Is Rob Gronkowski finished? Backup running backs putting up big-time numbers. The value of snap counts. Is Damien Williams "ordinary"? And more.

Question 1

Could you include snap counts per game for running backs on the current team page? For next year’s magazine?

Craig Leedy (Sacramento, CA)

An interesting idea. We will kick it around. There are some interesting stats out there that could potentially be worked into the publication. Targets for sure. That would be No. 1 on my list. With targets, you’re getting an idea of how often receivers are seeing passes, and also how effective they are. James Washington of Pittsburgh, for example, looks like a potentially notable player for 2019. With things seemingly turning sour with Antonio Brown, they may want Washington to move into the starting lineup. Washington didn’t play much as a rookie, and he wasn’t very effective with his limited opportunities – they went only 16 of 38 when passing to him. In the case of Washington, I think catching only 16 of 38 passes is more telling than simply Washington not playing much and catching 16 passes. He did make a couple of really nice grabs on contested balls in the preseason, at least, and he came on some late in the year (caught 6 of 9 passes for 129 yards in his last three games).

Participation numbers are available in the gamebooks published by the league. For each game, they total up the number of plays run by each offense, and how many times each player is on the field. With the aforementioned James Washington, he was on the field for 49 of 68 offensive plays in Week 17 (when Brown was sitting out). I look at those numbers for every team every week, because they provide a 10,000-foot view. With the Ravens, for example, they’ve got the four tight ends; you can look at many of their games and see that all of those guys (Andrews, Boyle, Hurst, Williams) are on the field for 30-40 percent of the offensive plays – there is no traditional tight end who’s out there for the vast majority of plays. In this kind of setup, I think it makes sense to check the numbers each week; when they suddenly start using Hurst on 75 percent of their plays, it’s a sign that his role could be about to expand. Snap counts, I think, are probably best incorporated on a game-to-game basis. Especially for running backs; so many of them miss multiple games, so the numbers become more meaningful only when you look at how they’re used when they’re intended to the starting, featured back. Maybe this is something that could be squeezed into the stat fields on the team pages? (That is, for each guy, there would be a percentage number – 68%, 70%, 45% - showing what portion of plays he was on the field. Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll kick it around.

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Question 2

There were at least three RBs who performed well in FF playoffs including Damien Williams, Samuels, and Anderson. How do their stats standup verus other backups during fantasy playoffs in past 5 years?

Bob McKinlay (Casselberry, FL)

That’s an interesting area to poke around. A few times this year I have thought about posting a chart, showing how the handcuff running backs on each team have fared. That is, suppose you didn’t select any starting running backs, but had accesss to the No. 2 running back on each team? You would have selected James Conner, of course, and he would have been great. You might also have gotten some value out of James White, Tarik Cohen and C.J. Anderson (albeit in the round-about way). It’s a concept I have been mulling, but I haven’t figured out how to present it. Your question is slightly different. You’re asking about backup-type running backs in fantasy football playoff games. I offer the following chart. Below is the list of the 47 running backs who’ve run for at least 100 yards in a game in Week 15 or 16 the last five years. Of this group, eight are running backs who I think we’re pretty much scrap-heap guys in the middle of the season (available to be signed as free agents in typical fantasy leagues). So with Williams, Samuels and Anderson, we had a few more of these guys than usual this year.

