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You love to read it when you somehow had the foresight to start or avoid these players, you hate to read it when it's time to figure out how that could have happened: It's The Week In Confounding Fantasy Football! Jared Goff somehow threw for three touchdowns! Brandin Cooks lands in safe harbor against the Jaguars! Duke Johnson comes out of nowhere to rule the Dolphins backfield.
Duke Johnson RB1s the Jets as a surprise Dolphins full-time back
How did this happen? We've had the perfect storm of "surprise, I'm the best back on the team!" happen a few times from the practice squad elevation tracker, especially on Thursday Nights. Your Qadree Ollisons of the world, and so on. What we haven't had this season is that perfect storm interact with the surrounding condition in a way where it creates massive fantasy value. But with several Dolphins backs dealing with the COVID-19 list and injuries, assumed starter Myles Gaskin was mostly shelved in favor of, you guessed it, Duke Johnson.
And with the Jets defense continuing to be the Jets defense, Johnson both ran well and had a massive boost on his way to a 22 carry, 107-yard, two-touchdown day. Johnson has been a habitual fantasy tease over the years, but it's been mostly because he a) can't stay healthy long enough to have a large share of a role and b) his coaches look at his build and assume he can't stay healthy long enough to keep a large share of the role. Johnson adds extra value as a receiver that the Dolphins mostly did not take advantage of, probably because it's hard to involve running backs as pass options on RPOs. It was always a little silly that he was vanquished to practice squad status.
Who can we blame for this? The Jets have been the cure for the common offense all season. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that we thought most of the shape of the production would come through the passing game, and instead, Johnson busted out and capped all your Tua Tagovailoa shares. Robert Saleh, you owe people better than this. We can't just have RB1s getting elevated from the practice squad in the fantasy playoffs, buster.
What's our takeaway? Listen, the Dolphins backfield is an eternal source of entropy. You can't expect Duke Johnson to do this every week, and you certainly can't expect him to be the starting back. Because he's an elevation, technically, you can't even expect Johnson to be a Dolphin next week. Drew Rosenhaus apparently has suitors lined up for him! Even if Johnson is back, you're not starting him with confidence against the Saints just because nobody has ever successfully taken over a Brian Flores backfield. But he deserved better than this. And also, you should start desperation options against the Jets. Yes, that means we're all-in on the James Robinson game in Week 16.
Jared Goff surprisingly destroys the Arizona secondary
How did this happen? Well, we expected a quarterback in the Lions-Cardinals game to go off, we just didn't expect it to be Jared Goff. The Lions followed the common key to wacky football results: Early leads. They were up 10-0 before they reeled off a 97-yard touchdown drive to drain clock and go up 17-0, and the Cardinals simply couldn't stay on the field.
The biggest thing between Goff and his inability to produce has been performance under pressure. Thus, when Goff gets an early lead and opponents have to focus on the run game, he tends to play a little better. The Lions have also steadily increased the number of play-action passes since Dan Campbell took over playcalling. And the intersection of the two of them means that, even without T.J. Hockenson and D'Andre Swift, the Lions have started to create an offensive identity that Goff can generate big games for in the right spot. The Cardinals only sacked Goff twice, and if you look at the defensive pass rush chart from Next Gen Stats, it becomes pretty obvious that none of Arizona's pass rushers were winning their one-on-one battles often:
Who can we blame for this? Arizona had the fourth-best pass defense DVOA in the NFL coming into this week's game, and they were top-10 in Adjusted Sack Rate and had an above-average 25.7% pressure rate. This is supposed to be exactly the kind of defense that would normally give Goff problems. Denver was able to bull over the Lions last week because they were able to stop Detroit on downs a couple of times. I think we may need to actually classify the Detroit Lions offense as semi-problematic to stream against from a D/ST perspective. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it period -- but it may just be that they're not so impotent you can just do it blindly.
What's our takeaway? I thought Amon-Ra St. Brown was pretty good as a streamer against bad defenses, but with him taking a majority of the targets in lieu of Hockenson and Swift, maybe St. Brown is just a late league-winner that flopped onto the waiver wire. Facing the Falcons next week is definitely not going to scare anybody. Goff may be in the high-QB2 consideration line for that start given how easily Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers run attack was able to carve them up. Yes, that's right, we're recommending Lions players in fantasy football now. No, I don't feel good about it.
