Welcome back loyal 5thDownFantasy readers! With Week 11 officially in the books we’re now getting a clearer look at who the clear division leaders and playoff teams will be in the NFL. More importantly, we’re getting down to the lasts few weeks of the regular season for fantasy, and owners are jockeying for position while counting every single point. With that in mind, I have a run-down of standouts this week that features some big names making their first appearances as well as some old friends stopping by to say hello again. Let’s catch up:
T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis Colts)
It may have taken a bit longer than most owners would have liked but the vintage Andrew Luck/T.Y. Hilton connection is officially BACK! The perennial All-Pro level wideout enjoyed a career day against the usually stout Titans defense on Sunday, shredding them in both the deep and intermediate games (9 Rec/155 Yds/2 TDs). Those 9 receptions came on 9 targets from Luck and resulted in both a perfect catch rate and a highlight reel worthy tip toe into the end zone late in the game.
Hilton has graduated from his status as a shaky/injury prone fantasy asset at the perfect time to help you run the table in the fantasy playoffs and there’s little reason to believe he can’t replicate his production from this past week. On the year, when Hilton is on the field he’s earning an average of 8 targets per game (with double digit upside), and he’s making the most of every catch.
Just last week against Jalen Ramsey and the once feared Jacksonville Jaguars, Hilton caught 3 passes and turned them into 77 yards. That’s an impressive turnaround for such a small amount of potential production, and that’s Hilton’s calling card. He’s not just a deep threat, he’s not just a great route runner, he’s a player that can take what his quarterback gives him and make the absolute most of it in any scenario he’s put in. That X factor makes Hilton an invaluable fantasy WR2 down the stretch and a player that the Colts will be calling on early and often each week.
D.J. Moore (Carolina Panthers)
Keeping with the theme of rising stars with shortened first names, I give you the monster in the making known as D.J. Moore. When Moore was drafted 24th overall in this past year’s NFL Draft by the Panthers I thought to myself “Wow, they just drafted another Devin Funchess, what’s the big deal?”.
Well, it turns out the big deal is that I was wrong to judge this kid by his cover and the reality is that he’ll likely be the number one waiver wire claim in most fantasy leagues this week. The reason for Moore’s rise to prominence on your wire is what he did to the Detroit Lions secondary on Sunday (7 Rec/157 Yds/TD). Moore EXPLODED into the national consciousness with by far his best performance yet in Panther blue, and he did it behind a steadily growing trust and target share with his quarterback. When Cam Newton is flustered, he makes bad decisions and air mails the ball down the field fairly often, and before Moore arrived on the scene he didn’t have anyone reliable down there to clean up his mess.
Now, with Moore rising to his first-round potential, Newton has found both his emergency clean up man down the field and his premiere red zone target. The rookie’s red zone chops were proven late in the game on a gorgeous TD grab in the back of the end zone, which saw Moore fully extend, drag his feet and secure the grab. That kind of play-making ability mixed with his versatility in the Panthers run/pass games make Moore one of the brightest rising stars from this past year’s draft. Oh, and he also has one of the JUICIEST playoff schedules for fantasy purposes imaginable (CLE/NO/ATL). Good luck on the wire everyone, hope you’ve got that No. 1 priority!
Kenny Golladay (Detroit Lions)
The big man in Honolulu blue is back on my run down and I couldn’t be happier to see No. 19 return. Anyone who’s read my recap column this season knows that I’m a big fan of Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions. Those who watched the Lions/Panthers game this past Sunday now understand exactly why I’m such a big fan; the kid is the heir apparent to Megatron.
Fans in Detroit and NFL pundits have already taken to calling Golladay “Baby-Tron”, and the nickname fits him like a glove. His physicality and play-making ability combined with his size make the 2nd year WR damn near impossible to guard for opposing corners, and his target share has skyrocketed since Golden Tate left town. Since the Tate trade, Golladay has seen his targets per week skyrocket from (4-6) to an unbelievable (13-14) over the past two weeks alone! In fact, Golladay’s 27 combined targets from the past two weeks are only 9 short of his total targets from the first eight weeks of the season (36). The Lions coaching staff has fully embraced the greatness of Kenny G, and I advise all fantasy owners to do the same. The sophomore stud is an elite FLEX option and a strong WR2 for the rest of the season (with major PPR upside). Get this man in your line-up and enjoy watching him throw defenders to the ground on a weekly basis.
Gus Edwards (Baltimore Ravens)
Alright guys, let’s defuse the tension and address the elephant in the room here: who the hell is Gus Edwards? I mean, seriously, who is this guy? I, like most fantasy owners, only knew of three men in the Baltimore backfield (Alex Collins/Buck Allen/Ty Montgomery), but it appears that John Harbaugh has a new trick up his sleeve in the backfield.
That trick is Edwards, the former Florida/Rutgers University RB that went un-drafted this past year but was picked up by Baltimore for its practice squad. Looking at his college resume, he looks like a solid player (350 Car/1,690 Yds/18 TDs over four years), but for some reason Edwards was looked over in the NFL Draft.
