dislike Gase
(and there are plenty of people who do), former employers have
either been trying to hide (or avoid playing) Siemian and Falk
for most of their NFL careers.
Given the current state of the position in fantasy - including
but not limited to injuries to Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger - there are likely at least one or two owners in
just about every 12-team league who wouldn't mind having a capable
QB2 whose team has already completed its bye week with a solid
supporting cast and a multitude of soft matchups over the second
half of the season.
As referenced earlier, New York still has two more weeks before
completing its first-half gauntlet. Beginning in Week 8, there
is no shortage of plus matchups (points per game allowed to QBs
followed by the opponent's current rank in terms of most fantasy
points allowed to the position - assumes six points per passing
TD and one point for every 25 yards passing):
Week 8: @ JAC (20.7, 14th) Week 9: @ MIA (33.1, first) Week 10: NYG (24.3, sixth) Week 11: @ WAS (26.9, fourth) Week 12: OAK (23.3, eighth) Week 13: @ CIN (22.8, ninth) Week 14: MIA (33.1, first)
To give readers some sense of what that level of opposition looks
like in a more common statistical form, each of six opponents
(Miami twice) listed above is allowing at least 243.2 yards passing.
Only Jacksonville (1.4) isn't giving up at least 1.5 passing touchdowns,
although the Jags have unsurprisingly been much worse versus the
pass with Jalen Ramsey out of the lineup. Five of the games mentioned
above are against opponents giving up at least two passing TDs
This is the one Jet I'll discuss that won't be on any waiver
wire, but it's fair to say his fantasy owners were probably expecting
more than 2.9 yards per carry, 6.1 yards per catch and one total
touchdown through four games. About the only area Bell hasn't
disappointed his owners is volume, and it's hard to know for sure
how much of his work over the last three games has been a product
of Gase wanting to hide his quarterback.
Much as the case is with Darnold, there may be a bit of an extended
buying window over the next two weeks as the Cowboys will likely
be smarting from last week's Aaron Jones-induced shredding and
the Patriots continue what will probably go down as one of the
easiest first-half schedules in NFL history. After that, sign
Week 8: @ JAC (27.7, seventh) Week 9: @ MIA (38.3, first) Week 10: NYG (24.1, 17th) Week 11: @ WAS (27.4, eighth) Week 12: OAK (22.3, 22nd) Week 13: @ CIN (37.7, second) Week 14: MIA (38.3, first) Week 15: @ BAL (25.5, 15th) Week 16: PIT (25.7, 13th)
Admittedly, Weeks 15 and 16 are more middle-of-the-road matchups
as things stand at the moment, but Bell's fantasy owners are looking
at five potential top-10 defenses to exploit over a seven-week
period before then. The former Steeler probably will not continue
averaging 24.5 touches moving forward, but 21 or 22 seems realistic.
From the above group of defenses, only Pittsburgh (3.9), Oakland
(4.0) and Washington (4.3) are holding running backs below 4.6
yards per carry. Three of those teams (four games total) are yielding
over 10 yards per catch to running backs. Six of those same foes
are giving up at least one touchdown per game to the position
For the sake of argument, let's assume he handles an average
of 17 carries and four receptions beginning in Week 8. Furthermore,
let's take the combined YPC (4.6) and YPR (8.7) numbers from each
remaining opponent to give us some sort of realistic expectation
for him. Using those data points, we expect Bell to average roughly
78.2 yards rushing, 34.8 yards receiving and easily one touchdown
per game. (His current marks: 51.5, 41.5 and 0.25). While those
4.6 and 8.7 averages probably represent a best-case scenario for
Bell, I'm also assuming what I believe is his floor in terms of
In leagues in which I have an underperforming back with similar
fantasy production - be it due to injury, circumstance or some other
reason - I am targeting Bell by offering a back such as James
Conner along with a WR3-level receiver. My preseason RB10 in
PPR leagues, Bell is a near-lock to improve from his current RB18
slot (RB11 in points per game).
Juicy upcoming matchups are the primary reason why I am pushing
for Darnold and Bell. It makes sense if matchups are working in
Darnold's favor moving forward, the same can probably be said
for his receivers. I'm not sure it's that easy (the road isn't
exactly easy for Robby
Anderson), but it's also not the primary reason why I think
Crowder is such an excellent trade target either. Still, let's
take a look at the expected slot matchups for him beginning in
Week 8 and each cornerback's NFL passer rating allowed in his
coverage this season (per Pro Football Focus):
For those who don't remember, 158.3 is a perfect passer rating.
