Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… Well, here I am. Not that long ago I listed Gardner Minshew as a start in my fantasy football starts and sits column. On Thursday night in primetime no less! And he promptly wet the bed against the Miami Dolphins. Here I am again doing all the digging, and it seems I just can’t quit the second year mustached macho man out of Washington State.
The more I dug into game prep, the more optimistic I got when it came to Minshew’s fantasy prospects. When you first look at the numbers, it might seem ominous to slot Minshew into your starting lineup after failing to throw a single touchdown pass in Week 3. However, if you scrutinize the data just slightly, it becomes apparent, Minshew is queued up to be a surprisingly good play in Week 4.
What have you done for me lately (in fantasy football), Gardner Minshew?
Thursday night, Week 3 tanked Minshew’s fantasy football stock. But many fantasy managers tend to focus on the tree versus the forest. Whereas that can be helpful for fantasy, especially when streaming single positions, it can also cause a great deal of overreaction and a bad case of oversight. Let’s not forget, the first two games of the year, Minshew posted 20+ point performances in each of those weeks.
On the young season, Minshew has a not-so-great -4% Fantasy Point Differential (FPD), ranking him QB24 in that metric. He hasn’t been terribly inefficient, but when we only have three weeks of information, that one stinker performance is going to carry a rather heavyweight.
So instead, let’s look at an essential part of what makes up FPD, and can be more telling this early into the season, Expected Fantasy Points (xFP). Minshew’s 55.8 xFP has him ranked 10th among all signal-callers at this point in the season. We can see the volume and opportunities are there for big fantasy points, as long as Minshew regresses towards the mean.
Gardner Minshew has already been better for fantasy football managers in 2020 then he was last season. In 2019, Minshew averaged 15.75 fantasy points per game. Whereas, even with that stinker in Week 3, his fantasy points per game are up to 17.8 for 2020. His per-game average for completions (26.3), yards (262.3), and passing touchdowns (2) are all currently higher than 2019 as well. So if he continues to play at the level he already has been regularly this season, and his xFP stays at the same volume, Gardner will be a top-10 quarterback for fantasy.
His xFP has him on pace for an expected 297.60 fantasy points. He’s teetering near neutral in FPD, and his per-game stats are all an improvement from his rookie campaign. All this suggests he can, at the very least, reach that target. To put 297.6 into perspective, that would have made Minshew the sixth quarterback overall for 2019.
The Bengals aren’t that scary
In 2019, the Cincinnati Bengals had a Defensive Points Allowed Consistency Score (DPACS) to quarterbacks of 8.86, which was the eighth-highest, and they were averaging 20.25 fantasy points per game to the position. Their 2020 DPACS of 6.31 is 24th, and they’re averaging only 17.01 points now. So the defense seems improved and a far more unpleasant matchup for fantasy lineups everywhere. But this ultimately falls apart when we look at it under the microscope.
Despite being 0-2-1, the Bengals opened the year with a relatively comfortable schedule. In Week 1, they took on the Tyrod Taylor led Los Angeles Chargers. Taylor, who since 2015, has an average of 167.9 passing yards per game and a 4% passing touchdown rate.
In Week 2, they were steamrolled by the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who combined for 210 yards on the ground and allowed Baker Mayfield to pretty much coast through that game accumulating 219 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
Then in Week 3, they tied the Philadelphia Eagles in a game that felt like purgatory and featured the ghost of Carson Wentz. Wentz currently looks like one of the worst three quarterbacks in the NFL this season and was thoroughly outplayed by rookie Joe Burrow.
Once you apply their schedule and common sense to their fantasy points allowed to the quarterback position for this young season, this defense suddenly seems a lot less intimidating. We honestly don’t know if they can stop a competent quarterback yet, because they simply haven’t had to. It’s far more likely that as the competition gets ramped up, the Bengals defense is going to creep back into the top 10 when it comes to both DPACS and average points allowed.
Take a walk down narrative street with me
Not only have the Bengals not been tested by any quarterbacks yet in 2020, but they are tired. In that overtime tie to the hapless Eagles, the Bengals defense was on the field for 91 snaps. That was the most of any team in Week 3. Now, they have to lineup against a Jaguars team who got extra time to rest and recoup. The Jags are merely going to have more gas in the tank and are looking for redemption after that primetime beatdown at the hands of their fellow Floridians.
Another excellent narrative for Minshew is the fact that DJ Chark was removed from the injury report on Friday and is going to take the field Sunday. The entire offense looked out of sync last Thursday, and the only real moving part was that Chark was unavailable. We have a minimal sample size for Minshew and Chark together, but looking at the splits, Minshew throws for more attempts, completions, and yards, with Chark in the game than without.
With Minshew taking a positive step forward in year two, plenty of opportunities to produce fantasy points (what do we say with running backs? “Volume is king”), Chark is coming back, and the Bengals defense not being as good as the numbers might suggest, are all reasons why I am getting back in on Minshew Mania! In Week 4 against Cincinnati, Minshew will post 20+ points again with a projected line of 270 yards passing, two touchdowns, and 20 yards rushing as the cherry on top.
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