Welcome to another lessons learned! After finally finishing week 12 of the NFL season, the fantasy football playoffs are just two weeks away. There’s one more week to clinch a spot if you haven’t already, making week 13 the most important week of the season for many. Let’s take a look at what we learned in week 12 that can help you finish strong in week 13.
Lesson one: Kamara is no longer the RB1
Alvin Kamara has been by far the best first round pick of your draft. While others have faced injury, inconsistency, or have just disappointed, Kamara has been the best fantasy asset all season. He is the highest scoring running back in all formats and hadn’t had a showing of less than 15 points in full PPR all season until Week 11.
Enter Taysom Hill. After Drew Brees was diagnosed with multiple fractured ribs, Hill stepped in as the Saints’ new quarterback. Head coach Sean Payton has praised Hill repeatedly in the past. Despite the addition of Jameis Winston this past offseason, Hill is considered the heir-apparent to Brees. Brees’ injuries give Hill a short window to show what he can do as the Saint’s quarterback of the future.
This is the core issue in the decreasing fantasy value of Alvin Kamara. Kamara’s value is intrinsically tied to his usage in the passing game. Even in games where he hardly puts up any rushing numbers, his passing targets allowed an absurdly high floor and a legitimate 40 point ceiling.
A new paradigm in New Orleans
These opportunities are not coming with Hill at the helm. Hill has been much more aggressive than Brees in the Saints’ offense. Where Brees takes the checkdown to Kamara for a certain 10 yard gain, Hill takes a shot to Thomas or Sanders for the chance at a 20 yard gain.
Kamara only has one catch in the last two weeks, which went for negative yardage. It’s safe to say that with Hill leading the offense, this trend is not going to improve. We have to move forward with the assumption that Kamara’s value is now only what he gets on the ground. What has that looked like this season?
Kamara managers won’t be happy. His rushing production hasn’t been great this season. Kamara’s highest scoring week, considering only rushing stats, came in week 2 with 19.9 points, a game where he scored two rushing touchdowns. His next two highest scoring games were 14.3 and 13.5. Those scores include three touchdowns in those two games. His highest yardage totals on the ground were 83 yards in two different weeks. Through all of this, his usage has been consistent (11.6 carries/game). There was no visible uptick the last two weeks with Hill (13 and 11 carries).
Lesson Learned: Fantasy managers have to face a new reality in which Kamara is not only no longer the RB1 overall, but not even a RB1. Until Kamara’s usage in the passing game comes back, he’s a touchdown dependent RB2. It’s hard to bench Kamara, but managers should give it serious consideration if they have two running backs they like more this week. Meanwhile, pray that Brees is healthy enough to play weeks 15 and 16.
Lesson two: John Brown helps unlock the Bills’ passing game
Josh Allen has taken a huge leap into top 10 quarterback status this season, and was in the early conversation for MVP. He’s been equally valuable in fantasy. A twelfth round pick in fantasy drafts, Allen has turned in a top 5 QB performance on the year. However, he has been somewhat boom-or-bust since his scorching hot start. Since week 4, he has had just two games over twenty points. Most of his weeks have been 15-16 point performances. These aren’t necessarily “bust” weeks, but they certainly aren’t what managers have come to expect.
One of the key factors his Allen’s performance seems to be the health of John Brown. Brown is a veteran speedster who compliments Allen’s rocket arm beautifully. It also gives the Bills a formidable duo between him and Stefon Diggs, who has turned into a legit top 5 receiver in Buffalo. This tandem have allowed Allen to air the ball out much more often than previous years. This shows up in the box score, as his 388 attempts on the year already surpasses his 2018 mark (320) and puts him well on pace to smash through his 2019 mark (461).
However, when Brown is dealing with an injury, Allen’s numbers tend to decrease. Brown’s first missed game of the year was week 5, in which Allen posted his worst fantasy performance to that point by 9 full points. Brown struggled with the injury for the next three weeks, seeing only six targets in two games (weeks 6 and 8) and missing week 7 entirely because of it. In these games, Allen’s numbers looked just like they did in week 5, posting performances of 15, 16, and 12 points. Brown finally seemed to be back to himself in weeks 9 and 10. Allen had his best games in weeks, posting 36 and 27 points in those weeks.
Bound by fate (and Brown’s ankle)
There is a pretty clear correlation between Allen’s performance and Brown’s health. Allen’s down performances affect other receivers as well. Diggs has his worst three week stretch weeks 6-8 just like Allen. Having his fellow receiver mostly absent in these games allowed defenses to key in on Diggs. He sees more double coverage and is the primary focus of the defense’s game plan.
Unfortunately, Brown is on IR after aggravating his injury in practice. This was crafty maneuvering by the Bills’ front office, as placing Brown on IR just before their bye week on week 11 will allow him to return to action in week 14 after missing just 2 games instead of 3. However, the Bills’ offense still missed him in week 12. Allen produced 15 fantasy points on the day, while Diggs put up just 10.8 points (most of which were acquired in the least few possessions of the game).
Lesson learned: Brown’s speed is a key factor in a Bills’ offense that passes much more than previous years. Allen is a serviceable QB when Brown misses time, but jumps to top 5 status when he’s fully healthy. Diggs’ floor is still 10 points weekly, but his potential is limited when defenses can focus on taking him away. Fantasy managers should hope Brown returns to action in week 14, just in time for playoffs. For week 13, check the wire for a potential Allen replacement just for the week, as San Francisco’s defense has received a few players back from injury and looks to be getting hot.
Lesson three: Austin Ekeler is back
Those who have held on to Austin Ekeler through the duration of his injury were rewarded on Sunday. Ekeler scored 23.9 points in full PPR despite not having a touchdown on the day. Most of his points came from the passing game, as he recorded 11 catches and 85 yards on a whopping 16 targets.
This is a huge win for fantasy managers. Not only did his performance prove that he’s fully healthy, but it also continues a positive trend with Ekeler and Justin Herbert. With Tyrod Taylor as the starter in week 1, Ekeler saw only one target and posted 9.7 fantasy points on the day. With Herbert under center, Ekeler has scored 18.8, 31.3, and now 23.9 points. Rookie QBs love a good pass catching running back, and Herbert clearly loves using Ekeler whenever possible.
Ekeler comes with the added bonus of being game-script proof. He’s the main back, so if the Chargers are winning and decide to run more, Ekeler is the primary beneficiary. If the Chargers are losing and need to throw more, Ekeler is the primary beneficiary.
Lesson learned: Ekeler is the feature back on a good offense with a great young quarterback who loves to throw him the ball. His team is good enough to score points but not so good that they don’t need to use him. Not only is Ekeler a RB1 for the rest of the season, I believe he finishes as a top-5 running back in all of fantasy football through the playoffs. No ifs, ands, or buts about it: if you have Ekeler, start Ekeler and enjoy watching the points roll in.