Fade Them: Fantasy Players that Started Hot and Went Cold

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Patrick Yen

Just a guy trying to make a living doing what he loves, writing about sports. Eagles and 76er's fan, but currently live in Ohio so I have a soft spot for those teams. The Ohio State University graduate, Go Bucks! Come chat, always willing to talk sport, video games or my current love, Masterchef Australia!

The opposite of my article from last week, this time we have a list of fantasy players that started out hot but couldn’t keep it up. Some of these guys went from super stars to merely usable. Others dropped even worse. Identifying guys who fade can be even more important than finding the ones that get hot. You need to make sure you don’t trade for these guys considering their price will be at a premium. And you need to identify when A. you need to sell high and B. when you realize you can’t start these guys anymore. People like Russell Wilson and D.K. Metcalf probably lost a lot of people their fantasy leagues because you couldn’t fathom not starting them. Recognize the fade.

(Data taken from FantasyPros.com PPR scoring. Player must have played at least half the games per time period to qualify. Unless specified, periods are broken into weeks 1-8 and weeks 9-16.)

Seattle Seawhawks Passing Attack 

QB Russell Wilson: -12.46 PPG Difference 

WR D.K. Metcalf: -5.3 PPG Difference

WR Tyler Lockett: -10.7 PPG Difference

I grouped these guys together because they all have the same root cause. Russell Wilson almost completely collapsed after a ripping hot start. Russell Wilson in the first half of the year averaged a jaw-dropping 30.29 points per game. First place by a decent margin. In the second half he averaged just 17.83 points, good for QB 15. Behind guys like Mitchell Trubisky and Teddy Bridgewater. He went from the best QB in fantasy to a non starter in basically all leagues. As the quarterback falls, so too do the wide receivers. Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf were the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers in PPG in the first half of the season, both averaging over 20 a game. In the last half Metcalf was WR 18 (still usable) while Lockett was tied 49th (my God). 

How Did it Happen?

For Metcalf and Lockett it’s almost entirely tied to the QB play, so we’ll focus much more on that. A couple points real quick. Lockett suffered a knee sprain after week 11. However he didn’t miss time and the Seahawks never seemed concerned about it. Still it’s possible that it slowed him down. Both guys were also scoring nearly a touchdown per game. It’s really rare for one wide receiver, much less two to average that sort of scoring rate, so both were fade candidates based on touchdown regression. Lockett went from seven touchdowns to just one, while Metcalf went from seven to three. 

So let’s talk about Wilson. It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong with him. There have been a number of articles about his struggles against disguised shell coverages that take away deep balls. That probably hampered Metcalf’s production, as that was his specialty. There has also been a lot of discussion about Wilson’s unwillingness to check down and take easy completions, which could explain Lockett’s drop.

Wilson also has a reputation for having a really good half and a much worse half. Which half that is tends to change. In 2019 he was QB 3 PPG in the first half, QB 13 in the second. In 2018 he was QB 15 in the first half, QB 5 in the second. 2017 he was relatively the same in both. 2016 he was QB 27 in the first, QB 3 in the second. So in the past five years Wilson has had a top five half and a half where he was not startable in a standard 12 team league. I don’t think Wilson has been figured out. So next year, pay attention to how Wilson is doing at the halfway mark. If he’s been on fire, stay away or trade him away. If he’s been bad, make a run for him (and his receivers). 

Todd Gurley -9 PPG

While Gurley was not particularly efficient, he was producing fantasy wise at the beginning of the season. He got a bunch of carries, and was scoring a lot, averaging a rushing touchdown a game to start the season. Then everything collapsed. He scored no touchdowns and got just 7.9 carries a game. If you take out week nine, that goes to just six a game. Accordingly, he scored just 6.2 fantasy points per game in that time frame, amongst names like Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson and even Kyle Juszczyk, a fullback. 

How Did It Happen? 

Pretty simply, Gurley lost his starting job. Even though he did technically start in 15 games, he saw his snap participation and carries plummet, while Brian Hill and Ito Smith saw their attempts rise. It became a nearly even timeshare, with all of them averaging six to eight carries a game. Gurley’s yards per carry reached truly terrible depths at 3.55 yards per tote. Combined with the fact that he’s older than both other guys and the Falcons weren’t incentivized to really win games, it makes sense that they would try some other options out. Especially since Gurley was on a one year deal.

Be careful of players that produce solid numbers fantasy wise but the team is losing and the overall play leaves something to be desired. Check if touchdowns are propping the player up. Very few players will average a touchdown a game like Gurley did for the first half of the season. Also watch out for players that are easily replaceable. Older players on losing teams on short contracts are more likely to see their roles scaled back.

Tyler Boyd -7.6 PPG

Tyler Boyd has been on the cusp of superstardom for a couple years now, and this year started much the same. He quickly became franchise QB Joe Burrows favored target turning 8.5 targets a game into 16.9 fantasy points per contest. Unfortunately that dipped quickly. He was unable to manage even double digits in the second half of the season, with just two low end usable weeks after the week nine bye.