100-YARD GAMES, WEEKS 15-16 (last 5 years)
2016Jay Ajayi, MIA@BUFW 34-31322066.41
2015David Johnson, ARI@PHIW 40-17291876.43
2016• Ty Montgomery, GB@CHIW 30-271616210.12
2016Ezekiel Elliott, DALTBW 26-20231596.91
2017C.J. Anderson, DEN@INDW 25-13301585.30
2014Frank Gore, SFSDL 35-38261586.11
2017Kareem Hunt, KCLACW 30-13241556.51
2016LeSean McCoy, BUFCLEW 33-13191538.12
2017Todd Gurley, LAR@SEAW 42-7211527.23
2014Jeremy Hill, CIN@CLEW 30-0251485.92
2014Jeremy Hill, CINDENW 37-28221476.71
2017Bilal Powell, NYJLACL 7-14191457.61
2013Eddie Lacy, GB@DALW 37-36211416.71
2016Devonta Freeman, ATLSFW 41-13201397.03
2013DeMarco Murray, DALGBL 36-37181347.41
2013LeSean McCoy, PHICHIW 54-11181337.42
2013Zac Stacy, STLNOW 27-16281334.81
2016Jonathan Stewart, CAR@WASW 26-15251325.30
2017Dion Lewis, NEBUFW 37-16241295.41
2016Ryan Mathews, PHI@BALL 26-27201286.41
2016LeSean McCoy, BUFMIAL 31-34241285.31
2013Matt Forte, CHI@CLEW 38-31241275.30
2013Ryan Mathews, SD@DENW 27-20291274.41
2017Devonta Freeman, ATL@TBW 24-21221265.71
2013LeVeon Bell, PIT@GBW 38-31261244.81
2015• Tim Hightower, NOJACW 38-27271224.52
2014Jonathan Stewart, CARCLEW 17-13241225.10
2016LeVeon Bell, PITBALW 31-27201226.11
2016Jordan Howard, CHIWASL 21-41181196.60
2017Todd Gurley, LAR@TENW 27-23221185.40
2017LeVeon Bell, PITNEL 24-27241174.91
2017• Giovani Bernard, CINDETW 26-17231165.01
2013• Bryce Brown, PHICHIW 54-11911512.81
2014Marshawn Lynch, SEA@ARIW 35-61011311.32
2014• Andre Williams, NYG@STLW 37-27261104.20
2013• Jordan Todman, JACBUFL 20-27251094.40
2013Chris Ivory, NYJCLEW 24-13201095.50
2017• Alfred Blue, HOUPITL 6-34161086.80
2015• Alfred Blue, HOU@INDW 16-10201075.40
2015Rashad Jennings, NYGCARL 35-38161076.71
2013Jamaal Charles, KCINDL 7-23131068.21
2013Fred Jackson, BUFMIAW 19-0181055.81
2015Adrian Peterson, MINNYGW 49-17221044.71
2013Zac Stacy, STLTBW 23-13331043.21
2016Frank Gore, IND@MINW 34-6261013.90
2015DeAngelo Williams, PIT@BALL 17-20171005.92
2015Darren McFadden, DALNYJL 16-19161006.20

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Question 3

You really still do believe in Gronk, even after his zeroes last week? I'm willing to trust you on that, but I would like to know your reasoning for it.

Richard Loppnow (Ephrata, WA)

This question came in before the Week 17 game, but I will address it, since the issue is still relevant. Gronkowski hasn’t been a big factor this year, especially recently. He had one productive game at Miami, catching 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdowns. Otherwise, they’ve hardly used him. He didn’t catch any passes when they went with a run-dominated game plan against the Bills. He caught only 2 passes in each of their other two most-recent games. Prior to the Miami game, he caught 3 passes in each of his four previous starts. He’s scored only 3 TDs in 13 games. They’re not using him in the red zone like they have in the past. If I had to guess, my leaning would be that Gronkowski won’t be playing in 2019. The injuries seem to have taken a toll on him; he’s an old 29. I would expect he’s ready to move on and try to make living in movies or maybe a reality TV show.

The Jets game was particularly disappointing. With the team having just lost Josh Gordon, and with Cordarrelle Patterson out, I figured they’d be looking to use him more. They were at home against a lesser opponent. Brady passed for 250 yards and 4 TDs. Yet Gronkowski caught only 2 passes for 24 yards. Either they’re saving him for one last hurrah in the playoffs (maybe) or he simply doesn’t have it anymore. With the Patriots being a No. 2 seed in the playoffs, I think he’s in the discussion as possibly the 2nd-best postseason tight end behind Travis Kelce. I think he’ll catch more passes in the playoffs than Zach Ertz (who’s a better player but far more likely to play just one game). But methinks we’re seeing the career of this great come to a close.

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Question 4

I was invited to play in a fantasy football league back in 2002 and had never played. I latched onto your product and haven't looked back yet. Many Championships, including this year, and countless top three finishes and I owe it all to your fantastic product. Thank you! Cheaters Always Prosper. How did that motto come about?

John Ruppe (Fort Myers, FL)

Thanks, John. I’m glad to hear your team had a successful season. Bruce Taylor is the guy here who decided way back who decided to put the name “Cheat Sheet” on the draft lists that we were publishing in August. Those date back to the ‘80s. In 1993, he started using the “Cheaters Always Prosper” line in promotions. It was catchy, and it stuck. Bruce has always had a better sense than me for the importance of branding.

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Question 5

I have a four-team, no-PPR playoff draft on Saturday featuring only the players from this weekend's games. I draft second. We can keep players who were on our regular season rosters, but we lose a draft pick for every player we keep. Each owner will draft seven players and a defense: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 Combined TE/WR , 1 Flex, 1 K and 1 D. The two highest-scoring owners advance to next week. In theory, I could keep Andrew Luck and Melvin Gordon (and even Doug Baldwin, Eric Ebron and Justin Tucker). If I did that, though, I would not be able to draft Zeke Elliott, who likely will be available at No. 2 overall. Should I not keep anybody and draft Elliott or would I have a better overall team if I kept Luck and Gordon (and maybe even Baldwin, Ebron and Tucker)?

