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 which cold starts we should buy and which ones we should ignore:
Paul Ghiglieri (@FantasyGhigs): Believe it – Stefon Diggs; Ignore It – DeAndre Hopkins
Reasoning: Stefon Diggs has no health-related issues derailing his productivity. He didn’t lose his starting quarterback like some other receivers. Those would be easier, and more preferable, reasons to tolerate his underperformance because they are only temporary. However, what has changed is the offensive philosophy of the Vikings. HC Mike Zimmer fired OC John DeFilippo and promoted Kevin Stefanski to carry out his run-first vision for the team’s identity. Through five games, Diggs has target totals of just two, seven, three, seven, and four. He has just one game with more than three receptions all season. Compounding the problem is the fact the Vikings field a strong defense that keeps them from having to play from behind most weeks. Barring a coaching change that removes Zimmer from power and frees the passing attack from purgatory, it’s hard to see a reversal of fortune for Diggs’ receiving numbers. This week, however, the Vikings host the Philadelphia Eagles, a team stout against the run with a strong offense. There is a realistic chance Minnesota will throw more in this game. However, the next five weeks afterward feature games against Detroit, Washington, Kansas City, Dallas, and Denver before a Week 12 bye. Owners can hope the Lions, Chiefs, and Dallas offenses force Kirk Cousins to throw more. Diggs is too talented to not still have some big performances left in him this season, but the inconsistency will continue unless the team starts losing games or finds itself forced to throw.
Top 12 WR's in WOPR (weighted opportunity Rating) from https://t.co/FoGEsYNjkk
Odell Beckham and Deandre Hopkins are struggling in very similar ways, but their volume is also very similarly excellent pic.twitter.com/dAfTeKGgCr
— Peter Howard (@pahowdy) October 11, 2019
DeAndre Hopkins, like Diggs, has not faced injury or lost his quarterback. However, after a 13 target game in Week 1, Nuk hasn’t seen more than eight since. Much of the blame can be directed at Houston’s porous offensive line. Watson just hasn’t had the time to target his talented receivers downfield. That changed last week. While Will Fuller gashed Atlanta in Week 5, Hopkins wasn’t quite as needed, though he did post a respectable 7-88. With Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Oakland on tap, there is no reason why Hopkins shouldn’t be able to break out of his funk. Indy ranks inside the top 12 for total sacks, but Kansas City (20th) and Oakland (24th) lack a fearsome pass rush. All three have been playing better and should force Watson to keep throwing. A 100 yard, multi-TD performance is coming for Hopkins.
David Fenko (@Velcronomics): Believe It – Corey Davis; Ignore It – Dante Pettis
Reasoning: In the movie The Dark Knight, the phrase “I believe in Harvey Dent” is said throughout the movie as a show of support for Dent. For two and a quarter years, I could be caught saying “I believe in Corey Davis,” but my faith is finally flagging. Coming into the season, we had a healthy Marcus Mariota and prior analysis that showed that Davis faced one of the hardest WR schedules in the entire league in 2018. With all of that in hand, I bought in again (at a discount — thankfully) and the Titans have continued to let me down. OC Matt LaFleur is gone and the offense still has no idea how to use a wide receiver. Adding in another good target in A.J. Brown to siphon off what meager targets there is doesn’t help the curious case of Corey Davis. The only hope now is that “Titans WR” isn’t a terminal career disease and he can catch on with a team that knows how to use a wideout after the rookie contract is over.
Throughout training camp, there were concerns about Dante Pettis that weren’t helped by a nagging groin injury. However, coming into the regular season, it looked like Pettis was healthy and ready to go. Two games in and that didn’t look to be the case, as Pettis was only on the field for less than 50% of the snaps and wasn’t seeing any targets. It turns out that he was also suffering an undisclosed pectoral injury that was hampering his ability to play. In Week 3, we saw a flash of the trust we hoped for in 2019 as he was twice targeted in the red zone on the pivotal drive towards the end of the game (adding in a touchdown). Unfortunately, that momentum stalled with a Week 4 bye week and a Week 5 game that never saw the 49ers in a hole. Looking at the Week 5 snap count should give you hope as he was the wideout on the field for the most snaps (63%). Football is a game of talent and opportunity, and I think we’re about to see a flow of targets to Dante Pettis moving forward.
