Each week in this space, we’ll be taking a look back at Sunday’s games to find five of the most interesting or most important stats for fantasy football owners. With 15 of 16 games from NFL Week 15 in the books, here are the five stats you need to know:
1. For four consecutive seasons (2015-2018), Julio Jones has led all receivers in yards per route run. This season, Jones ranks 11th (2.29). Michael Thomas leads all wide receivers (2.85) but, shockingly, still ranks behind a tight end and a running back.
In 2018, George Kittle set the PFF single-season record for yards per route run by a tight end (2.71). In 2019, he’s not only beating that mark, but his 3.03 yards per route run leads the league and ties for the best by any receiver this past decade. Only Jones – with marks of 3.03 in 2016 and 3.01 in 2017 – also crossed the 3.00 threshold.
After leading all tight ends in PFF grade last year, Kittle now leads all players in PFF grade (93.8), with what would be the highest grade by any tight end in PFF history (2006-2019). Ridiculously, he’s doing this with a broken bone in his ankle.
Right behind Kittle, Baltimore’s Mark Andrews is averaging 2.80 yards per route run, which bests Kittle’s 2018 mark and ranks second among all receivers. Again, this is impressive, but not surprising — in fact, we predicted this would happen. Andrews set the rookie tight end record for yards per route run in 2018 (2.01), and his 2017 mark (2.63) still ranks top-three of the PFF College-era (2014-2019).
Ranking second overall behind Kittle is running back Austin Ekeler. He averages 2.85 yards per route run, which is a fair bit ahead of Alvin Kamara’s all-decade mark set in 2017 (2.76) and even further well ahead of the next-closest running back – Arian Foster 2011 (2.28). As I argued last week in this space, Ekeler’s 2019 season (and career) is historically great and absurdly efficient by almost every measure. More so than any other player, he should be your No. 1 trade target in dynasty leagues (ADP: RB26).
2. One of the players who ranks above Jones is rookie A.J. Brown. His 2.61 yards per route run ranks third among all wide receivers this year, second among all rookie wide receivers this past decade.
In last week’s article, I wrote, “Brown ranks top-three in every efficiency metric I find meaningful for a fantasy wide receiver.” That’s still true. Updating those stats:
Among all 74 wide receivers to see 50 or more targets, Brown ranks third in yards per route run (2.61), second in passer rating when targeted (124.1), and first in all of the following: yards per target (12.1), fantasy points per target (2.38), missed tackles forced per reception (0.35), yards after contact per reception (5.0), and yards after the catch per reception (9.2).
I also wrote, “He already looks every bit the part of a true NFL WR1 and a potential future superstar.” That looks even truer today, after scoring a touchdown and eclipsing 100 yards for the third time in four games on Sunday. Over this span he leads all wide receivers in both receiving yards (447) and receiving touchdowns (four).
3. Not to be outdone, fellow rookie wideout Terry McLaurin also eclipsed 100 receiving yards while adding a touchdown Sunday. Although Brown has McLaurin beat in the majority of stats, McLaurin comes close in yards per route run (2.11), and trumps Brown in yardage market share and PFF grade.
In fact – and despite missing one game due to injury – McLaurin has comprised 33% of Washington’s passing yards this year, which would break the rookie all-decade record set by Mike Evans in 2014.
Heading into the week, McLaurin’s receiving grade (82.7) also ranked above Brown (77.3), and, like his yardage market share numbers, was a historically great mark. Joining an all-star cast of names, McLaurin’s PFF grade ranks sixth-best by any wide receiver this past decade.
Highest Graded Rookie WRs (2010-2019)
1. Odell Beckham (91.2)
2. Michael Thomas (86.3)
3. Mike Evans (84.0)
4. Antonio Brown (83.9)
5. Keenan Allen (83.4)
6. Terry McLaurin (82.7)
7. Demaryius Thomas (82.7)
8. Tyreek Hill (80.6)
9. Doug Baldwin (80.4)
10. Chris Godwin (80.4)
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 12, 2019
On the league’s worst passing offense, McLaurin appears far more valuable in dynasty rather than redraft leagues. However, after feasting in a top-six matchup this week, McLaurin gets another top-six matchup next week, against the Janoris Jenkins-less Giants, who rank fifth-worst in fantasy points allowed to opposing wide receivers.
4. Since Week 9, Tom Brady ranks worst of 28 qualifying quarterbacks in passer rating (73.5) and yards per pass attempt (5.59).
To put Brady’s lowly yards-per-attempt average into better perspective, consider this:
Over this span, Ryan Tannehill’s yards per attempt (9.58) is a whopping 72% better than Brady’s. If Tannehill attempted as many passes as Brady, he’d jump from 273.0 yards per game to 411.9.
Over this span, Lamar Jackson (6.93), Derrick Henry (6.25), Gus Edwards (6.10), and Raheem Mostert (5.69) are all averaging more yards per attempt on the ground than Brady is averaging through the air.
What’s happened to Brady? Has he finally lost his edge, at age 42? Is he hurt (he’s reportedly dealing with a shoulder injury)? Whatever the reason, it makes little difference for fantasy. Unless you’re absolutely desperate in a 2QB or Superflex league, Brady is no longer startable. Among Patriots pass-catchers, only Julian Edelman can be started with any confidence.
5. On Sunday, Kenyan Drake turned 22 carries and one target into 146 yards and four touchdowns. In total he scored 39.6 fantasy points, which was the most by any player this week, and the eighth-most by any non-quarterback in Week 15 (the fantasy semifinals) this past decade.
Drake scored 39.6 fantasy points, or just 1.2 fantasy points more than his total over the prior five weeks. Or, more than four times what he scored last week (9.7). Or, over four times what Dalvin Cook (7.3), Melvin Gordon (7.4), or Derrick Henry (8.6) scored this week.
In other words, Drake didn’t just exceed expectations – he was the MVP of your fantasy semifinals. If you started him, you probably won your matchup. If you played against him, you probably lost.
(If you can’t tell, yes, I’m very bitter, starting him on zero teams and playing against him in three different leagues.)