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Can These Late-Season Success Stories Write a New Chapter in 2022?

If players like Rashaad Penny and Amon-Ra St. Brown can ride the momentum of the last month of 2021, then fantasy managers should take note.

Momentum is a hotly debated principle as it relates to sports.

Do players really get “hot” and go on a tear? Or is every game, every quarter, every down an outcome independent of all others? No matter the answer (if you’re interested, people have written about this topic at great lengths), momentum is at least perceived by us in the fantasy football community when we extrapolate player performance over a number of weeks.

Did you know Sam Darnold was the QB5 from weeks 1-4 last season?

How about that Elijah Moore was the WR7 from weeks 7-11?

And were you aware that … you get the point.

These samples, presented with appropriate context, help inform decisions and rankings beyond simply concluding that, yes, Jonathan Taylor was the RB1 last season and you should draft him as such (although you really should). Injuries, situation, strength of opponent and other variables all affect performance and, of course, need to be taken into account.

Okay, now back to momentum. If it indeed exists will it, or can it, carry over from the end of last season to the beginning of this coming campaign? Even your most ardent supporter of the principle would probably admit it’s not likely—Week 18 of the 2021 season was seven months ago!

That said, it’s never a bad thing to string together a few strong outings heading into the offseason. Taylor closed out the 2020 season as the RB1 from Weeks 13-17, and that proved to be indicative of his play in 2021.

I’m going to examine a few players who similarly outperformed their season-long rankings at the tail end of the season (Weeks 13-18). I’ll look at why that may be, what each team did in the offseason to help or hurt their hopes of repeating this success and ultimately determine how repeatable that play is given their current situation.

Dec 26, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (20) rushes against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 26, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (20) rushes against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Rashaad Penny

Position Rank Weeks 13-18: RB1
Season-long Position Rank: RB42

Penny had 17 carries for 43 yards across four games prior to Week 13. The former first-round pick with a laundry list of injuries was on his way to another disappointing season, which could have been his last in Seattle. Then he had an O.K. game against San Francisco, turning 11 carries into 62 yards. That proved to be the turning point.

A healthy Penny romped for 137 yards and two scores the next week in Houston. He returned to Earth against the Rams (11 carries for 39 yards), though he remained the team’s lead back. Then over the final three games of the season, Penny broke loose for 135, 170 and 190 yards with at least one touchdown in each game. He averaged over 117 yards and one score per game over the final six games of the season and led all running backs in fantasy points. That flash of brilliance earned him a one-year deal to stick with the Seahawks.

Chris Carson and Alex Collins are out of the way, but Seattle did spend a second-round pick on running back Kenneth Walker III, an understandable decision given Penny’s injury history. Still, the early reports out of training camp have Penny dubbed the RB1.

Verdict: Penny’s late-season success was more fiction than fact. He would have won the rushing title and broken 2,000 yards at that pace—it’s unsustainable. That doesn’t mean I’m down on him, though. At RB32, Penny is a cheap starting-caliber running back with proven upside. His value depends on what his timeshare ends up being with Walker, who’s going a few spots after him at RB36.

Devin Singletary

Position Rank Weeks 13-18: RB3
Season-long Position Rank: RB18

Singletary began his third season with four consecutive games of double-digit carries. He was phased out over the next seven games, only eclipsing 10 carries once and doing relatively little with the few touches he was getting.

Over the final six games of the season, Singletary logged 10-plus carries five times, including two games with more than 20. He also scored five of his seven rushing touchdowns and his only receiving touchdown in that span. Singletary’s involvement in the receiving game picked up with his biggest backfield competition, Zack Moss, inactive Weeks 14 and 15. Singletary broke 100 rushing yards for the second time in his career in Week 17 and scored twice on the ground. He followed that with 100-plus scrimmage yards and two more touchdowns. He played well against New England in the first round of the playoffs but his production tailed off in the divisional shootout against the Chiefs.

Singletary separated himself as the RB1 in Buffalo in the best season of his career. The Bills then added pass-catching back James Cook in the second round of the draft. Cook could have real value in this pass-happy offense, which caps Singeltary’s ceiling.

Verdict: The touchdowns finally came for Singletary in his third season and there will be plenty more scoring options in this offense. But due to the addition of Cook and Josh Allen’s constant threat as a runner, Singletary’s high-end success is more fiction than fact. He could certainly repeat as a low-end, touchdown-dependent RB2 and likely holds more value than his current ADP of RB31—he’s going about 30 spots ahead of his teammate, Cook (RB40). Cook is the upside play but Singletary feels safe and is a good depth piece.

Sony Michel

Position Rank Weeks 13-18: RB9
Season-long Position Rank: RB32

Michel got fed each game he started during a resurgent season in Los Angeles. He averaged more than 20 carries and over 100 scrimmage yards per game in his seven starts, six of which occurred during the final six weeks of the season. Darrell Henderson Jr. and Cam Akers missed the bulk of those games, which allowed for Michel to shine with a heavy workload.