Well, fast forward to this past Sunday, and I’m sure a lot of those teams felt pretty foolish for not taking Edwards seriously. Paired with fellow rookie Lamar Jackson, Edwards sliced through the Bengals run defense like a knife through butter (17 Car/115 Yds/TD and 2 PT) and showing that he’s more than capable of thriving at the pro level.
The question mark that surrounds Edwards is his sudden inclusion into the offense with Jackson under center. With so much money still owed to incumbent starter Joe Flacco it’s fair to assume the Ravens will let Flacco finish the year under center if he’s healthy enough to resume playing. That may mean that Edwards goes back into the cupboard for a while, but who knows? This could have been Edwards’ coming out game and the Baltimore RB committee could become an even more muddled mess than it already is. Either way, the kid shined against all odds on Sunday, and he deserves the credit for his work out there. Good on ya, Gus.
Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys):
“FEED HIM MORE, FEED HIM MORE, FEED HIM MORE!”
That isn’t just the chant of the former WWE wrestler Ryback, it’s the unified mantra of Cowboys fans across the nation in regards to the team’s handling of superstar tailback Ezekiel Elliott. In every meaning of the word, Zeke has been a superstar in 2018. For fantasy purposes he’s posted double digit totals in all but two weeks and this past month alone he’s scored totals of 11/30/26. In short, Zeke is always hungry and the Cowboys are finally feeding him the portions he so rightfully deserves. Just look at the last two weeks alone:
Against Philadelphia: (19 Car/151 Yds/TD, 6 Rec/36 Yds/TD)
Against Atlanta: (23 Car/122 Yds/TD, 7 Rec/89 Yds)
Tally up all that Zeke’s done so far this season and you’re looking at 169 total fantasy points through 10 weeks. For reference, he scored 177 TOTAL points in 2017. He’s on pace to shatter his totals from last years’ campaign in every imaginable offense category, and the reason is simple: he’s become a more versatile beast. Dallas looked around and realized that Dak Prescott didn’t have enough reliable pass catchers, and Zeke raised his hand and said, “I can do that too”.
He’s proven his merit in the passing game with each passing week and has become one of the best dual threat backs in a league that’s becoming increasingly aware of that kind of backs potential. Elliott’s caught 42 of 56 passes thrown his way this season, showing an above average ability in the receiving game and a steady reliance on his growth from his offense. This team runs (literally and figuratively) through No. 21, and he likes it that way. You’re already starting him in all leagues moving forward, but I encourage you to watch him in the passing game and compare his skills to last year. The growth has been impressive.
Saquon Barkley (New York Giants)
Giants fans may be angry that they didn’t end up with Sam Darnold/Baker Mayfield/Josh Rosen in this past year’s draft, but I gotta believe it’s hard to stay angry when they see what Saquon Barkley is capable of.
Barkley has eclipsed 100 total yards in all but ONE game this season through 10 games, and he’s doing it without even breaking a sweat. The No. 2 overall pick from this year’s draft has proven that his production at Penn State was less of a showing of how bad college defenses are and more-so an exhibition of just how scared NFL defenses should have been/should be moving forward. The rookie’s usage rates in this offense are off the charts in both the rushing/passing games. He’s averaging 18-20 carries per game while also accumulating anywhere between 8-10 targets from Eli Manning.
In short, Barkley is the closest thing to PPR fantasy gold you can find short of Christian McCaffrey, and his usage rates will only continue to go up as the Giants move into their new era post-Eli Manning. Barkley was heralded as a legendary draft prospect before he was even selected; he had the torch metaphorically passed to him (in person) by one of his heroes in Adrian Peterson, and he’s given fantasy owners and Giants fans alike a reason to smile. Load up Saquon as an elite level RB1 for the fantasy playoffs and make sure to hold onto him in your dynasty leagues if at all possible. His star has only just begun to shine.
Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
Drew Brees is your 2018 NFL MVP if the season were to end today. I love what Patrick Mahomes is doing in Kansas City; regardless of his rookie status he’s absolutely incredible. But Brees is just that much better. Drew Brees is seemingly breaking all-time NFL records on a weekly basis (passing yards/passing TDs) and these are records that most QB’s can only dream of. Yet Brees has secured one and is well on his way to grabbing the other by seasons end.
I don’t need to sell you on liking Drew Brees because, well, he’s arguably the most beloved player in the entire league outside of possibly J.J. Watt and Larry Fitzgerald. Brees’ calm confidence, veteran experience and trademark humility and humanitarianism make him the all American role model that parents like to point to as an example for their kids, and fellow players like to look to for advice both on the field and in their lives. Drew Brees is all of these things, and he’s an even better football player. Place those accolades and compliments about his character aside and you’ll find one of the greatest players to ever grace this game.
Brees’ single season TD:INT ratio in 2018 is an unthinkable 25:1, one of the greatest starts to a season by any quarterback in league history. He’s completing around 80% of his passes regardless of the opponent and he’s making history on a near weekly basis. For fantasy purposes, Brees has the look of a king-maker. If you own him, you’re most likely playoff bound, and if you’re playoff bound with Brees there’s a very good chance you’ll be hoisting the league championship high in December/January. He’s scored (31/28/30) points over the past three weeks, and his fantasy play-off schedule is the easiest you’ll find for any player in any format (TB/CAR/PIT). That’s three straight bottom 10 pass defenses in the most important weeks of the fantasy year.