In today's game, cornerbacks are generally doing a relatively
good job if they can post a passer rating against in the 80s and
doing pretty good if they can keep it in the 70s. They are generally
playing at the elite level when they can maintain a level in the
60s or lower. It doesn't take very long to see Crowder is going
to have his chances to tear it up in November and December.
With that said, there's a better reason to go after Crowder,
who has operated out of the slot on 69.4 percent of his snaps
so far. The slot position has long been a key part of Gase's offenses.
Last season in Miami, Danny Amendola tallied 43 of his team-high
59 receptions inside. In 2017, 68 of Jarvis Landry's 112 catches
were in the slot. In 2016, it was 65 of 94 for Landry. Wes Welker
also had a field day in the slot under Gase in Denver.
It gets better though. Darnold attempted 414 passes as a rookie
last year - 23.9 percent of those throws were directed at slot
receivers even though more than half of those 95 targets went
to the likes of Jermaine Kearse and Quincy Enunwa. In the only
regular-season game Darnold and Crowder played together in Week
1, Crowder was targeted on 12 of his 38 snaps in the slot (he
ran 46 snaps overall that day).
Without going overboard on the small sample size of one game,
a perfectly legit knock on Crowder is too much competition for
the area of the field a slot is expected to work most of the time
(mostly short and over the middle and in front of the chains).
Bell and even TE Chris Herndon could and probably will steal plenty
of potential looks in those areas. However, Gase noted shortly
after signing Crowder that the Duke product offered an element
of speed none of his previous slot receivers had. While that's
not to say Crowder is or ever will reach the same level of production
as Welker or Landry, it means he theoretically possesses more
big-play ability than they did. In short, he's more than an extension
of the running game.
While Crowder is probably no longer a candidate for 90-100 catches
following three consecutive slow weeks with Siemian and Falk under
center, the fact is that it's still not out of the question. His
current 7.9 yards per catch will almost certainly increase as
defenses eventually get tired of him moving the chains on the
short stuff. Against the aforementioned less-than-stellar group
of corners he is expected to face over the second half of the
season, it would be stunning if he didn't. Even though Crowder
is the current WR58 in fantasy points per game, I like his chances
of finishing as a top-36 option if he and Darnold are fortunate
enough to stay healthy the rest of the way.
Herndon's triumphant return - along with this story idea - took
a bit of a hit when it was announced Wednesday morning (Oct. 9)
that the second-year tight end injured his hamstring while working
out on his own last week near the end of his four-game suspension
to begin the season. Nonetheless, it only delays what many of
his strongest supporters believe: he can be a low-end fantasy
TE1, especially given the current landscape of the position. Is
he going to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Travis
Ertz and George
Kittle? Of course not. Especially after missing the first
four games of 2019, expecting much more than a repeat of last
year's 39-502-4 line with players like Bell and Crowder around
would be unrealistic.
Although I don't put a ton of weight into coach-speak, it did
pique my interest when Gase referred to Herndon as a "unicorn
type player" in February shortly after getting the job. It's
the type of compliment coaches don't typically hand out, especially
to young players they didn't draft. Coaches almost always find
ways to get players they consider "matchup nightmares"
the ball, and Herndon is undoubtedly one of those kinds of players.
So while Herndon's immediate availability is unknown given the
hamstring injury, it seems realistic that he'll be able to compete
with the likes of Gerald Everett (46.3 PPR fantasy points), Jason Witten (44.3) and James O'Shaughnessy (41.3), who currently rank
as the TE11, TE12 and TE13. Everett's ascension is based primarily
on two games, Witten's spot has much to do with his team's early
schedule and unsustainable touchdown production, while O'Shaughnessy
basically nickel-and-dimed his way to his ranking before suffering
a torn ACL.
Eight fantasy points per game is not a high standard to set,
but that's about what it takes so far this year to achieve low-end
TE1 production. Herndon scored at least eight PPR fantasy points
seven times in 10 games between Weeks 6 and 16 as a rookie. It's
debatable how significant that achievement is considering it came
under a different coaching staff, but it's still notable he accomplished
that feat at a position notorious for not getting production from
rookies. I still like him as a potential difference-making piece
in the second half of the season.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.