By James Reagan
With just Monday Night Football left to play, Week 11’s leaderboard has teammates occupying the top two spots. Antonio Brown had a masterful performance on Thursday Night Football with 32 standard points, thanks to his 10 receptions for 144 yards and three touchdowns. Only four points behind him with 28 was his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who went 30-of-45 for 299 yards and four touchdowns.
The Brown-Roethlisberger combo was absolutely lethal this week for anyone who started both players (and also for Steelers’ homers that start as many players as they can from their favorite team). It serves as a valuable reminder that sometimes stacking multiple players from the same offense can be an extremely rewarding fantasy strategy. Just ask fantasy managers who have multiple Philadelphia Eagles regularly in their lineups or who had several Houston Texans as starters before DeShaun Watson’s injury.
Brown’s season-best performance also serves as a reminder that as shocking and random as fantasy can be, there are still going to be many weeks where the players you drafted super early are going to be the ones with the monster games. Closely behind Roethlisberger, top quarterbacks Tom Brady and Kirk Cousins tied for 25 points. Consensus first-rounder LeSean McCoy had a season-best 24 points, despite the fact that his Buffalo Bills were never competitive in their 54-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Drew Brees, a top 5 QB in most drafts, got 21 points and Brandin Cooks, a second or third round pick in drafts, got 20.
Now, there still was plenty of the same old madness this week with good players doing nothing and random players trending on Twitter because unexpected huge games. However, the success of players like Brown, Brady and McCoy should continue to inspire fantasy managers to expect big things from them as the fantasy playoffs draw very near.
Note: Points in this article are based on ESPN standard scoring.
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Surprise of the Week: Keenan Allen, LAC WR.
Though expectations were high for Keenan Allen entering this season, he had only managed two double digit performances before Week 11. Part of that had to do with the Chargers feeling compelled to feed their impressive young RB Melvin Gordon. Another excuse that Allen owners could point to was the decline of Philip Rivers and an overall disappointing Chargers team that seemed to always lose the super close games.
Whatever the reason for Allen’s struggles, they were not at all visible against the Bills. The Chargers as a whole rolled on offense with 54 points scored; four Chargers’ offensive players scored touchdowns and even two defensive touchdowns that helped contribute to 24 fantasy points for the defense/special teams. The defense was very close to being this week’s surprise, but Allen’s 27 points and his current third-place position on the leaderboard puts him just ahead of them. Allen caught 12 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, his first multi-touchdown game of the year and his third 100+ receiving yard game of the year.
His performance is all the more inspiring when considering that a kidney injury and a torn ACL caused him to miss a total of 23 games in the last two seasons. Even despite his injury history and the drafting of Mike Williams in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Chargers brass have continued to talk him up as their top receiver and fantasy experts considered him a dark horse candidate to finish in the top 10 for receivers. Allen dominated the targets among Chargers in Week 11 with 13, though the next-most targeted player was the rookie Williams with eight in just his fifth career game.
Williams’s time may yet come later this season, but it’s clear now that Allen is the top Chargers’ receiver and that he does enjoy plenty of opportunity in that position. Still, Allen fantasy owners should note that prior to this week, Allen had five consecutive weeks where he either scored four or six fantasy points. He’s been consistently getting between 40-60 receiving yards, but he’s not scoring touchdowns or breaking away long receptions. Allen remains a risky starter with huge upside, but sadly not a huge track record of living up to that upside.
Drew Brees, NO QB.
It feels weird to say this, but Drew Brees topping 20 fantasy points is a somewhat rare occurrence in 2017. Week 11 was only his third game of over 20 points in standard leagues, with both of his other two coming way back in September. The Saints may have successfully reinvented themselves as a team with a tough run game and stingy defense, but Week 11 showed that sometimes they will need their All Pro QB to throw them to victory.
Brees was more than up to the task yesterday with the majority of his 21 points coming during a surgical fourth quarter where he threw both of his touchdown passes, completed 11 consecutive passes and was able to tie the game late with the Washington Redskins. Brees went 29-of-41 for 385 yards, the aforementioned two touchdowns and one interception. Both the yardage from the frenzied fourth quarter drives and the two touchdowns worked wonders in elevating the final numbers for Brees, who for much of the game looked like he was headed for a single-digit dud.
While Brees fantasy owners enjoyed this week’s performance, they may still have some concern that the blossoming Saints’ running game is going to reduce the opportunities for Brees to put up tons of points. It’s really a strange complaint because the Saints’ rushing offense is a big reason why they’ve won eight straight and become a top NFC contender. If this week showed anything, it’s that the Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara one-two punch is going to open up the pass for those situations where Brees does need to throw. He may not be in contention for highest scoring QB in 2017, but Brees should still be a dependable starting QB for the rest of the season.
Samaje Perine, WAS RB.