If Brees can continue this run of dominance, he will be/should rightfully be your 2018 NFL MVP. As a man that’s somehow never earned that distinction, I believe it’s the perfect final accolade to put a cherry on top of a legendary career.
Keenan Allen (Los Angeles Chargers)
The final name on this week’s recap rundown is a name I’m very happy to finally be able to include: Keenan Allen. Truth be told, I haven’t had a lot of nice things to say about Allen so far in 2018. Despite being the de facto No. 1 option in a high-powered Chargers offense, Allen had largely been a disappointment this season. From Week 1 to Week 9 he had scored only ONCE despite a healthy target share of (8-10) per game from QB Philip Rivers.
Something happened in Week 9 though, something wonderful and something long overdue: Keenan Allen started looking like the player we all drafted back in September. While Allen didn’t score a TD in Week 9 he did go for a season high 124 yards on 6 receptions. That opened the floodgates and since then Allen has tallied totals of (15/11/15) in three straight contests and scored a touchdown in back to back weeks.
With a steady, high target share (10-12), and a surging level of productivity in the red-zone I think Allen is a great rising option for both your fantasy team and the 7-4 Los Angeles Chargers. Yes, the Chargers are 7-4 national media, talk about them more.
MY TAKEAWAY FROM WEEK 11:
Frank Reich is the unheralded offensive genius of the NFL.
I can say honestly without risk of hyperbole or overstatement that the image of Nick Foles, Jeffrey Lurie, Doug Peterson and the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles raising the Lombardi Trophy is one of the happiest moments of my life. It was the long overdue, joyful culmination of a legacy of getting so close but failing, and it was a legacy that spanned generations of Eagles fans that hoped beyond hope for that day to finally come. For some it never did, and it was with that weighted expectation, and that pure, unadulterated joy that a city was brought to tears when their beloved team finally brought the Lombardi trophy home. We focused on the superstars, the head coach and the unbelievable gravity of the moment, but we didn’t take stock of how we got there.
The underdog mantra played a major role in both the public identity of the 2017 Eagles and the rallying cry of Philadelphia as a city. But from an offensive stand-point this team was never an underdog, and from a coaching stand-point it was arguably the best coached team in the NFL last season.
The name that stands out among that staff to me is Frank Reich. He stands out both because of his obvious impact on the team while he was here and his even more obvious impact now that he’s gone. Reich was the innovative mind behind the trickery, the scheming and the trademark bells and whistles that made the 2017 Eagles offense damn near unstoppable. Without him the Eagles have been left under the care of Mike Groh, the team’s Wide Receivers coach from last season, and notably the former OC of the dreadful 2016 Los Angeles Rams.
The difference has been night and day; the Eagles are now one of the worst teams in the league in almost every major offensive category, and their innovative offense from just nine months ago has faded to a dull, lifeless vanilla. While the defending champs are now left toiling away at 4-6 in the equally terrible NFC East, there’s something interesting happening over in Indianapolis.
You see, in the offseason, the Indianapolis Colts saw the writing on the wall and offered Frank Reich a head coaching position with their team. With superstar QB Andrew Luck back on the field and underrated line play on both sides of the ball, Reich was inheriting a team very much like the 2017 Eagles. What he’s done since arriving in Indianapolis is staggering: he’s made them a playoff caliber team.
At 5-5 the Colts obviously have a way to go before they reach true “playoff favorite” status across the league, but this team is well within striking distance of an AFC wild card spot and they’re in this position because of some of the same tricks Reich used in Philadelphia. Reich has worked to Andrew Luck’s strengths, allowing him to scramble and throw down field while instilling a trust in an offensive line that most casual NFL viewers probably still think is terrible. He’s opened up a three-pronged run game with Jordan Wilkins/Marlon Mack/Nyheim Hines that is routinely gashing opponents both through the air and on the ground (just as Clement/Ajayi/Blount did last season).
All of these factors have quietly and steadily manifested themselves into the 5th highest scoring offense in the league this year. The Colts are scoring an average of 29 points per game, throwing for 270 yards through the air and rushing for 112 yards on the ground. Reich has completely up-ended the expectations of not only the Colts fanbase, but the national media’s perception of two teams. The Eagles now look like a talented franchise in turmoil that needs a major coaching turnaround at the OC position, and the Colts now look like a dangerous wild card team with the potential to be the class of their division, locking horns with the Texans for years to come.
I’ll forever be grateful as an Eagles fan for what Frank Reich did for both my city and me personally as an Eagles fan. I miss him every week that he’s not on the sidelines, but I also recognize that when you win a Super Bowl you’re bound to lose some staff members to teams that want what made you so great. Indianapolis won the lottery in getting him as its coach, and the national media is just now starting to come around and realize how talented Reich really is. It’s time that his name gets included in the same conversation with the McVay/Shanahan/Nagy’s of the modern NFL world. He DID beat all of them last year, after all.