Fantasy Football Fact or Fluke: These NFL teams made key against-the-grain moves — but will they keep it up?

I love all sorts of games and trivia, but especially playing cards, usually with my parents. We play Euchre, pitch, cribbage and more, games with a good balance of luck and skill. We all have different styles of play, with my dad being the risk-taker of the group. He’s never afraid to push the cards or make bold leverage plays to put his team in position to win. I’m more conservative, playing the probabilities and not wanting to put my team in a position to lose. Most everyone can find themselves — and their fantasy leaguemates — somewhere on this spectrum.

Daring to make a decision that the majority of people wouldn’t make can seem reckless, like going for it on fourth down from midfield, but can have a profound effect on win probability. Always punting on fourth down is the historically ‘correct’ thing to do, and even though it doesn’t put your team in a better position to win, coaches that make this decision are rarely criticized or punished.

We live in a society that prizes conformity when in reality, it’s those that see things differently and take calculated risks that benefit most. This week, we saw quite a few examples of what can happen when NFL teams go against the grain. The reasons varied, and so did the results. Let’s dive in!

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

With Ezekiel Elliott inactive Sunday with a sprained MCL, Pollard was finally given free rein. Fantasy managers have been banging the drums for Pollard for over a year now, and he certainly over-delivered on expectations in the favorable matchup against Chicago (131 rushing yards, 3 TDs). Yet, in all likelihood, the Cowboys will go back to Elliott after the Week 9 bye.


Certainly, Elliott has been a star for them in the past and they gave him a huge contract extension in 2019. There might be a little bit of an endowment effect going on there, wherein the Cowboys over-value Elliott because they’ve invested in him. When Jerry Jones says that the team goes the way Elliott goes, that’s indicative of having tied his and the team’s esteem to Zeke, a key element underlying the endowment effect.

This season the Cowboys’ have nine double-digit PPR fantasy performances by running backs. Pollard has five, Elliott has four. Prior to Week 8, Elliott had more rushing yards and more touchdowns (four) than Pollard. Pollard, however, is averaging 6.2 YPC and 10 yards per catch on more than twice as many targets as Elliott this season. After the monster game Sunday, Pollard is PPR RB20 and Elliott is RB27. Elliott’s only 27 years old; while that puts him perhaps on the downward trajectory of his career, he’s not actual dust yet.

Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys still has fantasy value
While fantasy managers might want Tony Pollard to be the guy in Dallas, Ezekiel Elliott is still producing for the team. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Still, it’s hard to ignore what Pollard can do. Per NextGenStats, he’s the second most efficient rusher in the league, and racks up 2.37 yards over expected per attempt (RYOE), behind only Travis Etienne. For comparison, Elliott’s RYOE is -0.28, meaning he’s not even getting what’s being blocked for him this season. Pollard is also doing this while facing a stacked box significantly more often than Elliott.

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the season and fantasy managers might have to wait until he’s with a new team to see his potential unleashed as a lead back. For now, we should expect to keep seeing a one-two punch from Dallas, with Pollard firmly in the No. 2 role — unless another Elliott injury materializes.

Sam Ehlinger, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Speaking of dust, the Colts actually did the bold thing and benched an uninspiring Matt Ryan for Ehlinger. After flashing a bit in preseason (82.8 completion percentage, four passing and one rushing touchdown with a 147.8 rating), Ehlinger sadly looked like a younger version of Ryan in Week 8. It was a pass-friendly matchup with the Commanders, causing some fantasy managers to rely on him in SuperFlex formats and/or DFS. Ehlinger completed 17-of-23 pass attempts for 201 yards and rushed six times for 15 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass but he also had zero interceptions.

As debuts go, it could have been better but the Colts claim they will stick with him for the rest of the season.

He didn’t make things a whole lot better for Jonathan Taylor (16 attempts for 76 yards) but Michael Pittman saw nine targets, catching seven of them for 53 yards. You have to keep starting those two in fantasy leagues, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the Colts will suddenly become a well-oiled scoring machine behind Ehlinger.

Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears

Fields was expected to make great leaps in his second year with the Bears. Since we easily succumb to the primacy bias, we all remember the Week 1 slogfest that resulted in a surprising win over San Francisco, but a mediocre fantasy game for Fields. He threw the ball 17 times, completing only eight passes (two for touchdowns) while rushing 11 times for only 28 yards. The shaky start was followed by three very forgettable performances in which Fields threw zero touchdown passes, rushed for one and threw three interceptions. We gave up on him.

Although the competition didn’t get easier, Fields has now steadily improved from Weeks 5-8, with seven total touchdowns and only two interceptions in that four-game span.

