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Thu Dec 26th 2019

Week Fifteen and Sixteen in Review

Riding unexpected players to championships

The fantasy season has come to an end.  I hope you brought home a championship or two.  I was only able to bring home one title in my ten leagues, which was a terrible disappointment since I made it to the semifinals in five of the ten leagues.   That's how fantasy football works in the playoffs, though.  At least we're playing dynasty, and we can keep building our teams.  Before we turn our eyes to the offseason, let's reflect on the last two weeks of the fantasy playoffs.  Here are seven of my observations from the previous two weeks and how they have affected the dynasty value of players.

Unexpected players were started in the playoffs and carried their teams to victory.

  • Like most years, some surprising players were in starting line-ups in the semifinals and finals.  Teams that won in the championship likely had one of these players in their starting line ups.  Breshad Perriman scored 35 points in the semifinals while Mike Evans was out with an injury.  Then he scored 17 points in the finals with Chris Godwin and Evans out.  Teams who trusted in that he'd be the most targeted Buccaneer were rewarded.  I know I lost in the leagues where I played against him and won the league where I had him. 
  • Teams bold enough to start Kenyan Drake were rewarded with 42 points in the semifinals and 36 points in the finals.  Drake had twice as many carries as he had in weeks 13 and 14 and carried teams to championships.  An owner in one of my leagues started Drake over Austin Ekeler in the semifinals and won.  He did the same against me in the final and won.
  • Tyler Higbee was a late-season waiver wire addition and finished the season averaging 20 points per game over the last four weeks of the season.  Gerald Everett, who was playing more than Higbee until he was injured, was healthy last week in the finals, so owners had to question which Rams tight end would get the majority of the snaps since they were both healthy.  Those who kept Higbee in their line-up were rewarded with about 100 yards receiving. 
  • You have to laugh when you're starting Ryan Fitzpatrick in your starting Super Bowl line-up, but that's just what many teams did last week, and they were rewarded with four touchdowns and 400 yards passing.  So congrats to owners who started these guys who weeks ago no one expected to impact teams in the playoffs and condolences to those who had to face them.

Two rising rookies impacted teams in the playoffs.

  • Miles Sanders saved his best two games of the year for the semifinals and finals, scoring 35 and 24 points, respectively.  Sanders owners waited a long time before comfortably starting him in their line-ups, but he was a no-brainer these last two weeks.  He was on a lot of championship teams because of his play in week 15 and could have contributed to championships in week 16, even though he slid down on a breakaway run to kill the clock when he could have easily scored another touchdown.  The Eagles finally saw what they hoped to see in Sanders when they drafted him in the second round.  He is the running back of the future for Philadelphia. 
  • Like Sanders, A.J. Brown has solidified himself as the top wide receiver and overall weapon in Tennessee.  He scored 24 points in the semifinal game and 15 in the final though he only had one catch.  He saved his fantasy day in week 16 with a 49-yard touchdown run.  These two guys brought me a lot of joy at the end of the year because they were my #2 and #4 ranked rookies last year before rookie drafts.  It took them some time, but by the end of the year, they were solid starters on many semifinals and Super Bowl teams.

There are new number ones at each position.

  • As the fantasy season comes to an end, there are new number ones at each position in my rankings.  Christian McCaffery pretty quickly moved up to number one in my running back rankings this year, passing up Barkley, Kamara, and Elliot, who were ranked ahead of him when the season started.  He's on pace for the third-ever season with one thousand yards receiving and one thousand yards running.  He touches the ball 24 times per game and does not get injured.  It's hard to say whether playing with back-up quarterbacks this year hurt him (fewer opportunities to score with a back-up) or helped him (many more check-down passes from a back-up).  Either way, he has become the #1 ranked dynasty running back, even though Barkley finally looked like himself again last week. 
  • Michael Thomas was the next wide receiver to leap to the #1 spot in my rankings.  He's completely unstoppable.  His twitter handle, "Can't Guard Mike," is very appropriate.   He set the career record in receptions for a season last week with one more week to play, and he leads wide receivers in catch rate for the second year in a row at 82%.   He has scored 74 more points than the second-highest scoring receiver this year.  He jumped ahead of Devante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins in my rankings by midway through the season.  The only knock on him is the age of Drew Brees.  I kept Hopkins ahead of Thomas for much of the season, mostly because of the longterm connection he can have with the far younger Deshaun Watson. 
  • The next player to jump to the #1 spot in my rankings was George Kittle.  Kittle moved ahead of Kelce and Ertz, who I had ranked ahead of him to start the year.  Kittle put the 49ers on his back the last three weeks of the fantasy season with 280 yards receiving on 24 receptions and two touchdowns.  Ertz's value has dropped a bit since Goedert has been so involved in the offense.  Kelce is just as dominant as Kittle and has a better quarterback, but he is four years older. 
  • The last player to move into the #1 spot in my rankings was Lamar Jackson.  I had a hard time moving him ahead of Partick Mahomes, but I finally did this week.  His rushing ability and the free fantasy points it adds to each game just puts him over the top for me.  He's grown as a passer this year too, leading the league in touchdown passes.  My only concern for him is that his offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, may get a head coaching job next year.  I wonder if his departure or one more year of defensive coordinators studying film could result in less effectiveness in the years to come, but for now, I reluctantly moved Jackson ahead of Mahomes in my rankings.  His was the highest rise among these #1 ranked players, as he was ranked in the teens when the season started.

