Davis Mills, Laviska Shenault, and the Year's Biggest Losers
NFL Week 18 - It was close—and Week 18 brought it even closer—but in the end, we could only have one winner.
The Loser League competition came down to seven teams within 25 points of the title entering the final week—Deacon Blues, Octuplicate, In the Hunt, How to Lose a Game in 10 Plays, Mojo Momenteers, AlecV, and Davante's Inferno. They were the seven who, with a well-picked day, had the best chance of winning the league and the grand prize—a trip to the Big Game.
For some, it was over early. How to Lose a Game in 10 Plays knew they had to jump multiple people, and so tried an off-the-beaten-path strategy. He was the only one of the top seven to not take Jake Fromm, figuring that everyone else would (yes), and that maybe Fromm would have a good enough day to let him slip past with other players (no). A Drew Lock-Javonte Williams-Tim Patrick stack didn't quite work, and the Zach Wilson-Jamison Crowder-Eddy Piñeiro backup plan fell short, as well; he had 40 points and was knocked out. Right strategy, but it didn't work out for him.
Others just had some bad luck. Davante's Inferno struck out on running backs, forced to score Chuba Hubbard's 10 points and settling for a 38-point day—very solid, but not enough to gain ground. Octuplicate, sitting in second place entering Week 18, couldn't find a player below five points—Fromm, Rex Burkhead, Dare Ogunbowale, Laviska Shenault, Nico Collins, and Liram Hajrullahu were all solid picks, but he needed a little more to claim the crown, and his 36 points kept him just short. AlecV had a slightly better version of the same day, scoring 31 points but watching Shenault and Ogunbowale score about twice their expected average to knock him out of contention—there was a lot of that going around the Jaguars this week.
So that left us with three contenders: Deacon Blues, who sat in first place entering the week, and the two teams behind him that put up sub-30-point days.
The Mojo Momenteers, who led for much of the latter half of this season, found Obunbowale (5) and Michael Carter (1), Shenault (6) and Olamide Zaccheaus (4), and even Eddy Eddy Piñeiro (4) for 28 points, his best score since Week 15 and a reminder of why he was on top of the league for so long. Ultimately, he finished with 583 points.
In the Hunt poured on a late charge, with sub-30-point days in each of the last three weeks. He, too, went with Fromm, Shenault, and Eddy Piñeiro, but he improved everywhere else—Devontae Booker (2), Jamaal Williams (4), and Kenny Golladay (2). 26 points is a very, very, very strong score, the best of any of our top seven from a week ago, and that jumped him up to 574 points. But because Deacon Blues had an eight-point lead on In the Hunt coming into Week 18, all they needed was a score of 33 points or lower to claim outright victory.
Deacon Blues started:
- Jake Fromm (8 points, running total of 8)
- Saquon Barkley (4, 12)
- Rex Burkhead (6, 18)
- Kenny Golladay (2, 20)
- Laviska Shenault (6, 26)
- Ka'imi Fairbairn (5, 31)
It's hard to imagine a finale much tighter than this; a slight shift in the Giants' running back workload could have produced very different results. But in the end, it is Deacon Blues.
Call him a fool, say it's a crazy scheme, but this is for real: with a final score of 571 points, Deacon Blues is your champion. He wins the trip for two to the Big Game in Los Angeles and, more importantly, the pride and respect that comes with being this year's Biggest Loser. The Blues didn't have the easiest path here—they scored 97 points in Weeks 4 and 5, had a 59-point day in Week 8, and a 42-point day as late as Week 12. But over the last month and a half, they stormed back—just 144 points over the last six weeks of the season, which turned out to be just enough to slip into first place and claim the title.
The Blues used 19 different quarterbacks (most frequently Davis Mills, Sam Darnold, and Trevor Lawrence at four times each). They started 30 running backs (Mark Ingram five times; Alex Collins, Mike Davis, and Rex Burkhead four times each), 27 wide receivers (Amon-Ra St. Brown, Laviska Shenault, and Robby Anderson five times each) and 14 kickers (Ka'imi Fairbairh eight times; Matt Ammendola and Matthew Wright seven times each). And now they are the champions!
In the Hunt made a strong final push, but ends up a couple points short. They do, however, receive the runner-up prize: a PlayStation 5. As I have yet to find one of those for myself, let it be known that yes, I am officially jealous of both our top finishers.
Our final top 20 stands as follows:
1. Deacon Blues (571)
2. In the Hunt (574)
3. Octuplicate (580)
4. Mojo Momenteers (583)
T5. How to Lose a Game in 10 Plays (591)
T5. AlecV (591)
7. Scott Spratt (593)
8. Jeremy B (596)
9. Davante's Inferno (601)
10. Covid Shutdown Corner (609)
11. Stmedard (612)
12. Alec B (613)
13. Awfinkelstein (617)
14. Looking Kinda Dumb (620)
15. DVO-EH? (623)
16. Gruden's HR Handbook (With Hooters Sauce) (626)
17. Force Majeure Bitch (627)
18. BrettGissel (636)
19. BD (644)
T20. Aaron Schatz Has a Posse (648)
T20. Lahoo Saher (648)
Congratulations to all!
Oh, you're wondering where I finished? Look at that, time to name the biggest losers of the year.
Biggest Losers of the Year
While our contest produced winners, the NFL produced losers, and it's time to acknowledge the absolute worst the league had to offer this season. The players put way over their heads. The rookie busts. The aging veterans whose comebacks failed. The chaff, separated from the wheat. These are your Loser League All-Stars for 2021, as well as a whole passel of honorable mentions.