The one thing that I saw early on was that Fields actually looked pretty good when he threw downfield. He just didn’t do it very much. Since Week 5, his average passing attempts and average yards per attempt have increased (he is currently ranked 10th in the statistic). He has as many deep-ball attempts (22 passes traveling over 20 yards in the air) as Patrick Mahomes on an average of 18 fewer passing attempts per game. His completion percentage on those is 31.8 percent, which isn’t great, but it is something to build on. He’s also averaging 6.7 yards per carry, with a rushing touchdown in each of the last two games.

His fantasy points are steadily going up and he gets a very nice schedule for the next few weeks. If Week 9 byes get you down, consider Fields a risk/reward option vs. the Dolphins. The addition of wide receiver Chase Claypool via a trade-deadline deal would likely only help Fields as he'll get another weapon to throw to.

DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

Moore has had 13 of his 33 receptions and two of his three touchdowns delivered by PJ Walker in the last two weeks. It’s not hyperbole to say that Walker’s willingness to throw the ball to Moore (21 targets in the last two games) has restored fantasy managers’ faith in the receiver. He did hurt his real-life team with the helmet penalty on Sunday, but things have been going well for Moore from a fantasy perspective. Walker has put them in a better position to win than Baker Mayfield, and with Christian McCaffrey out of town, Moore has become a reliable receiver in fantasy and reality. That game-tying TD grab was impressive!

Here’s hoping Week 8’s narrow loss in overtime hasn’t jeopardized Walker’s starting job because going back to Mayfield or Sam Darnold at this point is definitely the opposite of playing to win.

Quick Hits

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins

Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle get all the deserved credit for their record-smashing receiving season thus far, but Tua is making it happen. He was my favorite late-round QB this summer for exactly this reason. The team did everything possible to drop success at his feet; if you believe in the receivers, you have to believe in the QB. Tagovailoa is now QB7 on the season (FPPG), despite suffering one of the scariest head injuries I’ve ever seen in a football game and having basically no rushing component to his game.

This team just gels on offense. Trusting Tagovailoa to make that third-year leap and paying Hill all that money were risks that are paying off. Expect more of the same for at least the next three weeks (Bears, Browns, Texans). (FACT)

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Hopkins drafters are having a moment of vindication right now. Depending on when you took him back in August or September, you probably got a few jeers (or gave a few jeers) for drafting a player you couldn’t use for six weeks. I think my dad took him in Round 6 of our family league. In Nuk's normal draft neighborhood (Rounds 8-9), you definitely could have done better (Dameon Pierce) but you could have done a lot worse too — with seemingly "safer" picks like Darnell Mooney, Hunter Renfrow, or Kareem Hunt. In just two games, Hopkins (54.2 fpts) has only seven fewer PPR fantasy points than Mooney and 22 MORE than Renfrow.

Depending on your league standing and depth, it’s a great time to trade or hold Hopkins. If you can find a willing trade partner, Hopkins should command an RB1 or two second-tier players, but I also have no issue holding him given the volume he’s getting. I just wish there were bonus fantasy points for spectacular one-handed touchdown catches. (FACTish)

Tyler Allgeier, RB, Atlanta Falcons

I am a believer in Allgeier’s talent, and I roster him in my expert dynasty league. That said, I would not be jumping to spend a high waiver priority or significant FAAB bid on him with Cordarrelle Patterson coming back and Caleb Huntley still very much involved. In fact, Huntley rushed two more times for more yardage in Sunday’s overtime win (16 attempts, 91 yards vs. 14 attempts and 36 rushing yards for Allgeier). The difference in fantasy scoring has been the touchdowns for Allgeier; one rushing in Week 7, one receiving in Week 8.

It’s been more of a committee than the box score shows and I don’t think the Falcons have seen enough from either to bench Patterson upon his return. Even on a run-heavy team (Atlanta has the third-most rushing attempts per game), a three-man committee is not good for fantasy. (FLUKE)

Kenyon Drake, RB, Baltimore Ravens

On the topic of annoying committees, the Ravens had one shining moment from Gus Edwards before he found himself back on the sidelines, this time with a hamstring. Drake has been the one to step up in Edwards’ absence but Justice Hill has also impressed with his efficiency (5.2 and 7.0 YPC in Weeks 7 & 8). With 10 days between games, we’re not even sure Edwards will miss Week 9. Plus, the Ravens will be playing Monday night in New Orleans, whose defense just took all the wind out of Josh Jacobs’ fantasy sails.

This is not a good spot for any Ravens back, so try to secure an alternative solution to your RB2 or FLEX this week other than Drake. (FLUKE)

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