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TRAPS & TRENDS: Week 11 Edition

Is it time to start trusting a certain dual-threat quarterback who had stunk it up royally until recently? Is it time to stop trusting a running back who finished second in the NFL in rushing just two seasons ago? Is there another tight end emerging at a position that’s desperately needs a new face or two? Senior FantasySharks.com writer Matt Wilson tackles those questions in his latest edition of “Traps & Trends.”

We’re just 10 weeks into the regular season, but…

1. This often overhyped dual-threat quarterback is finally healthy and finally producing, but can playoff-hopeful fantasy owners trust him in starting lineups?

The Dude: Marcus Mariota

The Damage: Hindering by a lingering throwing elbow injury and learning offensive boss Matt LaFleur’s playbook, Mariota struggled during the first six weeks of the season. He passed for more than 130 yards and multiple touchdowns in a game just once. In Week 7, the fourth-year pro threw for 237 yards and one score against the Los Angeles Chargers in London, England, but nobody read much into the performance because it was one of those London games where weird things often happen. Following Tennessee’s bye week, Mariota, in Week 9, dissected a flat Dallas Cowboys defense in Dallas, going 21-of-29 for 240 yards and two touchdowns along with ten carries for 32 yards and one touchdown. A lot of fantasy owners didn’t take that outing seriously either, blaming the Cowboys for mailing in the game. This past Sunday, however, Mariota, delivered another solid performance, gashing the New England Patriots for 228 yards and two touchdown tosses and carrying two times for 21 yards during his team’s stunning 34-10 victory over Tom Brady and company. Has Mariota finally turned the corner in LaFleur’s offense?

The Diagnosis: TREND

It sure looks that way. There was nothing fluky about his performance in the Patriots game. Okay, Mr. Mariota, we’re taking you seriously now. You’ve earned starting consideration, but I don’t think fantasy owners should expect monster passing outings and gaudy fantasy scoring from you. Mariota’s supporting cast looks very shallow behind go-to guy Corey Davis, Dion Lewis and the slowly emerging Jonnu Smith (more on him later). Tennessee also seems determine to run a balanced attack whenever possible. In the New England game, Mariota, as noted, attempted 29 passes while the Dion Lewis/Derrick Henry/David Fluellen combo platter ran the ball 36 times. Mariota’s next three matchups – at the Indianapolis Colts (Week 11), at the Houston Texans (Week 12) and home versus the New York Jets (Week 13) – are all favorable.

2. If you can’t trust a workhorse tailback who racked up two 1,100-yard seasons (2016 and 2017) and finished second in the NFL in rushing two years ago, who can you trust?

The Dude: Jordan Howard

The Damage: The fantasy universe thought it had Howard figured out – play the power runner who doesn’t catch many passes in matchups against soft run defenses where game script will favor a run-heavy approach. However, the “magic formula” didn’t work with Howard during the Chicago Bears’ 34-22 victory over the visiting Detroit Lions this past Sunday. Coming off three straight games with at least one rushing score, Howard managed just 21 scoreless rushing yards on 11 carries and 11 receiving yards on one reception. What went wrong? Game script wasn’t a problem – the Bears led the game from beginning to end. A Lions defense that had allowed at least 100 rushing yards and one score to tailbacks three weeks in a row, however, played the run surprisingly well, which was a surprise. Chicago, not one of the best run-blocking teams out there, didn’t go run heavy in the fourth quarter, opting to put the pedal to the metal with an aggressive passing attack. Will Howard remain a legit boom-or-bust candidate for the rest of the season?

The Diagnosis: TREND

The boom-or-bust moniker usually applies to deep-threat wideouts, but Howard is a touchdown and now-workload dependent fantasy running back. Even if Chicago has a huge lead and positive game script, there’s clearly no guarantee that Howard will receive a heavy share of carries. Speedier Tarik Cohen will continue to impact his usage. Did you know he finished second in the league in rushing to Ezekiel Elliott in 2016? Howard also finished as the NFL’s sixth-best rusher in 2017, so he’s clearly taken some steps backwards. If you’re a Howard owner and trying to make a playoff run, risking a dud outing from him in your starting lineup is something you can’t afford to do. Howard’s next three matchups – the Minnesota Vikings (Week 11), the Detroit Lions again (Week 12) and the New York Giants (Week 13) are all not favorable for Howard on paper.

3. Shouldn’t a No. 1 wideout produce No. 1 wideout fantasy numbers each week?

The Dude: Mike Evans

The Damage: This past Sunday, fantasy football message boards were lit up with complaints about Jordan Howard’s dud outing, and the only other fantasy player drawing just about the same number of poor-performance complaints was Evans. His showing against Washington was a major disappointment. Facing a Burgundy and Gold defense that had hemorrhaged the most catches, the most receiving yards and the most scoring grabs (tie) to the wideout position during the last month, Evans cobbled together just three catches for 51 yards on six targets. He and Ryan Fitzpatrick just missed hooking up on what would have been a two-yard scoring play. As for Evans, it was his fourth scoreless outing under 60 yards in his last six outings. Since Week 4, Evans has notched just two 100-yard outings (Week 7 and Week 8) and hit pay dirt once (Week 8). Will Evans continue to operate as a boom-or-bust guy going forward?

The Diagnosis: TREND

The intended audience for this Evans writeup is fantasy managers who had never had Evans on their teams before this season. This up-and-down production is nothing new for him and will continue. Yes, Evans, considered one of the NFL’s best wideouts, sometimes disappoints in favorable matchups, and it has nothing to do with whoever is starting under center. Evans is a big (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) possession wideout who specializes in contested balls. He’s not a burner. Evans can’t outrun all defensive backs, so he can be contained by the better ones or double teams. As you probably know, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are loaded with receiving talent, so Ryan Fitzpatrick/Jameis Winston don’t have to throw everything his way. Keep in mind that Fitzpatrick/Winston will continue to push the ball downfield, and Evans remains the Bucs’ most-targeted wideout. His next three matchups – at the New York Giants (Week 12), versus the San Francisco 49ers (Week 13) and versus the Carolina Panthers (Week 14) are all favorable.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson has played NFL fantasy football since 1994 and has been a featured columnist at FantasySharks.com since 2008. His 18 combined years of professional writing experience includes a five-year stint as a contributing writer/editor at KFFL.com. He has been a featured contributor to The Fantasy Football Guide since 2008 and has been published regularly in the award-winning USA Today Sports Fantasy Football preview. Matt is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and holds a degree in journalism from Northern Illinois.