Fantasy breakouts worth believing in

Some recent hot performances are worth buying in on. Brandon Marianne Lee identifies four to believe.

| 8 months ago
(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Fantasy breakouts worth believing in

Tuesday is the day of the 2016 election. Never before has there been so much unity. And by unity, I mean the overwhelming desire to end this terrible election.

But like the election, over the last month there were some shocking developments in the fantasy football world. Certain players emerged as solid fantasy options, but were those strong showings something that could continue to make a difference in November?

Here, we’re going to dive into some of the signature statistics that will truly give you something to believe in.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

For many it will be hard to wrap their mind around the idea that Mariota is a top-five quarterback while leading a run-first offense. Certainly DeMarco Murray has been a running back rock star this year. Murray averages 89.7 rushing yards and 3.9 catches for 25.1 yards per game. But see, this was actually a great coaching decision. Brining Murray into town and implementing a strong run game allowed Mariota to develop the skills he flashed during his rookie season last year. He gained confidence, and didn’t have the pressure of having this entire team on his back.

So then, what statistics can we turn to when evaluating Mariota’s staying power as a fantasy options? First, his deep ball has improved. So far he’s completed 14 of his 33 passing attempts that were targeted 20 yards or more downfield, the 10th-most in the league. He’s completed 42.4 percent of those passes (12th), but last year he was atrocious at the deep ball. The biggest knock on Mariota was that he only completed 20.4 percent of his passes downfield, the worst percentage of all quarterback who played in at least 25 percent of the team snaps.

In Week 9, Mariota threw two interceptions in a wild shootout with San Diego, in which Mariota posted a season-high 43 pass attempts. He still made up for those mistake with 313 passing yards and three touchdowns in the air and one on the ground. In fact, Mariota has thrown 17 touchdowns to eight interceptions.

The Titans schedule looking forward has some highs and lows: vs. Green Bay, at Indianapolis, at Chicago, bye week, vs. Denver, at Kansas City, at Jacksonville, vs. Houston (if you play in Week 17). Trading for a quarterback isn’t something I normally suggest, but keep your eye out for that Week 13 bye. Someone might drop him in desperation. You can’t like the Denver matchup, but he might be worth the wait after that two-week stint.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins

Some of you are going to read this name and think to yourself, “Obviously…”

But I can tell you that last week I did multiple appearances and interviews and almost every single show had a segment dedicated to whether or not you could trust Ajayi.

All of this trepidation stems from his bizarre start of the season, when he didn’t even make the flight to Seattle because the coaching staff was so ticked off about his pouting after losing the starting job to Arian Foster. Okay, but that is an emotional reaction to a narrative. At this point of the season, not only has Foster retired, but we have statistical evidence that supports the idea that Miami would be absolutely out of their mind to turn away from Ajayi.

Ajayi has the second-best elusive rating (74.3) in the league due to his 24 missed tackles. Also, he averages the most yards after contact per attempt (3.72). And if you think all of this talk about contact and these gritty statistics means that he doesn’t get the big plays, you’re wrong. Ajayi has broken for runs of 15 or more yards eight times, accounting for a total of 241 of his 646 rushing yards on the season. And even though he’s carried the ball 24 or more times in each of his last three games, he’s still averaging 5.9 yards per carry, the absolute highest among any running back with at least 50 carries on the season.

Trading for Ajayi might cost you a pretty penny, but here is his upcoming schedule: at San Diego, at Los Angeles, vs. San Francisco, at Baltimore, vs. Arizona, at New York Jets, at Buffalo and vs. New England Patriots (if you play in Week 17). His bye is behind him. His volume and efficiency is well worth a look.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

I write the DFS bargains column every week here, and there’s a borderline running joke in the article where I say to play Thomas literally every week. I do not understand what this guy has to do to get people to pay attention.

On the season, Thomas leads the team with 61 targets. He leads the team with 47 catches. He’s second in yards with 573 to Brandin Cooks’ 598. Both Cooks and Thomas are tied at five touchdowns apiece. This is not a knock on Cooks. In fact, depending on your league, Cooks may be undervalued due to Thomas’ great play, but it’s important to look at Cooks and Thomas as an elite one-two punch playing with an elite quarterback.

Drew Brees has a 123.4 passer rating when throwing toward Cooks, second highest in the league when it comes to qualifying quarterback/wide receiver connections. However, he has a 119.1 rating when throwing toward Thomas, the sixth-highest rating in the league. Cooks has zero drops so far this season; meanwhile Thomas as only dropped two of his catchable passes, less than 5 percent of his targets… and he’s a rookie, don’t forget.

Thomas has yet to have fewer than five targets or 44 yards in a game. Even in standard scoring, he’s never dipped below a five-point fantasy performance.

This week will be a challenge, depending on whether or not the Denver Broncos get their cornerbacks back to health before they head to New Orleans. But after Denver, you have to feel pretty confident about Thomas’ schedule moving forward: at Carolina, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Detroit, at Tampa Bay, at Arizona, vs. Tampa Bay, at Atlanta (if you play in Week 17).

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Houston Texans

Five or more targets in every game since Week 4. A struggling quarterback who needs to build his confidence by dumping off the ball with short passes to get the ball downfield. A team that despite setbacks, is still in the hunt for the playoffs.

That is Fiedorowicz’s current situation and that’s the dream fantasy points scenario for a tight end.

Since Week 4, the beginning of October, Fiedorowicz has quietly become one of the steadiest tight ends in the league. Since then he’s had at least four catches and 35 yards in every outing, and he’s scored three touchdowns in five games. On the season, he has a 100-percent catch rate on catchable targets. Unfortunately, Brock Osweiler is his quarterback, so it’s important to know that some of those “targets” are targets in name only.

Digging a little deeper, Fiedorowicz’s 1.99 yards per route run is the sixth highest among all tight ends. And he’s making the most of his opportunities. He’s scoring 0.33 fantasy points per opportunity in standard scoring, with is the sixth-highest among tight ends. And in PPR leagues he scored the fourth-most points per opportunity (0.51).

This week Houston will travel to Jacksonville coming of their bye. Then they have a pretty smooth ride for the rest of the season: at Oakland, vs. San Diego, at Green Bay, at Indianapolis, vs. Jacksonville, vs. Cincinnati, at Tennessee (if you play in Week 17).

Brandon Marianne Lee is a PFF Fantasy contributor, a SiriusXM host, co-founder of Her Fantasy Football and was a finalist for FSWA's Newcomer of the Year in 2014.

  • Jack

    I was saying it the whole time. Don’t sell on Ajayi.