Paul Owers (Lake Worth, FL)

If you keep your five, that will be a nice package of players. You would have five of the top 12 players on the board, in my opinion. But I think you’ll come out slightly ahead if you instead roll with Elliott and four other players. I believe eight other running backs will be chosen. He’ll be a lot better than half of them, and over twice as valuable as the other four.

In this kind of a deal, I think the first step is to order the players 1 thru 40. Identify the players you believe will be chosen. Then you recognize that if you select the last guys at any position, they’re essentially free. That is, if you don’t select Luck, Watson or Wilson, you get to select your quarterback with your last pick. So Lamar Jackson (or whoever you think is the #4 quarterback) is the baseline line. You measure the better players by how much more production they give you. Follow that process, and I think Elliott, Hopkins and Hilton should be the first three picks.

I’ve put it in chart form. I’m listing the 40 players I think should be chosen (and at the bottom, the best of the options that I wouldn’t pick, with some notable names in there – Allen Robinson, Philip Rivers). The “points” column shows how much production I think you can expect. The “value” column shows their relative value. I’ve tagged your possible keepers with black dots.

RBEzekiel Elliott18.910.9
WRDeAndre Hopkins13.97.6
WRT.Y. Hilton12.36.0
QBDeshaun Watson27.65.5
RB•Melvin Gordon12.34.3
RBChris Carson12.24.2
QB•Andrew Luck25.53.4
WRTyler Lockett9.33.0
WR•Doug Baldwin9.12.8
TE•Eric Ebron9.02.7
RBJordan Howard10.42.4
PK•Justin Tucker9.22.0
RBTarik Cohen10.02.0
RBLamar Miller9.91.9
PKKa'imi Fairbairn9.01.8
WRAmari Cooper8.11.8
WRKeenan Allen8.01.7
QBRussell Wilson23.31.2
PKBrett Maher8.0.8
WRMike Williams7.1.8
TEZach Ertz7.0.7
RBKenneth Dixon8.4.4
RBMarlon Mack8.3.3
WRAlshon Jeffery6.4.1
QBLamar Jackson22.1.0
WRKeke Coutee6.3.0
RBGus Edwards7.9.0
PKSebastian Janikowski7.1.0
DLA Chargers6.2.0
QBDak Prescott21.4---
QBMitchell Trubisky19.1---
QBPhilip Rivers17.5---
PKAdam Vinatieri6.8---
PKCody Parkey6.5---
WRAllen Robinson6.1---
RBDarren Sproles6.1---
WRTaylor Gabriel6.0---
RBAustin Ekeler5.7---

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Question 6

I've been with you guys every year since 1991. Obviously a big fan. The last couple of years it's bothered me that your bad advice is completely ignored and never addressed after the fact. But, whatever. I am writing you today to fire you from the weekly info. I do still like the preseason and draft prep information. But your weekly analysis has become complete vanilla. Mainly just a bunch of old stats with no bold predictions or meaningful matchup-specific details. And the ranking are a complete joke. They are never anywhere close to the end results and are entirely meaningless. Your readers act like you are gods, which is sad because, then, why should you try to improve? There are two examples of why I have had enough. First, the Week 16 Steelers against Saints analysis implied that if the Chargers beat the Ravens, Pittsburgh may not give it their all versus the Saints. That is the most absurd thing I have ever read from a "professional" fantasy source. As if the Steelers would be like "hey, we really don't need this one. We got it next week versus the Bengals. No point it going all-out or anything because next week we got it in the bag". Really? There's no way in hell that was going to happen and the implication was totally irresponsible and ludicrous. You guys have simply lost it. The other was your analysis of Damien Williams, same week. You called him an "ordinary" back. The back I saw in week 15 was not ordinary. He ripped off chunk play after chunk play, was explosive and a great receiver out of the backfield. 30 points in PPR. He was just as explosive and a difference maker in week 16 and I am thankful I ignored your sorry analysis, started him, and enjoyed his contribution to a dominant fantasy championship team. You've been great until recent years, guys. I'm afraid you're just getting too old and too comfortable.

David Woodworth (Atlanta, GA)

The Mailbag, I think, is a good area to debate the player rankings. That is, when you see that Tyler Boyd is ranked ranked higher than Sterling Shepard, and you think that’s crazy, you state your case and we hash it out. “How can you have Shepard ranked outside the top 20 among receivers when he’s facing a secondary missing both of its starting cornerbacks?” Or whatever. But I can only answer the questions that get sent in. If you want to see more scrutiny of picks, start sending in more letters.

