Fantasy Football: 5 Things We Learned in Week 12
Week 12 of the NFL season was anything but predictable, and despite missing some of the league's premier offenses, it still managed to produce a boatload of exciting football.
While six different teams scored 34 or more points in their matchups on Sunday, another five scored under 10, making for some truly strange game scripts. The New York Jets trounced the playoff-hopeful Oakland Raiders so badly that Jon Gruden subbed out Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs in the third quarter. And on Sunday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers defense had Aaron Rodgers running for his life -- he took five sacks and only put up eight points. The eight points the Green Bay Packers posted tied for the fewest they've ever scored with Rodgers at starting quarterback, excluding games where he was injured.
You'd think by now we would have everything figured out across the fantasy landscape, but that's simply not the case. Things just don't stay stagnant in the NFL, and the frequently changing landscape keeps the state of fantasy football in a constant state of evolution. You need to stay on top of things if you want to take home your league's title, and with that in mind, here are five things we learned in Week 12.
Derrick Henry Now Owns the Jacksonville Jaguars
Shahid Khan has to hand over the keys to the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise to Derrick Henry after what Henry did to his team yet again this weekend. I don't make the rules, but that's just how it is.
In what's becoming an immutable law, Henry ran all over the Jaguars defense, converting 19 carries into 159 yards and 2 touchdowns, while reeling in his only target for another 16 yards. It could have been an even bigger day, too, if Ryan Tannehill hadn't run in a pair of scores himself in the blowout win. Pending Monday Night Football, Henry's huge game was good enough for a finish as the RB3 on the week.
Over the past three seasons, Henry has just humiliated the Jaguars. He's scored 9 touchdowns and even put up 238 yards on them in a wintry match last season. And speaking of the winter, that's been Henry's time to shine since the Tennessee Titans parted ways with DeMarco Murray. This was Henry's second straight game with over 100 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns, and over the final 4 games of the 2018 season, he averaged 146 rushing yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game. With upcoming matchups against the Indianapolis Colts and Raiders, there's a strong chance Henry can put together a similar finish to the one he had last year and be a fantasy playoff MVP.
Not to distract from what Henry has been accomplishing, but it's also worth noting what Tannehill has been doing since he was freed from Adam Gase's grasp. He's certainly made some head-scratching decisions since taking over for Marcus Mariota back in Week 6, but since then, he's been on fire -- he's averaging an incredible 9.25 yards per pass attempt along with two passing touchdowns per game. Plus, he's been more dynamic and consistent as a rusher than Mariota was, which has arguably opened up the run game for Henry. With Tannehill keeping this offense flowing the best it has since 2016, Henry is poised for a strong end to the 2019 season.
The Steelers Have Benched Mason Rudolph
It was arguably worse for the Pittsburgh Steelers that Mason Rudolph was not suspended after last week's Thursday Night Football debacle, but ultimately they made the call to bench him this week. By just about every metric, Rudolph has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league since taking over for Ben Roethlisberger. So let's go over some of those metrics.
Only Mitchell Trubisky (5.5) has averaged fewer adjusted yards per attempt than Rudolph (5.6) this season. His nine interceptions don't look that bad if you're just looking at raw counting stats, but his 3.4% interception rate ranks alongside turnover-happy quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Philip Rivers -- remember, Rudolph has missed parts of games and been on the bench or injured for others. He's done this while playing with some of the best protection in the league, as he's only taken a sack on 5.1% of his dropbacks, the seventh-lowest rate in the league. And worst of all, he's turned JuJu Smith-Schuster into a benchable wide receiver in fantasy football.
The Steelers made the right call in benching Rudolph, but the jury is still out on his replacement Devlin Hodges. We've seen the undrafted free agent take the field three times so far this season. In those appearances, including one full start, Hodges has completed 67.5% of his passes, averaged a much-better 7.8 adjusted yards per pass attempt, and added 35 yards on the ground on 4 attempts, excluding kneel-downs. Hodges has been more of a game-manager, averaging 4.9 intended air yards per pass attempt -- by comparison, Rudolph averaged an 8.0 mark in his games.
Though, while Hodges has been keeping his attempts close to the line of scrimmage so far, we did see him uncork a long one on his second attempt of the game yesterday, synching up with James Washington better than Rudolph ever did for a 79-yard touchdown. It was a refreshing sight after watching Rudolph all season.
It remains to be seen what this truly means for the Steelers offense, but Hodges should be able to inspire a little optimism from the players around him. James Washington should be an option on your waiver wires this week, while folks with Diontae Johnson and JuJu on their rosters should feel a bit rejuvenated.
Deebo Samuel is a Star in the Making
Deebo Samuel had been on fire for a couple of weeks heading into the 49ers' Sunday Night Football matchup with the Packers, but it was fair to question if his breakout had more to do with the injuries to the other receivers on the team than his own talent. He answered all of those questions with yet another a standout performance.
Over the past two weeks, the 49ers were without superstar tight end George Kittle and the recently-acquired Emmanuel Sanders, who hit the ground running with his new team. Samuel put the team on his back in those two outings, with over 100 receiving yards and 8 catches in each of those games. He looked every bit like a budding star in those appearances, routinely generating separation on his targets and racking up yards after the catch -- his 117 yards after the catch led all wideouts during that two-week span. He's a tackle-breaking monster in the open field, and he gets in the open field a lot.