Tom Schweitzer (@QBLTom): Believe It – Odell Beckham Jr.; Ignore It – Le’Veon Bell
Reasoning: I’m not giving up completely on Odell Beckham Jr., but I don’t think we’re going to see the top 5 fantasy receiver he projected to be in the preseason. Beckham has a myriad of things working against him at this point, none of which are likely to go away anytime soon. The Browns can’t protect Baker Mayfield. The Freddie Kitchens offense hasn’t done a great job of scheming guys open. Other than Jarvis Landry, the Browns don’t have any receiving threats, which allows defenses to focus on taking Beckham out of the game. We’re a few weeks away from the weather in Cleveland (and the rest of the AFC North) taking a turn for the worst. On top of all that, Beckham’s schedule in the 2nd half includes some of the best cornerbacks in the league, including Stephon Gilmore, Tre’davious White, Marlon Humphrey, Chris Harris, and Patrick Peterson. If I can find someone who still values Beckham as a WR1, I’m making a deal ASAP.
One of the pleasant surprises of the 2019 season was seeing Le’veon Bell enter the season motivated and in shape, looking refreshed from his year away from the game. Bell has had two bad fantasy games in a row, but consider that he just faced two fo the best run defenses in the league (the Patriots and the Eagles) and he’s playing alongside a 3rd-string quarterback. The volume has been there, so I think once Sam Darnold returns, we’re going to see Le’Veon have some big games. The Jets’ schedule is great after next week’s game against the Patriots, with games against the Giants, Bengals, Redskins, Raiders, and two matchups against the Dolphins. Now seems to be the perfect time to buy low, with Darnold likely to return this weekend and a decent matchup against the Cowboys.
Rich Holman (@nextdoorFFguru): Believe It – O.J. Howard; Ignore It – Christian Kirk
Reasoning: During draft season, I was with the majority in thinking this was O.J. Howard’s time to break out. Boy was I wrong, but what is going on? For starters, the Bucs are more run-heavy this year, as they’ve rushed the ball at the 11th highest rate, 43.38%. In 2018, the Bucs ran the ball just 36.87% of the time, which was the sixth-lowest rate in the league. When Jameis Winston is dropping back to pass, the offensive line has struggled to provide protection, as noted by Winston being sacked the 5th most times in the league. This has led Howard to stay in and block as opposed to running routes. Howard has been on the field for 83% of the Bucs snaps this year, but he has blocked on more than half of those plays. He’s lined up in the slot or spread out wide on just 22% of the snaps he’s played, which is less than half the number from 2018. Despite OC Byron Leftwich saying, “Howard’s time is coming,” I’m not buying it. The Bucs would have to change their offensive philosophy back to a pass-heavy approach and bulk up the offensive line in order for us to see Howard’s 8% target share grow. That target share ranks 34th among tight ends, in case you were curious.
Let's address a couple of O.J. Howard narratives, both fan and media driven:
Perception is that O.J. Howard's role in the #Bucs offense has decreased. Absolutely NOT the case. More present than ever.
He is a capable blocker, but that's not his strength.https://t.co/dFFhQeJ6RY
— Thomas Bassinger (@tometrics) October 10, 2019
Christian Kirk has disappointed some due to not getting into the end zone. During the first four weeks of the season, Kirk led the Cardinals wide receivers in snap rate and leads the Cardinals with a 22% target share. Despite missing Week 5, he is tied for the 31st most targets received. Kyler Murray currently has a 2.0% touchdown rate (passing touchdowns divided by pass attempts), which ranks 31st in the league, just behind Eli Manning. Touchdown rate typically regresses to the mean and if we expect Murray’s touchdown rate to regress, we should also expect his favorite target’s touchdown rate to regress.
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(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)