You mention two specific teams, and while they’re both now in the rearview mirror, I will address them briefly. In the case of the Steelers, I was concerned specifically about James Conner. He was trying to come back from a high ankle sprain. Suppose he was borderline for the Saints game – iffy, with some risk of suffering a setback playing on the turf down there. Had he showed up that way on Sunday, I think some weight would have been given to the Ravens-Chargers game. Had the Chargers won, the game would have been relatively meaningless, increasing the probability (I think) that the Steelers would have held him out, saving him for Week 17.

As for Williams, I think it’s fair to call him ordinary. He didn’t do much in four years in Miami, and other teams weren’t really interested in him. Kansas City signed him to a one-year deal worth $1.2 million. Heading into training camp, I expected he would win their backup tailback job, but that didn’t happen. Spencer Ware beat him out. Here we are, late in the year, and Ware goes down with a hamstring injury. Williams averaged 1.8 yards per carry against the Ravens. He had some nice play against the Chargers. In Week 16, they were heading up to Seattle, a game where there was a decent chance they were going to lose. At the time of the initial writeup, it was unclear if Ware was going to play. If Ware was active, it would probably be some kind of committee situation. In the initial writeup, I had Williams projected for 78 yards (44 run, 34 rec), with a 64 percent chance of a touchdown. That was 21st standard and 17th PPR. On Friday, Ware was ruled out, and I upgraded Williams to 92 yards (52 run, 40 rec), with a 77 percent chance of a touchdown. That was 14th in standard and 8th in PPR. I don’t think that’s wildly off. And heading into the playoffs, I think we’re still at that same spot. He’s playing on a great team, but I’m not 100 percent he’ll even be their best running back in the postseason – Ware might be more productive. You don’t like the “ordinary” label, but we’ll see what kind of contract Williams signs in the offseason. I don’t envision any team offering him big money.

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Question 7

I was curious if you had an idea for a target date of when you will publish the playoff rankings. You have single-handedly won me this 3 out of the last 4 years. I cannot thank you enough. BTW, I was in 2 leagues this year (downsizing a bit) and I placed 1st and 2nd, plus winning an Empire Pot for back-to-back seasons. You're the best!

Ryan Logan (Minneapolis, MN)

Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad to hear you did well. We have two playoff products. The first is the overall playoff redrafter. We put that together on Monday (Dec. 31). That ranks all of the players on all 12 teams, putting them in order by their expected cumulative value for the postseason. The players on the teams more likely to play more games tend to be ranked higher. The second playoff product, released on Wednesday, focuses only on this week. That is, we set aside Kansas City, New Orleans, New England and the Rams, focusing only on the four games being played this weekend. We take a deep dive on each of those eight offenses, writing up how we think they’ll fare in this week’s games. Both items were sent out to all regular full-season subscribers, and are available a la carte in the store at the website.

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Question 8

My question relates to other cheaters out there. Have they had the same results I have as to y'all's ranking of quarterbacks? Over the last 12 years of a 10-team league, FFI has gotten me a top-3 quarterback in every year but one. The Great Wife's team and mine are the only cheaters amongst the 10 teams and have now won over half of all the championships. I have seen others in your column talk about that they are in five championship finals, but I don't know how many leagues they play in. Below is my recap of my quarterback drafting history. I’ve never been one of the first two teams to select a quarterback, but I’ve had one of the top-3 quarterbacks in all but two seasons. Also of note, no quarterback of mine in the last 12 years has thrown for less than 30 touchdowns. Major kudos to you guys. 2008 Drew Brees, 2009 Aaron Rodgers, 2010 Phillip Rivers, 2011 Matt Stafford, 2012 Peyton Manning, 2013 Nick Foles, 2013 Cam Newton, 2014 Aaron Rodgers, 2015 Cam Newton, 2016 Drew Brees, 2017 Russell Wilson, 2018 Patrick Mahomes

Bob Phipps (Orlando, FL)

That’s awesome. You deserve a large share of the credit yourself. Everyone could see that Mahomes was an emerging, potentially great quarterback this year, but you had a good feel for where to select him. With quarterbacks being a bigger part of the game, I think I’m going to in general tweak my draft strategy. I think I will pay more attention to that second quarterback I pick. I think there will continue to be a fair number of these breakout-type quarterbacks who throw 35-plus touchdowns. (I’m not talking Mahomes-type great – I’m talking about top-5 quarterbacks.) I think it makes some sense to select a second quality quarterback, increasing your odds of landing that quarterback who really outperforms expectations. Best of luck to you in 2019 – it will be tough for you to keep that QB streak going.

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Question 9

Do you think Tyler Lockett re-signs with Seattle or walks after this season?

Dennis Salisbury (Cranston, RI)

They signed him to a three-year extension in late August. Reportedly included $20 million in guaranteed money, with a maximum value of almost $38 million.

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