The Yays and Nays: Our Season in Review and Picks for Week 18
Congrats to those of you that won championships last weekend!
Which means… Congrats to those of you that had Ja’Marr Chase.
Or… Chase’s quarterback. Ah yes, Joe Burrow. To those of you that have read us throughout the season, you know that every call our models have made don’t always work out, but that’s to be expected! Rarely, however, do they fail as spectacularly as last week when we placed Burrow on our Nay list and ranked him as the 17th best quarterback option.
That’s where we begin this week, as our intro is all about accountability. Think of this as a report card of sorts on our models’ full season performance on Yays and Nays, including some of its best and worst weeks and calls.
Let’s start right at the very top before we dig into the weeds. On the season, we listed a total of 122 players in our articles as either a yay or a nay. As a reminder, all season long, we used the rankings our models produced and compared them to the expert consensus rankings (ECR) at Fantasy Pros. We then went through all of our rankings, compared them with the players’ ECR’s, and then created our articles highlighting players that we were either much higher or much lower on than industry consensus.
To judge whether we were correct or incorrect on our calls, we settled on a method that was as simple as possible. If a player’s final weekly ranking was closer to our rank than their ECR, they were marked as correct and vice versa.
For example, in Week 1, Amari Cooper’s ECR was 21. We had him on our Yay list, with a weekly rank of 10th. He finished Week 1 as WR1. Because our models were higher on him than industry consensus, his finish as WR1 was closer to our ranking of 10th than his ECR. Therefore, it counted as a correct call.
Similarly, we placed Damien Harris on our Yay list last week, also with a weekly rank of 10th. Despite two touchdowns and a solid 17.70-point outing, the New England Patriots won by so much they rested Harris in the second half and he only finished the week as RB17. Because his ECR on the week was 15, this was considered an incorrect call.
So… How did our models do? Drumroll please….
We finished the season 68-54. That is, our projections correctly judged 68 players to be higher or lower than their ECR, with 54 incorrect calls. Pretty solid, especially when judged against experts across the industry.
But since our models are always adapting and learning and discovering new trends, we also calculated how we performed starting in Week 9, halfway through the season. From Week 9 on, we went 39-24, for an excellent rate of 61.9%.
With that established baseline of overall performance, and since it’s still fresh in our minds, let’s start with Burrow and our three worst individual projections of the year, before moving on to our best projections, our best and worst weeks, and our first ever Yays and Nays MVP.
Worst QB Projection: Joe Burrow (CIN) – Week 17 vs. KC (Nay – ECR: 10, Our Rank: 17):
Final Statline: 30-39, 446 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs – Weekly Finish: QB1
Burrow and Chase absolutely eviscerated the Kansas City Chiefs on their way to clinching the AFC North for the Cincinnati Bengals. It was the second of two straight stunning QB1 finishes for Burrow and it capped a fantastic season in which he finished as the quarterback with the highest well-thrown percentage, which measures how often quarterbacks make an on-target, accurate throw.
Worst RB Projection: Kenneth Gainwell (PHI) – Week 8 vs. DET (Yay – ECR: 22, Our Rank: 13):
Final Statline: 13 carries, 27 yards – Weekly Finish: RB73
Gainwell’s problem in Week 8 wasn’t the volume of touches. 13 touches were four more than the nine he received in Week 7 on his way to a top 20 finish after Miles Sanders got hurt. The problem was that 12 of his 13 carries came in the Fourth quarter of a game the Philadelphia Eagles were leading 38-0. Oh, and even though Gainwell was the presumed lead back after Sanders’ injury, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard, instead, each scored two rushing touchdowns and finished the week as RB12 and 13 respectively.
Worst WR Projection: Amon-Ra St. Brown (DET) – Week 7 vs. LAR (Yay – ECR: 40, Our Rank: 33):
Final Statline: 0 targets, 0 receptions – Weekly Finish: Tied WR96
95 wide receivers scored a tenth of a point in Week 7. St. Brown, a yay, scored zero. But what made this week particularly infuriating wasn’t St. Brown’s goose egg. It was that St. Brown ran a route on 30 of Goff’s 36 pass attempts. And Goff never threw his way once! This, towards a player who was clearly the most talented wide receiver on the Detroit Lions. This, to a player who over these last four weeks was the fourth highest scoring wide receiver, behind a couple guys named Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, and Chase (aided by his 55-point bonanza).
Best QB Projection: Sam Darnold (CAR) – Week 5 vs. PHI (Nay – ECR: 13, Our Rank: 24):
Final Statline: 21-37, 177 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT’s, 2 rushes for 10 yards – Weekly Finish: QB33
It was so long ago, but remember that entering Week 5, Darnold was QB6 and people were suggesting his career was about to take off, far away from the ineptitude of the New York Jets. Back then, we called out that Darnold’s fantasy success was boosted by an unsustainable five rushing touchdowns through four weeks – a mark that led the entire NFL. Our models rightly pointed out that Darnold would likely come crashing back to earth against a strong Eagles defense. He did, finishing behind all other 31 starting quarterbacks and backup Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith. Oh, and Darnold has yet to score another rushing touchdown this season.
