10 Fantasy Football Thoughts: What is going on with Mike Evans?

NFL analyst Michael Lombardi joins Follow The Money to discuss whether or not he thinks Bill Belichick can turn this thing around and salvage the 2020 season.

Fantasy football is a game that consists of cruel punishment, frustration, elation and every feeling in between – and yet, we show up waiting for the success or heartbreak every single week.

We need help.

I don’t know if anyone else has these same feelings or maybe I’m just a little bit crazy, but I could win every other matchup in the multiple leagues that I’m in then lose in my home league and it pretty much ruins my weekend. I understand that it doesn’t make any sense, believe me.

“Said it's not fair, how you take advantage of the fact that I love you beyond the reason why, and it just ain't right.” – Rihanna

1. If found, call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There were a lot of things that happened this week that might have warranted the first spot on this list, like Antonio Brown’s signing (which you will read about later), but the disappearing act that Mike Evans has done in Tampa with Tom Brady at the helm is beyond perplexing.

If I had told you at the beginning of the season that by Week 8 Evans would be somewhat of a touchdown-dependent play almost every week, I would have been called names that even I would have a hard time repeating. It’s been one of the most stunning developments of the fantasy football season.

Evans has had 41 receiving yards or less in five of the first seven games, including three games with 10 yards or less. His yards per reception is the lowest of his career, resulting in 25 catches for 318 yards.

Did Mike Evans become untalented overnight?

At this point, especially with Brown moving to Tampa, we can’t trust Evans as anything more than a boom-or-bust WR3 or Flex play. I can’t believe that I wrote that but it’s 2020, so here we are.

2. Antonio Brown reunites with some familiar faces

Tom Brady always gets his way. End of story.

Brady wanted to bring Brown into New England and he got his wish before Brown was eventually released, so the interest in one of the greatest wide receivers that the league has ever seen is nothing new. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians called the signing “an insurance policy,” but is Brown really going anywhere to be an insurance policy? I doubt that very much.

Brown only played one game with the Patriots before his release last season but it was a pretty good performance with four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. Based on that target number, I think Brown will be just fine when it comes to fantasy relevance.

As for the fit, Brown has experience in Arians’ offence after their time together in Pittsburgh. Brown spent two years with Arians, including his rookie season and his second-year breakout when he registered 69 catches for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns.

It may take a week for Brown to get up to speed, but after that I would expect that it’s all systems go and he’ll at worst be a WR3 the rest of the season.

3. Cancel all Cowboys

A lot of people like to do victory laps on players or situations, but sometimes we just have to admit when we are wrong.

Was I ever wrong about the Dallas Cowboys without Dak Prescott.

This is not entirely on Andy Dalton (or whoever the next quarterback is) either. The Cowboys offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and it’s resulted in an incredible lack of production from arguably the most talented group of skill position players in the league.

It's hard to imagine that in Sunday's division game CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup combined for zero catches on seven targets. I repeat, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup combined for zero catches on seven targets.

In the two games following Prescott’s injury, Ezekiel Elliott has 24 carries for 94 yards, nine catches for 37 yards, no touchdowns and two fumbles.

The only player who has been fantasy relevant is Amari Cooper, who has combined for 14 catches for 159 yards and one touchdown on 17 targets since Prescott’s injury, but can even he be trusted with Ben DiNucci as the quarterback?

Unless the Cowboys acquire a new quarterback, don’t expect too much from this group.

4. What to do with no Odell Beckham?

I hate to say it, but the Browns offence actually looked pretty good without Odell Beckham Jr. in Sunday’s game.

It may be a small sample size, but here are some Baker Mayfield numbers that might paint a different picture than what you would expect:

• Passer rating with Odell Beckham on the field: 79.6
• Passer rating with Odell Beckham off the field: 116.6

• When targeting Odell Beckham: 7.6 yards per attempt, 6-8 TD to INT ratio, 72.4 rating
• When targeting Rashard Higgins: 10.9 yards per attempt, 7-3 TD to INT ratio and 125.5 rating

As you can see, there is actually a chance that Beckham Jr. was part of the problem with Mayfield’s struggles. When there is an alpha like Beckham in the offence, quarterbacks tend to lean on them for obvious reasons, but it can also lead to the pressure of trying to force too many throws. Maybe that’s what we have seen here.

Enter Higgins, who seems to have a great rapport with the Browns QB, which dates back to Mayfield’s rookie year when the pair worked well together in training camp. After Beckham Jr.’s injury, Higgins ran the most routes out of the wide receiver group on Mayfield’s dropbacks and is only a couple of years removed from having 39 catches for 572 yards in 13 games in 2018.

Higgins will be a popular waiver wire add. Don’t miss out.

5. The Bengals offence looks oddly familiar

The Cincinnati Rams… I mean, the Los Angeles Bengals… nope. Let's try that one more time: The Cincinnati Bengals bear a striking resemblance to Sean McVay's L.A. Rams with their offensive output from three wide receivers and the running back position.

Yes, I am aware that head coach Zac Taylor is a disciple of McVay’s and has brought the spread offence to the Bengals organization, but it’s actually working.

Let’s focus on just the wide receivers.

I was a little harsh on A.J. Green, and for good reason, but you can now see the turnaround in his game. Over the last two outings, he has amassed 15 catches for 176 yards on 24 targets. Combine his performances with those of Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, and the Bengals’ trio of wide receivers have 42 catches for 527 yards on 59 targets in the last two games.

