Welcome to The Forward Pass. This piece offers a few usage notes from Week 12 and makes forward-looking statements about Week 13 and beyond.

1. Mount VeJulius Finally Erupts

On the Week 12 Daily Fantasy Flex podcast and Sunday live show, I think I probably said something like this:

People should be cautious with wide receiver Julio Jones because, even though the Falcons are -10.5 home favorites, in the Dan Quinn era Julio has underperformed as a home favorite.

Given that he had a great matchup versus the Buccaneers (28th against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average), Julio had the position’s second-highest median projection in our Models, and I had Julio ranked as the No. 2 wideout on FantasyPros. So it’s not as if we expected him to be horrible, but he entered the week with just 8.6 targets per game (under former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan he averaged 11.1), and he had a 31-40 percent ownership projection. Because of the volatility at the position, it’s almost never a bad idea to fade a wide receiver that chalky.

But Julio isn’t just any receiver. With a slate-high 15 targets (one of which was thrown by wide receiver Mohamed Sanu out of the wildcat), Jones turned 12 receptions into 253 yards. He also scored two touchdowns, pushing his 2017 touchdown rate of 1.16 percent a lot closer to his 4.22 percent touchdown rate with Shanny. Jones has tough matchups in Weeks 13-14 against Vikings and Saints shutdown cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Marshon Lattimore, but as Week 12 has made clear, Julio warrants exposure in guaranteed prize pools regardless of situation.

2. What Are the Saints Without a Secondary?

Before this season, the Saints spent four of the past five years with one of the league’s worst defenses, particularly in the passing game.

  • 2012: 31st in points per game (PPG) allowed, 28th in pass defense DVOA
  • 2013: fourth in PPG, sixth in pass DVOA (Rob Ryan outlier year)
  • 2014: 28th in PPG, 27th in pass DVOA
  • 2015: 32nd in PPG, 32nd in pass DVOA
  • 2016: 31st in PPG, 30th in pass DVOA

This year they have dramatically improved on defense, entering Week 12 ranked ninth with just 19.6 PPG allowed. They’ve specifically improved in pass defense, ranking fourth in pass DVOA (compared to 26th in rush DVOA) thanks to the strong play of Lattimore and Ken Crawley, both of whom are top-20 Pro Football Focus corners.

In Week 12 both Lattimore (ankle) and Crawley (abdomen) were out, and the Rams (without No. 1 wide receiver Robert Woods) put up 354 yards and two touchdowns through the air, scoring 26 points in the process. In a matchup between two 8-3 teams, the Saints host the Panthers in Week 13. The winner will control the NFC South and have a shot at a first-round bye. The loser will be at risk of missing the playoffs. If Lattimore and Crawley can’t play, the Panthers could hit some home runs at the Coors Field of fantasy football.

3. Sorry, Chad — the Jags Won’t Make the Super Bowl

Chad Millman (Head of Media of The Action Network) is obsessed with the Jaguars. Seriously. He seemingly thinks a Jags-Saints Super Bowl would be the most exciting event in human history since the invention of sex. While the Jags have a Super Bowl-caliber defense, the lowly Browns and Cardinals have limited them to just three offensive touchdowns over the past two weeks, providing the rest of the league with a straightforward game plan to beat them.

  1. Stack the line of scrimmage to neutralize rookie running back Leonard Fournette.
  2. Shadow ‘No. 1 wide receiver’ (cough) Marqise Lee with a competent cornerback.
  3. Force quarterback Blake Bortles to pretend to be someone who can throw.

The Jags defense/special teams has been a go-to DFS unit all year, but if future opponents utilize this defensive blueprint, and if the offense continues to score few points while putting the defense in bad field position, then the Jags D/ST will be less attractive to roster, especially in GPPs. It might even become a unit to target with contrarian players.

4. Blaine Gabbert Is #NotHorrible

Over the past seven years, there’s been a three-man race to see who the most disappointing player is to be selected with a top-12 pick in the 2011 draft.

  • 1.01: Quarterback Cam Newton, three Pro Bowls
  • 1.02: Edge defender Von Miller, five pro Bowls
  • 1.03: Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, two Pro Bowls
  • 1.04: Wide receiver A.J. Green, six Pro Bowls
  • 1.05: Cornerback Patrick Peterson, six Pro Bowls
  • 1.06: Wide receiver Julio Jones, four Pro Bowls
  • 1.07: Edge defender Aldon Smith, one Pro Bowl
  • 1.08: Quarterback Jake Locker, HORRIBLE
  • 1.09: Offensive tackle Tyron Smith, four Pro Bowls
  • 1.10: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, HORRIBLE?
  • 1.11: Edge defender J.J. Watt, four Pro Bowls
  • 1.12: Quarterback Christian Ponder, HORRIBLE

Thanks to the way in which Gabbert has resurrected his career with the 49ers and now the Cardinals, he’s no longer in the running to be the biggest bust of the 2011 class: #LifeGoals.

In Week 11 he threw three touchdowns for the first time in his career, and in Week 12 Gabbert had 241 yards and two touchdowns in a #RevengeGame against the Jags — the franchise that drafted him only to replace him with Bortles. The Cardinals have hit their implied total a league-low three times, but two of those games have come in the past two weeks with Gabbert as the starter. He has a tough matchup in Week 13 against the Rams — but they’re not as imposing as the Jags. As bad as the Cardinals have been this year, they might have hope for the future with Gabbert.

5. How Important Is Sean Lee to the Cowboys?

The conventional wisdom is that individual defensive players aren’t significantly important to team success. That’s probably true to a degree, but the Cowboys have been a different team in the five games in which linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring) hasn’t played a majority of the defensive snaps.

  • With Lee (6 games): 5-1 record, 18 PPG allowed, 80.3 rushing yards per game allowed.
  • Without Lee (5 games): 0-5, 32.4 PPG, 151.2 rushing yards

The Cowboys face an uninspiring cohort of running backs to close the season — Samaje Perine (Redskins), Orleans Darkwa (Giants), Marshawn Lynch (Raiders), Eddie Lacy/Mike Davis (Seahawks), and LeGarrette Blount/Jay Ajayi (Eagles) — but as long as Lee is out, the Cowboys will be a team to target with opposing backfields. Lee could sit the rest of the season with how poorly the Cowboys have played. The Dallas defense ranks bottom-five in rush DVOA.

Research the Week 13 games for yourself with our Tools and Models.


Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.