That won’t be the case in Miami, where Michel is one of three new running backs brought in this offseason. The Dolphins signed Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert (who played for new Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel in San Francisco) and Michel to make up a four-headed running back room along with incumbent starter Myles Gaskin. Michel figures to fit in as the third running back on the depth chart behind Edmonds and Mostert.

Michel, a 2018 first-round pick, is the only back on the team to have recorded a season with 200-plus carries (he’s done so three times). Edmonds, also entering his fifth season, saw James Conner outshine him in his first year as a starter; Mostert has appeared in just nine games over the last two seasons; and McDaniel has no ties to Gaskin, a former seventh-round pick.

Verdict: As the likely RB3 on his own team, Michel has little chance of even matching his 2021 finish as a low-end RB3, much less the RB1 performance he posted down the stretch. However, the path to more work for Michel is there given the injury history of those in front of him and he’s worth a late-round flier on a team whose new coach was previously a run-game coordinator. Michel is going outside the top-200 as the RB63. One injury could have Michel situated in a solid position in an improved offense, which happened just a season ago.

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Amon-Ra St. Brown

Position Rank Weeks 13-18: WR2
Season-long Position Rank: WR21

The difference in St. Brown’s usage from the first 12 weeks of the season compared with Week 13 on was drastic. Fantasy managers are certainly familiar with the rookie’s surprising late-season explosion in Detroit. He saw at least 10 targets in each of the final six games, something that hadn’t happened at all before Week 13.

St. Brown made the most of that massive bump in usage—he caught at least eight passes in each of those games and scored all six of his touchdowns (one on the ground) during that stretch. His best games came in Weeks 17 and 18 when he broke 100 receiving yards and began to get some rushing work.

Running back D’Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockensen did not play in many of St. Brown’s best games, an indicator his volume will not continue at that high rate. The Lions also signed receiver D.J. Chark in free agency and drafted speedster Jameson Williams in the first round, though he will not start the season due to a torn ACL. That’s a lot more competition for targets from Jared Goff than St. Brown saw at the end of last season.

Verdict: This might be more fact than fiction. No, St. Brown is not going to finish as the WR2 and he’s certainly not being drafted as such. But his talent and value likely lay somewhere between his season-long finish, which was depressed by a slow start, and the final six games of his rookie year. He’s the WR1 on his team and he’s being drafted as the WR26. I think another WR2 finish is well within reach in his sophomore season.

Allen Lazard

Position Rank Weeks 13-18: WR14
Season-long Position Rank: WR47

The best part about Lazard’s late-season run is that it came with Davante Adams in the lineup. Adams, a perennial All-Pro wideout and back-to-back MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s top target, is no longer in Green Bay. That makes Lazard the de facto WR1. He showed potential at the tail end of the best season of his career, making frequent endzone trips and big plays.

Lazard caught five of his eight touchdowns in the final five games of the season (the Packers were on bye in Week 13) and snagged five or more passes in three of those games. None of his numbers were necessarily wow-inducing. He was simply solid. Six catches on seven targets for 75 yards and a score is a great game—it’s also pretty repeatable, especially for Rodgers’s potential top target. Lazard never saw more than seven targets and did not break 100 yards in any game last season. His 60 targets will likely double if he is indeed the WR1 due to the Packers’ high percentage of vacated targets.

In an effort to replace Adams’s production, Green Bay drafted Christian Watson in the second and Romeo Doubs in the fourth and signed veteran Sammy Watkins. Tight end Robert Tonyan will also be back healthy this season and Aaron Jones is a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. But as far as receivers go, Lazard has the most experience playing with Rodgers.

Verdict: I lean more fact than fiction. Lazard missed two games last season, received the third-most targets on the team and finished as the WR47. He’s only being drafted two spots ahead of that right now. Just playing a full season without Adams and seeing in the neighborhood of six to eight targets weekly as opposed to the four per game he averaged a season ago is worth a noticeable bump in production. And if he has any connection at all with Rodgers, he could turn out to be quite the late-round steal. Matching his high-end WR2 end-of-season numbers is a bit rich for my taste, but low-end WR2 to mid-tier WR3 stats seems reasonable. Michael Fabiano has him ranked WR40 and he’s his highest-ranked Green Bay receiver.


Gabriel Davis

Position Rank Weeks 13-18: WR28
Season-long Position Rank: WR58

I don’t need to sell you on Davis. Just watch the Chiefs game again and you’ll understand why his ADP is as high as it is. But he does fit into this category of players who outperformed their season-long finishes late last year, even before he went bonkers in the postseason.

Davis corralled four touchdowns in his final five games (he missed Week 16) and averaged over seven targets per game after averaging 2.5 in 11 games prior. His increasing target share came to a head in Week 18 when he saw a season-high 14 targets, though he caught just three. Davis also flashed with five catches for 85 yards and two scores against the Panthers in Week 15.

No matter where you stand on one of the more polarizing players this offseason, remember his arrow was already pointing up before he made history in the playoffs.

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