Staff Playbook: Concerning Stretch Run Player Outlooks

Red Flags for the Stretch Run? Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs) and the QB List Staff tell you which players concern them most moving forward.

Welcome to the QB List Staff Playbook Series. Every week throughout both the season, we will conduct a staff survey, asking multiple fantasy analysts to share their insights on some of fantasy football’s most pressing questions. Essentially, we’re sharing our “playbook” with you, revealing the hard choices and strategic moves we would make to stay ahead of the competition.

This week, the QB List Staff was asked what players should concern fantasy owners most for the stretch run:

 

Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs): Stefon Diggs, WR (TB)

Reasoning: After a cold start to the year in which Minnesota’s passing offense took a backseat to establishing the run, Stefon Diggs effectively turned around his season. He opened the year with just six receptions for 101 yards receiving and one score through the first three weeks, causing many to sell low on him. Diggs rewarded owners who held tight or acquired him via trade by posting four games with 7 catches and 100+ yards in his next five contests, including three with over 140 yards receiving and one game with three touchdowns.

Unfortunately, just as the Vikings had established the perfect play-action balance, fellow receiver Adam Thielen was injured, allowing defenses to make Diggs the focal point of the game plan outside while they tried to prevent Dalvin Cook from gashing them on the ground. Diggs has just four receptions for 53 yards in his last two games operating as the team’s number one wideout without Thielen opposite him. In a tough matchup against Dallas last week, Diggs had to make catches like this to avoid posting another dud:

Moving forward, Diggs faces Denver (top 10 passing defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders ) before a bye in Week 12. Things get a little easier with a palatable matchup against Seattle’s secondary in Week 13, but it’s fair to question how much of an impact Diggs can make for those relying on him for a final playoff push, especially if Thielen is kept out through the bye. If you own Diggs and survive until the first round of your playoffs, likely in Week 14, he gets a mouth-watering matchup with Detroit. Hopefully, Thielen will be healthy enough to return to the field before then and take some attention away.

 

 

 

Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL): David Johnson, RB (AZ)

Reasoning: Through the first six weeks of the season, David Johnson paid off on his first-round fantasy price tag. Johnson averaged nearly 7 targets a game over the first six weeks, and while his rushing totals were lackluster (he only topped 40 yards rushing twice) Johnson’s five total touchdowns and reliable passing game work made him a weekly RB1.

The trouble started during the lead-up to Week 6 when Johnson showed up on the injury report with a back issue. The situation worsened the following week, as Johnson picked up an ankle injury to compound the back injury. That led to his infamous Week 7 performance where he was declared active, received the first carry of the game for two yards, and then did not touch the ball the rest of the way. Johnson proceeded to miss the next two weeks, leading to another disastrous start in Week 10, where he received six touches for 10 yards, lost a fumble, and was benched for Kenyan Drake.

The first issue going forward is the Cardinals’ schedule, as they face a tough San Francisco defense this week followed by a Week 12 bye, which leaves fantasy owners waiting several weeks for much of a payoff. The second issue is Johnson’s health, as coach Kliff Kingsbury said that Johnson “obviously” has been slowed by his back and ankle injuries despite not being listed on last Friday’s final injury report. The final issue is competition for touches, as Kingsbury felt that the recently acquired Drake was the Cardinals’ best option in Week 10, and Chase Edmonds could return from injury following the bye to further complicate issues, as his impressive Week 7 performance filling in for Johnson (27 carries, 126 yards, 3 touchdowns) certainly caught the coaching staff’s eye.

Johnson was on the field for at least 70% of Arizona’s offensive snaps in five of the first six weeks of the season, and even approached 90% of the snaps in several games. It’s awfully hard to see that happening going forward, especially on a 3-6-1 Cardinals team that has its eyes on the future. With increased competition in the backfield and frightening injury concerns, Johnson may find himself on the short side of a committee as the season progresses. Without his usual volume, Johnson will need to increase his efficiency to approach even RB2 status. And for a player clearly playing at less than 100%, Johnson may continue to be a frustrating player to own over the rest of the 2019 season.

 

 

Brandon Miller (@BrandonMillerFB): Mark Andrews, TE (BAL)

Reasoning: With the most fantasy points per 100 snaps and the highest utilization % among tight ends, Mark Andrews’ highly-efficient stat lines have positioned him as the current TE3 overall in Standard leagues and TE4 in PPR. I’m not suggesting that he’s been “lucky” to be in the top four because you don’t produce those types of numbers over a ten-week span unless you’re a legitimately talented player. However, Andrews has been in on just 48% of the Ravens’ offensive snaps this season (42nd among TEs) and has a brutal stretch of upcoming matchups with four of his next six opponents currently top-6 vs TEs, including the Bills (2nd) in Week 15 and Jets (4th) in Week 16 during the fantasy playoffs. Tight end is a thin position at the top so please don’t interpret this as me telling you to trade away Andrews for a pair of gently-used socks; I’m just saying that if you’re searching for that move to put your team over the top, Andrews can likely provide you with a generous return in the trade market given his efficiency.

Before you start sending out feelers to TE-needy teams in your league, make sure you either have a solid backup in place or the guts to stream tight ends the rest of the way. If you are fortunate enough to be a playoff lock, I would consider including Andrews in offers to desperate Austin Hooper, George Kittle, or Evan Engram owners who can’t afford to wait on health improvements.

 

 

Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles): DJ Chark, WR (JAX)

Reasoning: DJ Chark has been one of the biggest surprises of the first half of the fantasy season, putting up 43 receptions (70 targets) for 693 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns in 9 games. But the concern for the second half of the year is the quarterback change from Gardner Minshew to Nick Foles. While Minshew showed a love for Chark, Foles appeared to favor Dede Westbrook as his #1 receiver in the preseason and in the first game of the NFL season.

This is largely due to Westbrook being a slot receiver, and Nick Foles came into ’19 targeting his slot players at the sixth-highest rate over the last two seasons. Chark’s reign as the top dog in Jacksonville may be coming to an end, and for fantasy owners, they should really pay attention to his usage with Nick Foles under center the next few weeks.

 

 

 

Rich Holman (@nextdoorFFguru): Kansas City Chiefs Offense

Reasoning: Just bear with me here folks, as I understand you’re not benching Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, or Tyreek Hill for the fantasy playoffs. Finally healthy from the injury he sustained in October against the Colts, Mahomes needs to be in lineups.

That being said, the Chiefs’ schedule during the fantasy playoffs is downright brutal. Hopefully, you end up with a Week 14 bye and miss the scariest matchup against the Patriots in Foxboro. Currently, New England allows the fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, while allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. I understand some of this is due to their early-season schedule which saw them face the Giants, Dolphins, Redskins, and Browns, as well as two games against the Jets.

If you make it through step one of the gauntlet, the Chiefs’ next task is a matchup against the Broncos. While the Broncos haven’t been as stingy as the Patriots, it’s certainly not sunshine and rainbows. The Broncos have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and it only gets mildly better for the other positions, as they’ve allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and the eight-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. The final battle of the gauntlet is to fight a bear – er, sorry – a fight with the Bears. The Bears have struggled against running backs and tight ends this year, but have done a good job shutting down quarterbacks and wide receivers, as they’ve allowed the seventh-fewest and fourth-fewest fantasy points, respectively. You can add offensive line concerns to this gauntlet of opponents as the Chiefs lost left guard Martinas Rankin and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz to injuries on Sunday.

 

Have a question? Want to know more? Click the Twitter handle of any QBList.com writer above to reach out directly. We’re always happy to help out and talk football!

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

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