How Did It Happen?

It’s easy to blame Burrows’ unfortunate injury on Boyd’s fade, and you’d be mostly correct. The one game in the second half that they played together Boyd got his standard eight targets and six catches. But there are some other things we can look at. First, of the six games Boyd played in the second half of the season, he was ejected in the first half of one and left another one in the first quarter with a concussion. This obviously drops his numbers down a bit (although he did have his best second half game the same time he got ejected courtesy of a 72 yard touchdown). Without those two games backup QB Brandon Allen actually targeted Boyd basically as much as Burrows did. However with Allen under center, Boyd’s catch rate and yards per reception were the biggest victims. 

The conclusions with this one are fairly obvious. A downgrade at QB usually smells trouble for their wide receivers. There can be exceptions, as even a guy on his own team in Tee Higgins stayed relatively the same, but it’s dangerous to gamble on something like that. Even if the volume is the same or even increases, the value of each target often suffers, which was the case for Boyd. 

James Conner -7.2 PPG

Besides a week one disaster, James Conner had a really solid first half of the season. He went double digits six straight weeks, including three games over 15 points. Solid, consistent scoring. However he would only go over ten one more time, and scored under five three times in the second half of the year. He battled injuries which did knock him out three games from week 9-16, but it was a bad finish regardless.

How Did It Happen?

Conner has always been a…questionable talent. Even in his breakout year, with a really good offensive line in front of him he only managed a middling 4.5 yards per carry. His receiving work along with a lot of touchdowns propelled him to fantasy stardom. His star was quick to fade though. He gets injured a lot, which doesn’t help, but regardless his yards per carry plummeted to just four the next year, a terrible mark for a starting running back. His touchdowns and receptions also scaled back which was not surprising. Many thought it had to do with not having Ben Roethlisberger, but even this year with Big Ben he was mediocre on the ground at best. His receptions per game dropped again, and while his touchdowns and yards per carry increased a little bit (4.3 YPC) that still puts him in the bottom half of starters. 

The point I’m making is it’s difficult to judge just how good Conner is. This means his usage is often shaky. Even as a starting RB he’s only in the 60’s percentage wise of offensive snap counts. He dropped from 15 carries a game to just ten. Not only that, but Pittsburgh, despite having a lead in many of their games, had the most pass attempts and fifth fewest rushing attempts. Beyond that, the offense as a whole took a dive in the second half of the year. The Steelers scored 30.8 points per game in the first eight weeks. That dropped to 22.9 in their final eight. Conner was definitely a part of that, scoring five touchdowns in the first half, and just one in the second.

Just like Gurley, keep an eye on players that are performing well fantasy wise but their efficiency is questionable. These types of players can often see their role reduced if not outright replaced. The rush-pass split can be important too, but if one guy is getting all the work that person is still usually a fantasy asset. If not, cases like Conner easily crop up. 

Ezekiel Elliott – 5.5 PPG

Zeke is probably one of the most discussed cases of decline in the NFL this year. Always near the top of the NFL’s best rushers, Elliott had the first down year of his career. He posted his lowest attempts per game, yards per game, yards per carry, yards per reception and touchdowns of his professional life. He even had more rushing yards in his 2017 season where he played five less games than in 2020.

Despite that, his first half of the year was actually pretty decent fantasy-wise, bolstered entirely on his first five weeks. Week six marked a marked decrease in fantasy points. Despite his fumbling issues in the first half of the season, he went over 20 points in four of his first five games, and only dropped below ten points twice in the first eight. Afterwards he was under ten in three of his last seven, and never went above 20 a single time.

How did this happen? 

You might think it’s because of less work or worse efficiency, the usual suspects. Interestingly however, that doesn’t fully hold up. In his first eight games he had 16.5 carries per game and 4.3 receptions. In the last six he had 16.3 carries per game and 2.5 receptions. He only touched the ball two times less, which doesn’t explain the 5.5 points difference. Interestingly, he was also MORE efficient rushing (very slightly, 3.95 first half and 4.24 the second) in his worse second half. So what caused the dip in points? It seems to be mostly from touchdowns. He scored six touchdowns rushing and receiving in the front half of the season versus just one in the back half. 

Why did Zeke score so much less? If you just look at the two halves, the numbers are almost the same in every way for Dallas and Zeke, and the schedule wasn’t harder. But the key seems to be Dak Prescott. When he went down after week five, Elliott’s numbers plummeted immediately. Even though Dallas was actually good on offense once they had time to adjust to Prescott’s absence after the bye (27.2 PPG, which would’ve put them ninth in the league), Zeke’s numbers never really recovered. In the first five games with Prescott Elliott scored all six of his first half touchdowns. This season at least, Elliott’s value was tied to Prescott. Which could make him a potential draft-low candidate for next season if Prescott comes back. 

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Episode 133