Extremely high injury risk remains a brutal fact of life for running backs in today’s NFL as evidenced by a horrible injury suffered by Chris Thompson of the Redskins. Thompson had been the most explosive Redskins offensive player this season, so his fractured fibula suffered in the loss to the Saints is a deeply frustrating development for the team. It is unclear whether or not he will return this season, but even if he does, it will be late in the season.
That makes it next man up for the Redskins and for at least one week, that next man took advantage of the opportunity. Rookie Samaje Perine ran the ball 23 times for 117 yards and one touchdown. He also had one reception for nine yards, showing that he clearly has a ways to go before he can match Thompson’s numbers in that department. Perine also needs to work on protecting the football, since he’s already got one lost fumble in his 66 rushing attempts this season.
Week 11 was by far Perine’s best rushing game in his young career. He was largely an afterthought on offense before, with both Thompson and Rob Kelley ahead of him on the depth chart. Par for the course for the Redskins’ frustrating 2017 season, both Kelley and Thompson have now been lost to injury. Perine now has the look of a possible every-down back as the last man standing and so he should be added off the waiver wire and plugged into starting lineups in standard leagues.
Blaine Gabbert, ARI QB.
As Blaine Gabbert’s 19-point game goes to show, fantasy football can be a really strange game. The 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars’ first-round pick (and consensus bust) has somehow made a career as a semi-productive backup QB with the San Francisco 49ers and now the Arizona Cardinals. Gabbert’s Cardinals debut didn’t really have much fanfare going in, since it mostly just seemed like a desperation move made because of Drew Stanton’s awful numbers this season.
Then Week 11 happened where Gabbert and the immortal Ricky Seals-Jones combined to jumpstart the Cardinals pass offense and provide fantasy points to literally no one. Well, unless it was a Gabbert family member or someone who likes seals more than they like winning in fantasy. Yes, Larry Fitzgerald also had a big day with nine catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, which clearly pleased his fantasy owners, but that still doesn’t take away from the really surprising Gabbert and Seals-Jones connection.
Gabbert’s final numbers were 22-of-34 for 257 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He finished tied for fifth among all QB’s with 19 points, which at the very least should make him a waiver wire pickup for the desperate. Yet this is a situation where enthusiasm should be tempered, because even though Gabbert’s next start will be a chance for revenge against the team that drafted him, they have the top passing defense in football and have made far better quarterbacks look worse. I’d be waiting for at least one more big performance before adding him, much less being brave enough to start him.
Rob Gronkowski, NE TE.
Is it time to worry about Gronk? Over the summer, fantasy experts were so confident of Rob Gronkowski’s dominance at the position that he was alone in the top tier of tight ends. Gronkowski is still second among tight ends for the 2017 season, with 85 points. That number though is still disappointing from his own admittedly lofty standards and his Week 11 did little to calm any worried fantasy owners.
Despite the New England Patriots blowing out the Oakland Raiders 33-8 in Mexico City, Gronkowski had just three receptions for 36 yards. He did catch all of his targets though.
Brady’s favorite targets this past week were his two starting receivers Cooks and Danny Amendola, both of whom had nine targets. Both players were very productive with each scoring a touchdown and each topping 60 receiving yards. The Raiders’ pass defense has been a mess in 2017, so it was not surprising to see the Patriots capitalize as their offense continues to look like one of the hottest ones in football. Yet even with the favorable matchup, Gronk didn’t produce and he now has totaled single digit fantasy points in three of his last four games.
For normal tight ends, Gronkowski’s five points in Week 7 and his seven points in Week 10 would have been viewed as average. That’s a testament to how high the expectations are for him and to how much better he’s been than the average starting tight end. From an individual standpoint, it also doesn’t help Gronkowski that the Patriots are committed to spreading the ball out among their wide receivers, their running back committee and even the two backup tight ends behind Gronk. Still, Gronkowski is tied with Chris Hogan for the team-lead with five touchdowns and he is still a player that is frequently looked for in the redzone by Brady, so there is reason for fantasy owners to feel confident that Gronkowski will get through this mini-slump and produce more in upcoming weeks.
Adrian Peterson, ARI RB
The 32-year-old Peterson has been the very definition of feast or famine ever since he was traded to the Cardinals in October. He stunned the NFL world with 134 yards and 25 fantasy points in his Cardinals debut in Week 6. There was also a 13-point performance by him in Week 9, but in his other three performances, he has had three or fewer points. Week 11 was firmly in the famine department, with Peterson totaling three points on 14 carries for 26 yards and one reception for 13 yards.
Though Peterson has essentially no competition in the Cardinals’ backfield, the team is not good enough to control the pace of games and to be in positions where they need to run out the clock. Even in his prime, Peterson was not an elite pass-catching RB and now at age 32, he’s not going to usually be included when the Cardinals are running the hurry up offense. Sadly, Peterson will be facing two difficult run defenses over the next two weeks with the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 12 and the Los Angeles Rams in Week 13. He may be one of the rare starting running backs that should be benched if you’re able to find another running back or wide receiver to go in his place.