Best RB Projection: James Robinson (JAC) – Week 15 vs. HOU (Yay – ECR: 19, Our Rank: 5):
Final Statline: 18 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions, 15 yards – Weekly Finish: RB6
In the first game after Urban Meyer was fired as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, we suggested that Robinson was likely to be the biggest benefactor. He had fallen into Meyer’s doghouse and only recorded 15 touches over his previous two games. With our models predicting a course correction, Robinson received 21 touches in Week 15 and recorded his best weekly finish since the Jaguars’ bye week in Week 7.
Best WR Projection: Hunter Renfrow (LV) – Week 9 vs. NYG (Yay – ECR: 30, Our Rank: 11):
Final Statline: 7 catches, 49 yards, 1 TD – Weekly Finish: WR11
In what was probably our best overall individual call on the entire season, our models projected that Renfrow’s season long consistency was likely to be paired with a slight increase in overall opportunities to reach a borderline WR1 level. Not only did he finish as WR11 in Week 9, he did it again in Week 10 and went on to have three top-10 finishes during the rest of the season.
Worst Week: Week 4
Yays: Aaron Rodgers, Chuba Hubbard, Calvin Ridley, Jakobi Meyers
Nays: Derek Carr, Ezekiel Elliott, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Justin Jefferson
By far our worst week of the season, only Meyers and Carr were counted as a success among the eight players we highlighted. Elliott (RB11), Edwards-Helaire (RB12), and Jefferson (WR10) all finished as top-12 plays. Meanwhile, Hubbard (RB36) and Ridley (WR26) failed to even reach the top 25 at their positions, and Rodgers (QB8) finished as a low-tier QB1 after we had him as a top-three play entering the week.
Best Week: Week 9
Yays: Ben Roethlisberger, Nick Chubb, Renfrow
Nays: Jordan Love, Zack Moss, Deebo Samuel
Along with Renfrow mentioned above, Week 9 was a strong week as both Roethlisberger (QB14) and Chubb (RB3) finished within three spots of where our projections ranked them. Moss, during a week in which his ECR rose all the way to 16th, finished as RB50 and was outplayed and out touched by Devin Singletary in the Buffalo Bills confusing 9-6 loss to the Jaguars. Samuel, whose ECR rose all the way to WR4 in Week 9, produced his most disappointing game of the year. It was also the last time he didn’t receive at least five carries in a game. Our only incorrect pick was Love, who, despite finishing the week right on his ECR as QB18, scored only 11.9 fantasy points and threw his only touchdown on the Green Bay Packers’ final offensive play of the game.
MVP: Dak Prescott
Prescott, in his return to the Dallas Cowboys after a gruesome leg injury last season, made our list four times, three times as a yay. In Weeks 1, 10, and 17, Prescott finished the week as QB6, QB2, and QB4 respectively. In his lone appearance as a nay during Week 11, Prescott finished as QB29, his worst performance on the season. His four total appearances was tied for the most of any player and with our models correctly projecting all four of Prescott’s weeks, Dak walks away as the winner of the coveted Yays and Nays MVP!
For the final time, let’s jump around and evaluate some Week 18 projections gathered from some of the top data-driven projections available using several of our AI-powered models.
Note: The ranking to which we compare ours in this piece is the expert consensus ranking (ECR) from Fantasy Pros. These rankings update throughout the week. (We pulled these numbers from Friday.) Once again, we are using PPR unless noted otherwise.
Additional Note: With COVID numbers spiking, there’s always a chance these players could be impacted. As of this writing, none of these players are in the health and safety protocols.
Carson Wentz, QB (IND) vs. JAC (ECR: 15, Our Rank: 9): As will quickly become apparent, most of our spotlighted players this week are playing in meaningful Week 18 games. We start with Wentz, who can help secure a playoff spot for the Indianapolis Colts with a win over the lowly Jaguars.
But that’s proven to be difficult for the Colts, especially in Jacksonville. And so, with the season on the line, it’s time for Wentz to take advantage of the lethal Colts’ ground game and attack the Jaguars through the air. And wow, are the Jaguars a good defense to face to get back on track. Here are the last three QBs the Jags defense have faced: Davis Mills, Zach Wilson, and Mac Jones. That’s three rookies. Here are where they finished respectively: QB12, QB4, QB6.
To call the Jags a defense that’s checked out would be an understatement. It ranks 31st in total points allowed, 30th in quarterback rating, and dead last in forcing turnovers, with six fewer than the next closest team.
Wentz’s ECR of 15 is too low considering his opponent. He’s a low-end QB1 this week.