This kind of output does not happen without the great play of Joe Burrow, who is on pace to break Andrew Luck’s rookie passing yards record and is exactly the right guy to execute this offence.

The Bengals are starting to fire on all cylinders and should be a great team to watch the rest of the way.

6. Tyler Lockett and Davante Adams put on a show

Tyler Lockett’s Sunday night performance of 15 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 20 targets was one of the greatest performances we’ve ever seen – and that stat line didn’t even show the insane catches that he made. He registered the fourth-most PPR points in a single game since 2010 (only Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin and Will Fuller have had more).

He may be our new favourite “boom” player because his blowup games are usually pretty incredible. It’s resulted in Lockett boasting the second-best points per game among wide receivers this season behind the other player who was almost equally as impressive on Sunday.

The wide receiver who has the best points per game among wide receivers is in Green Bay. Davante Adams put on a show of his own without Aaron Jones in the lineup, notching 13 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 16 targets. Adams is really aided by the fact that the second-best pass catcher on the Packers is their star running back and after that there is a real drop-off. Adams is one of the best players in the league at creating separation off the line and running routes, making him dangerous every night.

There was a lot of debate about which player is now the No. 1 dynasty receiver, with names like D.K. Metcalf, Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb being thrown around, but how quickly we forget about Davante Adams.

7. The Gronky Tonk Man has returned

I’m just as shocked as everyone, but Rob Gronkowski is TE11 on the season and over the last two weeks has 10 catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 16 targets. In that time, he has weekly finishes of TE6 and TE2, putting him right back on the weekly radar.

Gronk isn’t the same player as we’ve seen in years past, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an effective fantasy asset. He’s barely played football in the last two seasons, so this is all gravy for anyone who was patient and kept him on their roster.

The real issue becomes his usage when Antonio Brown gets into the lineup. My guess is that it won’t take a hit, for the sole reason that Tom Brady loves to rely on his guys and Gronk is one of them.

He’s certainly not the beastly Gronk of old, but he can continue to get it done on your fantasy squads.

8. Justin Herbert loves Keenan Allen and you can see why

There are a lot of rookie quarterbacks who key in on one receiver when they come into the league because they know they can rely on them. In a lot of cases, and this one is no different, it’s a guy who plays the slot position because it’s just easier to target underneath receivers quickly.

All Keenan Allen has done in four full games with Justin Herbert at the helm is average 13.25 targets and turn them into 9.5 catches, 103.75 yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game. Those are all-world numbers. If you use that over a 16-game season it turns into 152 catches, 1,660 yards and four touchdowns.

This is a combination of how great Allen is and how great Herbert has been.

It feels at times like other receivers don’t even exist, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s working. If Allen can stay healthy with Herbert at the helm, he has a legitimate shot to finish as a WR1 for a fourth consecutive season.

9. D.J. Moore is back and he’s not allergic to touchdowns

It wasn’t that long ago that many wondered if D.J. Moore would be overtaken by Robby Anderson as the WR1 in the Panthers offence, and it made sense one might think that way.

But we’re talking about D.J. Moore here, everyone!

Moore has historically been a slow starter through the first four weeks of seasons, averaging 54.3 yards per game in those games throughout his career. Things really pick up for him after those first four games, as he averages 78.2 yards in 24 games from Weeks 5 to 17. This is why he was a prime trade target for anyone in the first three weeks of the season.

Anderson is a good wide receiver, there’s no question about that, but he’s not Moore.

What’s become great for Moore’s numbers is that he doesn’t need a ton of volume to be productive in Matt Rhule’s offence. His receptions per game is down almost a catch and a half from last year (5.8 to 4.4), as are his targets per game (9 to 7.57), but his yards per game is slightly up from 78.3 to 81. He also has three touchdowns through seven games, whereas last season he only had four for the whole year.

All signs are pointing yet again to a great season for the third-year wideout.

10. Poor Allen Robinson (and other Bears receivers)

Allen Robinson has had some pretty horrible luck when it comes to quarterback play throughout his career – even dating back to college days.

Here’s a list of some of the quarterbacks who have thrown Robinson the ball:

• Matt McGloin (Penn State)
• Christian Hackenberg (Penn State)
• Blake Bortles (Jaguars)
• Chad Henne (Jaguars)
• Mitchell Trubisky (Bears)
• Chase Daniel (Bears)
• Nick Foles (Bears)

Imagine having two 1,000-plus yard seasons (and likely would have had another in 2018 had he not been hurt) with that sad sack of quarterbacks throwing to you. It’s a real shame Robinson has had a lot of potentially productive years wasted by poor quarterback play, especially from a fantasy perspective.

There are other Bears players who are seeing their talents wasted.

Anthony Miller was coming into the “third-year breakout” wheelhouse and was highly touted coming out of Memphis. The Bears were so enamoured with him that they made him the 51st pick in 2018. After his Week 1 performance, where he racked up 76 yards on four catches with a touchdown, Miller has 25 targets for 15 catches and 113 yards. It can’t be all on him.

Darnell Mooney is the Bears’ 2020 5th-round pick from and has shown great flashes with his speed and route-running ability, but has a paltry catch percentage of 56.8 per cent. Now, you would think that a lot of that is on the receiver, but Mooney has no drops and his catchable target rate is 70.3 per cent, which is 84th in the NFL.

It’s not pretty in Chicago and doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon.

Don’t forget to check out Matt’s “Love ‘Em, Leave ‘Em” picks for the weekend games on Twitter every Friday.

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