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Brandin Cooks is back on track against the Jaguars
How did this happen? The worst part of Brandin Cooks' season coincided with Tyrod Taylor's return to the starting lineup. In three starts with Taylor under center in Weeks 11-13, Cooks merely was part of the supporting cast for an offense that hit a more balanced approach. The Texans also were incredibly stagnant with Cooks in keeping him outside in the hopes that Taylor would be able to dial up some one-on-one matchups as he did against the Jaguars in Week 1. The Texans moved him inside more and have given him more balls on screens over the last two weeks, and the result is that Cooks is once again trending up.
The Week 14 route tree is illustrative of Cooks getting used more in the slot again, that was what he really needed to take off again. Using Cooks as a straight-line outside receiver isn't a useful thing for a team that just never throws deep, and the Texans have done some work to get him more horizontal in recent weeks. Cooks put up an extremely low 27.6% of targeted air yards in Week 13. For the season, his rate is at 40.6%. Against the Jaguars in Week 15, the number was 39.3%, just outside the top 10 for the week. And, you know, 102 yards and two touchdowns later, the Texans receiver is helping you ride high in the fantasy playoffs.
Who can we blame for this? Well, the explosion itself owes a lot to the Jaguars defense, which has been a pass funnel all season. Jacksonville allowed just 75 rushing yards, but Cooks' two touchdowns came on a design where he faked blocking on an RPO and released wide-open upfield, and on a screen where they sent a big blitz. Jacksonville's good for some breakdowns, which would be big fantasy news for Week 16 if not for the fact that they're literally facing the team that Zach Wilson quarterbacks.
We also need to give some credit to Davis Mills. Call it locking on to his initial target, call it knowing that Cooks is the number one guy who deserves a big target share. In games Mills has started, Cooks has 70 targets. In games Taylor has started, Cooks has 49 targets. 8.7 targets per game to 8.1. And that's including a large chunk of Cooks' targets from Week 2 in Taylor's favor when Cooks really got going after Mills entered the game.
What's our takeaway? Cooks has re-established himself on the WR2/WR3 baseline as someone who is Texans-proof -- a defense will have to go out of their way to shut him down ala the Patriots game plan in Week 5 if they want to remove him from fantasy consideration. The Chargers do not appear to be such a defense -- you can start Cooks with confidence, if not exactly the belief that the Texans are going to score three touchdowns in a week again.
Mark Andrews roughs up the Packers even without Lamar Jackson
How did this happen? While many of you were still starting Mark Andrews this week because of the state of the tight end position, it was hardly a bet in favor of him having a blow-up performance. Green Bay had only allowed 6.6 fantasy points per game to tight ends and Tyler Huntley was starting. Andrews, the most reliable target in Baltimore's game, repaid your confidence in full:
Huntley led the Ravens to big points, and Andrews was a key factor in erasing some of the less accurate balls, just as he was last week in a similar spot. Maybe we should keep that Lamar Jackson guy out a little longer, eh? Let Andrews have a fair shot with Huntley? Maybe just for the fantasy playoffs? OK, OK, I don't actually have much Andrews this year so we can drop the banter, but it's pretty fascinating that Andrews is doing better with Huntley than he was with Jackson. That's back-to-back 10-catch, 100-yard games for Andrews, this one punctuated with two touchdowns.
Who can we blame for this? Andrews' pre-season ADP was held down unfairly by the Ravens passing attack last year -- it's time to acknowledge that he's a key contributor. But I think we also have to just say that Huntley is great at buying time on his own and that Andrews is winning a lot of his balls outside of structure. This wasn't a "Green Bay's defense is bad" performance -- this was a Mark Andrews is the focal point of a passing attack when Hollywood Brown deep balls aren't on the plate game. And Huntley lived up to it. It's a great problem to have, even if the Ravens have two losses to show for it in the results column.
What's our takeaway? Well, you're starting Andrews. He's a DFS play of note with Huntley right now. We don't know if and when Jackson will be back, but Huntley's rushing upside in and of itself makes him worth a fantasy play, even against a game Bengals defense next week. We all kind of expected the Baltimore defense to fall apart here, and that happened, but Huntley's ability to keep games competitive is exciting news. I wonder if he might be a trade target next offseason for a team lacking a real quarterback solution.