13 Late-Season Bloomers: Heading into 2016 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, whether major or minor, in the final few weeks of the season, and then carry that momentum into the following year. We'll refer to these players as Late-Season Bloomers. Sometimes a late-season bloomer is a product of an injury to a player ahead of him on the depth chart, while other times 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 series later in the week. Combine a late-season swoon with another year of age and/or greater competition at the position, and you have a good recipe for a disappointing season.
To identify these Late-Season Bloomers, I split the 2015 season stats into two parts – first half (Weeks 1-8) and second half (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 you notice some 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.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Washington wasn’t supposed to be very good last year, but they quietly won their division thanks to a defense that was surprisingly effective taking the ball away ... and the progression of Cousins. After an uneven first half of the season, Cousins won six of his last eight games, throwing for 19 touchdowns and only three interceptions during that span. He also eclipsed 300 passing yards five times after doing so only once twice in the first half. Cousins enters this season as the unquestioned starter for a Washington offense that added receiver Josh Doctson in the first round of the draft and will return an elite tight end in Jordan Reed. Cousins should be well worth his 12th-round price tag if he can start this season the way he finished 2015.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
The secret is already out on Bortles, who is ranked in the top-10 in most fantasy drafts. While much of his 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns can be attributed to garbage time stats, the strong-armed sophomore emerged as a legit fantasy option with excellent weapons around him in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Hidden in those numbers is the fact that Bortles improved as the season progressed. After starting the season with a 17-10 TD to interception ratio, he finished the year with 18-8, and he had two rushing touchdowns in his final four games. He improved a modest seven percent in fantasy points per game, but more telling is his 13-percent improvement per pass attempt. This bodes well for the future in Jacksonville, and if he’s available in the 10th round and beyond, he’s excellent value in all fantasy league formats.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The rookie Winston had an uneven year, but overall he showed enough promise to make Bucs fans think he might be the franchise quarterback they’ve been looking for since … well … forever. Winston’s per-pass-attempt numbers actually decreased as last season went on, but his comfort in the pocket improved as the season progressed, and he improved his points per game by 11 percent over the second half of the season, going from 16.18 to 17.96. While not an incredible improvement, he showed steady development that should carry over into year two of his career.
Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Eli Manning improved over the second half of last season as well, but these are players that are known quantities. Wilson and Newton will likely be two of the top quarterbacks taken in all fantasy drafts, and Manning isn’t surprising anyone at this point in his career. Ben Roethlisberger improved by 25 percent, but that’s likely due to better health. Johnny Manziel was surprisingly more effective down the stretch, showing remarkable improvement. However, he’s more likely to make an impact in the press than on the football field this year, and as of this writing, is not on an NFL roster.
|Player||Team||Wk 1-9 Games||ATT||FP||FP/Game||FP/ATT||Wk 10-17 Games||ATT||FP||FP/Game||FP/ATT||PPG Diff||FB/ATT Diff|
Continue reading for three RB, four WR, and three TE late-season bloomers and a couple of potential breakouts.