Late-Season Bloomers: Heading into 2014 with Momentum
One good way to identify potential sleepers and busts is to take a closer look at the late-season game-by-game stats. Oftentimes a player will make a splash, major or minor, in the final few weeks of the season and then take that momentum into the following year. I call these players Late-Season Bloomers. Sometimes this is a product of an injury to a player ahead of him on the depth chart, and sometimes a team is just ready to give the player a larger opportunity for one reason or another.
On the flip side, there are players who fade down the stretch; I call them Fading Heroes, which I'll discuss in Part 2 of this article later in the week. Combine a late-season swoon with another year of age and/or greater competition at the position and it’s a good recipe for a disappointing season. (I’m looking at you, Frank Gore.)
To identify these Late-Season Bloomers, I split the 2013 season stats into two parts – 1st (Weeks 1-8) and 2nd (Weeks 9-17) – then calculated each player’s points per game (PPG) and fantasy points per attempt, which was pass attempts (PA) for quarterbacks, touches for running backs and receivers, and receptions for tight ends.
The tables are sorted by PPG percent difference, and only include players who played at least four games in both halves of the season. I also limited the table to fantasy-relevant players, so if there are names missing, that’s probably the reason why. Players at the top of each table fared much better in the second half of the season -- these are our Late-Season Bloomers.
I’ll go position-by-position and discuss a few players that jump out.
Full QB PPG and FP/PA half season splits available here.
Nick Foles obviously had a tremendous second half of the season, scoring 25.3 points per game in his final eight games. Unless defensive coordinators are able to study and limit Chip Kelly’s offense, Foles is primed for another big season.
Tom Brady also played better down the stretch despite losing Rob Gronkowski for the final three games. Note that he only threw for 294 total yards and two TDs in the final two games without Gronk. He did have 364 yards and two scores against the Dolphins in Week 15, however. I believe Brady’s fantasy value hinges on Gronkowski’s availability.
Carson Palmer said that the team’s offense was much better down the stretch and his numbers reflect that. He saw a 48% jump in PPG and a 46% increase in FP/PA. He looks like a good value/streaming candidate, though ideally owners should make other plans when he faces the Seahawks and the 49ers.
Ben Roethlisberger also fared much better down the stretch once the Steelers started running more no-huddle offense. Roethlisberger played well in no-huddle in 2013, posting a better YPA (7.5 vs. 7.2) and TD% (6.1% vs. 4.3%) while in the no-huddle.
It’s also interesting to see that Alex Smith’s FP/PA jumped 23% in the second half of the season. It looks like he became more comfortable in Andy Reid’s offense.
Full RB PPG and FP/Touch half season splits available here.
Some of the names at the top of the list – Bobby Rainey, Chris Ivory, LeGarrette Blount and Donald Brown – have seen their fantasy situations deteriorate since the end of the 2013 season, but they’re names to remember once attrition starts to eat away at the position.
Rashad Jennings figures to be the lead back for the Giants and has thrived in that role when given the opportunity. In 13 career games where he has seen 15+ touches, Jennings has averaged 14.4 fantasy points, or solid RB1 numbers.
Ben Tate’s PPG spiked in the second half of the season thanks to an injury to Arian Foster. Tate gets the chance to start in Cleveland, though he does have a long injury history and Terrance West nipping at his heels. Still, he has averaged 94.5 yards and 0.54 TD in 13 career games when he has touched the ball at least 15 times.
It’s good to see that Maurice Jones-Drew was decent down the stretch, improving his FP/Touch from 0.45 to 0.60. MJD might surprise if he wins the RB1 job in Oakland.
C.J. Spiller’s second half performance is also encouraging -- his FP/Touch was a respectable 0.60, up 33% from his first half production.
One other thing to note – even though his PPG dropped, Trent Richardson’s per touch production rose 21% in the second half of the season, so there may be something to his claims of an increased comfort level within the Colts’ offense.
Full WR PPG and FP/Touch half season splits available here.
There are a number of good young prospects near the top of the list, specifically Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin, Justin Hunter, Jarrett Boykin, Rod Streater, Doug Baldwin, Michael Floyd and Keenan Allen. They all fared better on a PPG basis in the second half of the season. You can read more about Patterson, Austin, Hunter, Boykin, Streater and Baldwin here: Utilizing Advanced Stats to Identify 16 Breakout Receivers. Floyd and Allen have already broken out and are currently fantasy WR2-types.
Roddy White got healthier as the season wore on, improving both his per game and per touch production, which is why we put him in our list of Eleven Old-Timers to Consider on Draft Day. The article also discusses Marques Colston, who battled plantar fasciitis in his foot but fared well down the stretch. He said during OTAs that his foot feels great.
Dwayne Bowe also played a little better in the second half of the season – his improved play coincided with Alex Smith’s aforementioned increase in production. He also had a big game against the Colts in the playoffs, though that was partly due to the Chiefs losing Jamaal Charles for the game.
Full TE PPG and FP/Rec half season splits available here.
Zach Ertz averaged 2.8-32-.56 over the final nine games of the season (including the Eagles' sole playoff game) and that included two goose eggs in Week 10 and Week 14. He should be more involved in the Eagles offense this year. He has been working on his run blocking, so he should enjoy more playing time.
John Carlson played well for the Vikings after Kyle Rudolph went down and could usurp Rob Housler as the starting tight end in Arizona. Tight ends don’t have a ton of value in Bruce Arians’ offense, but he’s a player to monitor.
Ladarius Green had three straight games with at least 80 yards and/or a TD from Week 11 to Week 13, but then caught just one pass in his final four games. Will the Chargers feature him more in the passing game with Antonio Gates on the decline? He is the #14 TE off the board, which seems like a steep price to play for a part-time player.
Ultimately, we’re dealing with small sample sizes, so while this is a good exercise to go through, but be careful not to place too much importance on these numbers when analyzing established veterans who are in a similar situation as last year. Looking at late-season performance is a nice way to further justify established sleepers or perhaps underline already-established concerns about aging vets, which is a topic we'll cover in Part 2 later this week.