Three teams have decisions to make regarding their rookie quarterbacks, while two teams have their man of the future.

  • Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock did enough at the end of the year to make their teams' quarterback decisions much tougher.  Gardner Minshew, on the other hand, cooled off after he regained his starting role at the end of the season.  Washington could have a top pick in the draft and be put into a position much like the Cardinals were last year.  Haskins could be traded like Josh Rosen was if they decide they like one of the 2020 quarterback prospects more than Haskins.  Like last year with Arizona, it will largely depend on who they name as their head coach.
  • Denver should also have a reasonably high draft pick.  Lock's injury early in the season hurt Denver's chance to assess his value.  He's not played as many games as Haskins, so Denver has to decide with less context.  I have not seen enough to become a believer in Lock, but I was also not a fan of his during the draft process last year.
  • Jacksonville has already made one decision by starting Minshew over Foles, but he certainly did not do enough to prove they made the right decision.  Jacksonville is likely to have a new coaching staff too, but that's not for sure.  Minshew did create quite a buzz in the fanbase, making him harder to bench, but those feelings may have changed given his play to end the season.
  • Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones, however, have proven to be capable franchise quarterbacks.  They were the two most controversial picks in last year's NFL draft.  Many thought Murray was too small to be an NFL franchise quarterback and that Kliff Kingsbury's offense would not work in the NFL.    Murray finished as the #10 quarterback this year, and Kingsbury's offense proved viable. 
  • Daniel Jones was controversial because the Giants drafted him as the second quarterback at pick #6, while most draft analysts had other quarterbacks rated higher than Jones.  It was also a controversial pick because of what it meant for Eli Manning, whom Jones would compete with to start for the Giants.  He did not begin the year as the starter but ended the year as the #14 quarterback based on average points per game.  If he did not fumble and throw interceptions at such a high rate, he would have finished even higher.  Those are very improvable mistakes. 

Two teams need to sign their quarterbacks to new contracts.

  • Tampa Bay and Tennessee should sign their quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Ryan Tannehill, to long-term contracts.  Both teams have played well enough to not be in the running for the top quarterbacks in the NFL draft, and both quarterbacks did enough to prove they can lead their teams to wins.  Winston's carelessness with the ball and possible NFL record number of interceptions (depending on week 17) are infuriating, but there is also so much he does to help the team win.  He has the type of coach, Bruce Arians, who tolerates interceptions and likes to throw the ball downfield as Jameis does.  Their defense is improving, and they could draft a running back this year.  That would help Jameis out a lot.
  • Ryan Tannehill should be resigned too.  He's frustrating in his own way in that he is on an offense that passes the ball less than 20 times per game on average.  Even so, he has been incredibly efficient and was the #10 ranked quarterback in average points per game since he was named the starter.  He's the perfect type of quarterback for his coaching staff, which relies on an efficient quarterback, good running game, and great defense.

Two fringe wide receivers are worth stashing on rosters.

  • Two wide receivers on teams with suspect depth charts have been worth picking up here at the end of the season.  I picked them up in several leagues and am eager to hold them this offseason to see what their teams do in the draft and free agency.  Greg Ward, a former quarterback in college, emerged as the leading receiver in Philadelphia.  DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are under contract but always injured.  Agholor is likely to go to another team in free agency.  J.J. Arcega-Whiteside did not make the most of his opportunities at the end of the year, though I am still hopeful for him.  I'm holding onto Ward to see what the Eagles do this offseason.
  • Steven Sims was the most targeted wide receiver in Washington the last two weeks of the season, and he scored three touchdowns.  Terry McLaurin has solidified his role as a starter, deep-threat, and play-maker in Washington, but no one else has solidified a role there.  Trey Quinn, injured much of the year, will be on the team next year, but he couldn't beat out the rookies they brought in last year.  I'm still higher on Kelvin Harmon than most analysts, but at the end of the year, Sims held off Harmon and Paul Richardson.  I'm going to hold on to him to see what Washington does this offseason.

At least five teams need to target quarterbacks in the NFL draft.

  • Cincinnati and Miami are surely going to draft quarterbacks in this year's NFL draft, but I think three other teams need to do so as well.  I believe Indianapolis, Oakland, and the Los Angeles Chargers also need to draft quarterbacks. 
  • Jacoby Brissett looked awful to end the season.  He was incredibly inaccurate.  He's a capable back-up but should not be thought to be the quarterback of the future in Indianapolis. 
  • Derek Carr is not the long-term answer in Oakland, either.  He's a safe quarterback in that he rarely throws interceptions and has a high completion percentage, but that's because he checks down all the time.  The Raiders need an upgrade at quarterback, and they have the picks to make it happen.
  • It's sad, but it looks like Phillip Rivers is taking the path of Eli Manning.  Next year he could be benched if they draft a quarterback as the Giants did.  I believe that is what they need to do.

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