In these massive field, top heavy best ball tournaments, we know that we’re going to need some improbable, outlier outcomes to come to fruition in our favor in order to be lucky enough to even have a shot at the top prize. A good chunk of the field has figured out that things like stacking, young ‘breakout’ players, and other fairly straightforward concepts that can help us capitalize on this, but I think there are some additional paths we can take in our drafts to
A unique approach to this that I think has the most upside is simply a pivot to a different train of thought as it relates to upside. We’re constantly looking for players that can exceed expectations for the year (I.E. breakout), or players (and sometimes even stacks) that can exceed expectations in a given week due to matchup, correlation, etc. What we don’t often think about, typically because it’s extremely difficult to conceptualize, is scenario based upside.
Scenario based upside is different from the above because it takes into account some unforeseen event (or scenario) occurring that drastically changes the outlook for a player, or more often an offense. Of course, something like an injury to a starting running back is technically in that bucket, but even then the general idea in fantasy football is typically that is strictly a benefit to the backup RB. And of course losing a QB is a huge deal to an offense, but there are many different and more involved scenarios to think through than just the basic injury stuff.
Sure, sometimes a scenario driving upside could be an injury (and I’ll definitely get to some of those). There’s also plenty of other scenarios that can play out for specific players, specific teams, or even specific coaches that drive upside that we don’t typically account for. That not only can lead us to some unique ideas on individual players, but maybe more importantly it can lead us to correlated bets on players or teams. Let’s get into the first example so you can see what I mean –
Derrick Henry, The Identity Back, Goes Down
I know Derrick Henry is a mutant, and likely indestructible, but even mutants might wear down after the workload he’s received the last couple seasons. The Big Dog is not just the centerpiece of the Titans offense… he’s their entire offensive identity… hence the term coined by Ben Gretch (@yardspergretch on twitter), the identity back.
The Titans built their entire offense around Derrick Henry, and the fact that they can just pound the run game with this freak of a human to pummel their opponents. Not only does that lead to massive volume for Henry, in the form of 782 carries over the last 2 seasons, but it sets up the rest of their offense. Their play action pass game is elite, and they are able to utilize their other amazing weapons, like AJ Brown, in incredibly efficient ways. The issue for the rest of the offense is simply volume. No matter how efficient you are, in order to truly reach a true ceiling as a fantasy producer, you do need a certain level of volume to get there.
So, what happens if Derrick Henry gets hurt?
I don’t think there is another running back injury that would be as drastically impactful as Henry. Of course other teams would be impacted with an injury, but no other back is the identity of their offense like Henry, which is why he deserves a special scenario for himself.
In my opinion, a Henry injury creates a scenario where the entire offense changes. You simply cannot run the same offense with Darrynton Evans or Jeremy McNichols as you can with Derrick Henry, so the Titans would be forced to flip their style of play on its head. The Titans would have to turn to a pass-first approach and lean on their new strengths, which are QB Ryan Tannehill and an excellent group of dynamic pass catchers in AJ Brown, Julio Jones, Anthony Firkser and Darrynton Evans.
Sure, the hyper efficient Titans offense might take a small step back in terms of efficiency, but they’ve already been an extreme outlier from an efficiency perspective. We also should expect that an offense with some of the most efficient players in the league, AJ Brown & Julio Jones, will still likely be fairly efficient. So you have an offense with Ryan Tannehill at the helm, a strong offensive line, two superstar wide receivers, and competent supporting talent that takes a slight step back in efficiency but a HUGE step forward in volume. That’s a big net gain in fantasy points for this entire group.
Despite limited volume, Ryan Tannehill has been the QB9 & QB10 in fantasy points per game the last two years. He has a bit more rushing ability than the market probably thinks, particularly in the red zone with 11 rushing TDs the last 2 seasons. With major increased volume and the removal of red zone monster Derrick Henry, he could challenge the elite fantasy QBs in the league with weekly ceiling due to his dual threat upside.
We don’t have to say too much about AJ Brown and Julio Jones as players, right? These are two bonafide stud receivers in the NFL, despite Julio getting up there in age. Even last year, Julio was still 4th in the entire NFL in yards per route run behind Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson and… AJ Brown. Corey Davis had a breakout season last year, Derrick Henry was the best version we’ve seen of Derrick Henry and passing volume was low, and yet AJ Brown was the WR9 in fantasy points per game. These two are just borderline unicorns at the wide receiver position, and the general consensus is that they don’t quite have the upside we like to dream about due to the offensive scheme that they are in. But, that doesn’t take into account everything. It doesn’t take into account this scenario where their offensive scheme flips.
Lastly, the two other players I think offer tremendous upside in this scenario. If you’ve followed me at all this summer, you know that I’ve been extremely high on Darrynton Evans as a late round fantasy pick, and many probably think it’s because of the typical “handcuff” idea. While that’s largely true, I also believe Evans is the archetype of a player that fits this scenario perfectly. If Henry goes down, Evans is not a big bruising back. He’s more of the shifty, elusive, pass catching back with just enough between the tackles ability to keep defenses honest. In fact, he projects to be the Titans change of pace and passing down back even with Henry, and that’s what this new Titans offense would predominantly need in the absence of their identity back. He wasn’t able to stay healthy last season, so we haven’t been able to see it yet, but he was even being compared to “a poor man’s Alvin Kamara” within the Titans organization last year. I’m certainly not advertising him as Alvin Kamara, but I think that’s the type of role we could be talking about if something were to happen to Derrick Henry, and Evans has displayed some explosiveness in the limited action we’ve seen from him so far in his career (including this preseason).
The final player that definitely goes overlooked here is tight end Anthony Firkser. When Jonnu Smith left town to head to New England, I think many (wrongly) assumed that Firkser would step into closer to a full-time role at the position. The issue is that’s simply not who Firkser is as a player. He’s a receiving tight end, and a pretty darn good one at that. It’s not the best use of their assets to deploy him in-line blocking for Derrick Henry, so in games where the Titans are pounding the rock or even just not utilizing sets with Firkser to throw the ball, he isn’t going to be fantasy relevant. He actually played just 10% of his snaps last year in-line, leading all NFL tight ends with 70% of his snaps in the slot. However, he is a talented receiver. Among tight ends with at least 30 targets last year, Firkser was 6th in the NFL in yards per route run. But, when game script goes awry or the game goes into full blown shootout mode, like we saw in week 6 last year against the Texans where he posted an 8/113/1 line, he has major spike week potential. Thus, if the Titans get into a scenario where they flip their offense to a more pass-first approach, Firkser should be a key component of that. That would create the exact type of player that we are looking for at the tight end position, likely with a fairly decent floor, but major weekly upside given the combination of his offense and ability to earn targets.
I get it, a scenario like this is not exactly likely. But isn’t that kind of the point in these new, huge best ball tournaments with 150,000+ entrants and $1 Million top prize? We are going to need a crazy outlier outcome to come through in order for us to take down these contests, and utilizing scenarios that create ceiling outcomes for not just one, but multiple individual players is a great way to give ourselves a leg up on our competition. We’re certainly not hoping for anyone to get hurt, and Derrick Henry might just be unbreakable, but in the event that something does happen to him, I think we could see a seismic shift in the Titans offense that creates league winning potential for 5+ players in their offense.
Derrick Henry, THE identity back… a scenario unlike any other in the NFL… with upside potential unlike any other as well.