Still, we hadn't seen him do that until Kittle and Sanders were out of the picture. Samuel had flashed in limited opportunities prior to the team trading for Sanders, but with Sanders in the starting lineup, he'd taken a backseat to the veteran receiver. That definitely changed in Week 12, as Samuel played on 35 of the team's offensive snaps while Sanders played on 32 -- only Kittle played on more snaps among the team's skill position players.
Samuel impressed despite the presence of those other receivers, as well. He caught both of his targets, taking one of them to the house from 42 yards out while flashing his 4.48 wheels. That he only drew two targets is mildly concerning, but for context, it's worth noting that Jimmy Garoppolo attempted just 20 passes over the course of the game. The Packers defense presented a strong pass-rush if nothing else, and outside of running back targets, Samuel's two targets were the second-most on the team behind Kittle.
Kittle will remain entrenched as the team's top receiving option, but Deebo Samuel has the tools to produce regardless of his situation. If everyone is healthy, or if the 49ers don't need to pass much during a game, he can still get it done with his ridiculous efficiency. And we've seen what he can do when his team needs to lean on him as their top dog. If you had any doubts before, you shouldn't be worried after last night's performance.
Rookies are Reshaping New England's Offense
The New England Patriots offense has been nothing if not chaotic this season. There were concerns about their wide receivers entering the season. Then, all of a sudden, they had Josh Gordon back from suspension and Antonio Brown ready to roll. But just as quickly, their receiver corps had been whittled down to just a banged-up Julian Edelman with a sprinkling of Phillip Dorsett. They were so desperate for help that they traded a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu.
Meanwhile, the Patriots run game had been one of the least effective in the league, resulting in one of the most stagnant offenses in the league. Were it not for their defense generating turnovers at a ridiculous rate -- and often in enemy territory -- we'd be viewing this team in a much different light right now.
However, Week 12 was significant for the Pats for a few different reasons. First, it was the first time 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry saw significant snaps (81%) -- he played on under half of the team's snaps in his debut the previous week. Harry drew four targets in the win, including multiple deep targets and multiple red zone targets. While he only managed to reel in one, that one catch was a sweet sideline grab in the end zone for a touchdown. Brady is looking for Harry in the important areas of the field, and that could be a big deal for fantasy purposes.
The other rookie that made a splash in Week 12 was Jakobi Meyers, who shined in the preseason. Meyers was forced to play heavy snaps with injuries to Sanu and Dorsett and really impressed. He was able to consistently get open, resulting in his drawing a solid nine targets. In the cases of both rookies, the windy, rainy weather played into their struggles to hold onto the ball, though Meyers was able to post 74 receiving yards in his best game of the season. With Meyers and Harry bolstering their receiver corps, the Pats have a solid group at a position where they were recently shaky.
Lastly, while not quite a rookie, Isaiah Wynn made his first start since hitting the injured reserve back in Week 2. Wynn -- himself a first-round pick a year ago -- missed his entire rookie season after tearing his Achilles in a preseason game. Sunday afternoon was the first time Wynn has played a full game, and his presence was definitely felt. The left tackle opened running lanes that New England's backfield was probably unaccustomed to -- Sony Michel took 10 carries Wynn's way, averaging 4.6 yards per carry on those plays, while adding positive points to the team's expected points total on an impressive 50% of those attempts. Those numbers might not sound too wild, but compared to Michel's performance the rest of the season, they seriously stand out.
The Pats offense might be turning a corner, and their rookies -- red shirt or regular -- are helping make a difference for the once-stagnant unit.
Chris Carson's Leash is Getting Shorter, if he Still Has One
Week 12 was just not Chris Carson's week. The uber-athletic running back lost yet another fumble against the Philadelphia Eagles, bringing his season total to a whopping eight fumbles. He's the only non-quarterback with more than five fumbles on the season, and frankly, he should have been charged with another one on Sunday. While Pete Carroll expressed confidence in Carson the last time his fumbling habits became a big issue, he didn't have quite the same patience this time around.
That's probably in part because of former first-round pick Rashaad Penny's strong performance. We've seen Penny flash in spurts in the past -- he put together a pretty strong finish to his rookie season -- but on Sunday he was clearly the better running back for Seattle. Penny took 14 carries for 129 rushing yards and a touchdown while toting the rock 10 times to Carson's 2 in the second half.
It's unclear how this backfield will take shape for the rest of the season, but at least we now know that Carson's leash is pretty short when it comes to fumbling. He still saw some action after his costly fumbles but took a definitive back seat to Penny the rest of the way. Penny is more than capable of producing at the NFL -- his 5.3 yards per carry average over the past two years rank seventh among all running backs with 30 or more carries in that time --, and he has that first-round draft pedigree that could easily justify him usurping Carson on the depth chart.
We'll have to wait and see how things develop over the week, but Rashaad Penny needs to be on your shortlist of waiver wire additions this week. The Seattle Seahawks have a couple of tough matchups for running backs the next two weeks, but whoever establishes themselves as the lead back in that backfield could be a week winner in Week 15 -- the fantasy playoffs -- when they face the Carolina Panthers' league-worst run defense.