Devonta Freeman, RB (BAL) vs. PIT (ECR: 29, Our Rank: 18): Freeman and the Baltimore Ravens play their AFC North rival this week and you just know they would love to knock the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoffs in what might be Roethlisberger’s final game in the NFL.
The case for Freeman is simple. The way to attack the Steelers is on the ground. Pittsburgh allows the second most rushing yards per game (139.6) and the most yards per carry (4.84). That is good news for Freeman, because since Week 9, he has led the Ravens’ running backs in carries in eight of their nine games, including the Ravens first game against the Steelers when Freeman posted 97 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in his best game of the season.
Our models are expecting the Ravens to relentlessly run the ball. We’re projecting Ravens running backs to combine for 23 carries. Not including all the runs likely to come from the QB position, 30 rushes from the Ravens this week is well within reach. That volume helps Freeman most, as he’s a solid RB2 during this final week of the football season.
Terry McLaurin, WR (WSH) vs. NYG (ECR: 31, Our Rank: 16): For a spectacular football player who is only 40 yards away from his second straight 1,000-yard season, this is surprisingly McLaurin’s first appearance on our yay list, after two previous appearances as a nay.
McLaurin has been boom or bust all season, with only six games with five or more catches. But one of those games came in Week 2 against the New York Giants, when McLaurin posted 11 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. Now, our projections aren’t suggesting he is absolutely going to do it again, but the Giants have allowed an opposing player to register at least 65 yards and a receiving touchdown in each of their last four games. McLaurin is the most likely player on Washington to be able to continue that trend.
This game does not matter for either team, so the amount of playing time certain star players will receive is always tricky to judge. But with his boom potential factored in and a pretty meaningful 1,000-yard milestone to achieve, McLaurin slots in this week as a legit WR2, with obvious WR1 upside.
Matthew Stafford, QB (LAR) vs. SF (ECR: 6, Our Rank: 10): It’s been an interesting first year in Los Angeles for Stafford. On the one hand, the Rams lead the NFL in yards per play (6.10), rank third in completions of 20 or more yards (62) and are one win away from securing the NFC West title.
On the other hand, Stafford’s 15 interceptions are the second most in the NFL, including six in his last three games. And of all 22 quarterbacks with at least 375 passing attempts on the season, Stafford’s well-thrown percentage (74.6) ranks tied for last, with Taylor Heinicke.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Stafford struggled, the Rams only ran the ball 10 times, and LA’s 10 points was the fewest the team had in any game this season. Since that loss on Monday Night Football to conclude Week 10, the Rams have averaged 24.8 runs per game and have yet to have a game with fewer than 19 rushes. Our projections expect that trend to continue, as Stafford is 19th in projected passing attempts. The lower volume is a critical reason why our models are skeptical that Stafford will be able to provide QB1 value.
Devin Singletary, RB (BUF) vs. NYJ (ECR: 10, Our Rank: 20): It’s pretty simple for the Buffalo Bills. Win on Sunday, and they clinch the AFC East title for the second straight season and guarantee themselves at least one home playoff game.
If Singletary’s ECR seems high, it is, but for good reason. Over the last four weeks, only two RBs have scored more PPR points than Singletary. And this latest stretch has capped a quietly excellent season for the Bills leading rusher. Of all players with 200 touches, Singletary ranks fourth in rate of forcing missed tackles per touch (0.21), behind only Chubb, Najee Harris, and Taylor.
But the problem for Singletary is that he plays in a pass happy offense that is centered around Josh Allen. In the first matchup between these two teams, Singletary only had seven rushing attempts as Allen was busy throwing for 366 yards – his highest output in any game this season. Our models expect the Bills to sling it again, as only Patrick Mahomes has more projected passing attempts than Allen. Because of that, Singletary slots in as a low-end RB2 as opposed to a low-end RB1 like his ECR indicates.
Keenan Allen, WR (LAC) vs. LV (ECR: 7, Our Rank: 15): Here are Allen’s yearly averages from 2017 – 2020: 100.75 catches for 1,195 yards and 6.5 receiving touchdowns. And he’s finished on average as WR9 during that stretch. With one game to go this season, here are Allen’s receiving statistics: 100 catches for 1,086 yards and 6 touchdowns. His current season ranking? WR9. Allen is the epitome of consistency.
But while that consistency is admirable and extremely valuable for season long performance, for one week, it can be a negative. Case in point, Allen has no games this season with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown and as a result, he only has two games this season with more than 20.5 points. Through 15 games, Allen only has four top-10 performances on the season.
Our models are projecting Allen for 13.66 points this week, an output he did not surpass in the Chargers’ Week 4 win over Las Vegas in Allen’s second lowest scoring week of the season. An ECR clearly in the top-10 is too aggressive according to our models. Allen is a good bet to fall squarely in the WR2 range.
Thanks for reading along all season! Until next year…
Graphic design by Matt Sisneros