Zach Wilson has a strong argument in that he has the second-lowest average score in the league this season, a 13.8 in weeks where the Jets played, and that includes his time missed in November racking up penalties. It's a strong resume, for sure, but it's really buoyed by early-season struggles: four interceptions against the Patriots in Week 2, two more against Denver the week after, a 51-yard day against the Patriots in Week 7, and so on. But things calmed down for him over the course of the year; he went from averaging 9.2 points in September and October to 15.3 points in November and December. His terrible first two months deserve an honorable mention, but not more than that.
Similarly, Justin Fields makes a case. If you were to give this award to the player with the worst six-week total—an odd choice, for sure, but OK, we'll go with it—than Fields would be the absolute worst passer in the league. From Week 2 to Week 7, Fields averaged just 7.0 points per week, mostly because he was busy being ground into a fine powder by a variety of defensive lines—see Cleveland's nine-sack day for highlights there. But he never had the absolute low-lights of some of the worst short-term players, nor are his season-long stats something to cry about—due to a combination of improved play and injuries, Fields has had only one single-digit day since Halloween, and it was one where he was knocked out halfway through the game. Clearly a bad rookie season, all in all, but just an honorable mention.
Did you notice Matt Ryan struggling this season? It nearly slipped my notice; Ryan and the Falcons sputtering offense mostly showed up in the "also scoring low points" sections. But in back-to-back weeks in November, Ryan had 1- and 3-point days, throwing a pair of picks each against Dallas and New England with no volume whatsoever to make up for it. Add in poor days against Philadelphia, Miami, and Buffalo, and you had a passer who put up more than his fair share of top-quality loser days, without sprinkling in too many days of the quality you come to expect from a quarterback with his credentials. At 14.5 points per game, Ryan has the fifth-lowest scoring average of any quarterback this year—and the second-lowest for anyone who started every week. Another honorable mention.
Mike Glennon made a strong, strong, strong push for this award. Glennon only qualified in six weeks, putting up scores of 18, 7, 17, -2, 7, and -6. We talked in depth earlier this year about just how bad that Dallas-Philadelphia-Chicago stretch was historically, and it very nearly earned him a spot on the list. But because he just wasn't around for most of the season, he has to be our final, and most prominent, runner-up.
Instead, our two winners are a pair of rookies, coming from opposite ends of the runner-up spectrum. Trevor Lawrence ends the year dead last with 12.8 points per game. But it's not just a full-season award; Lawrence showed plenty of lowlights as well—he has the worst score if you look at every passer's worst eight games, or nine games, or 10 games, all the way up to their full season numbers. Lawrence ends his rookie season leading the league in interceptions. His 2.0% touchdown rate was dead-last among qualified quarterbacks. He finished as one of the worst passers of the week eight different times, including five out of six weeks between Week 9 and Week 14. Only twice all season did he manage more than one touchdown pass in a game. If we were playing by the old rules, where you had to pick one passer and stick with him all season long, Lawrence would have been, by far, the best quarterback you could have had.
Under this year's rules, however, where you can swap players in and out, Davis Mills provided a near-legendary level of poor performance. His Buffalo game—87 yards and four interceptions—is one of the worst days in Texans history, which covers a lot of Loser ground; only Mike Glennon's late-season cameo managed to top the -4 points Mills racked up. Mills also had a three-point day against Indianapolis, a four-point day against Arizona, an eight-point day against Indianapolis (yes, again), and a 10-point day against San Francisco. Mills' five days of 10 points or fewer were third-most in the league, behind only Lawrence and Justin Fields. Mills doesn't hit the very bottom of the scoring rankings because he mixed in some very high-scoring days along with his absolute nightmares—he just threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns against the Titans, and had other big days against the Patriots and Rams earlier in the year. But in a Worst Ball league, where you get to keep a player's stats if they were terrible and discard them if they're solid, Mills was a great pick week-in and week-out, because he could put up terrible days like nearly no one else.
Davis Mills tries to force one into double coverage and it's picked off by Buffalo pic.twitter.com/dAxqDQNPgk
— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) October 3, 2021
No one had a zero-point day in 2021; the lowest score was 1, set by 13 different players on 14 different occasions. These include honorable mentions Antonio Gibson and Latavius Murray, each of whom fought through a very difficult stretch for a month or so—Gibson playing through a ton of injuries in the first half of the season, Murray coming back from an ankle injury into a crowded Baltimore backfield. Gibson got better, Murray got benched, but both were prime Loser quality for brief periods of time. You can group Rhamondre Stevenson in there as well—four qualified games with fewer than 50 yards rushing, which is impressive when you consider he only qualified 10 times. Brief periods of bad play and honorable mentions for the lot.
You also have an argument for two of the bigger names at the position, Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott. Both are in the bottom six in terms of points per game at 11.2 and 11.0, respectively. It's one thing for a Chuba Hubbard or a Javonte Williams to struggle; it's another thing when someone a team has invested quite so many resources into can't get any traction. Both were … pick your word between "complemented" and "upstaged" … by significantly cheaper teammates, Devontae Booker and Tony Pollard. Elliott and Pollard were useful parts of a successful offense. Barkley and Booker … well, the Giants are going to show up a lot in these honorable mentions.
Way back before the start of the season, we mentioned that running back committees were juicy targets, with players costing each other points. That's exactly what happened in Denver, where Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon finished with 11.4 and 10.9 points per game, respectively, both in the bottom 10 of the league. The two rarely hit the penalty in the Broncos' run-heavy offense, and most weeks saw both of them splitting both the yardage and touchdowns fairly evenly, killing each other's value in the process. I am going to give Javonte Williams one of the three nods here, and Gordon merely an honorable mention, because Williams was the one more likely to appear at the bottom of the list in any given week—he had five days of five points or fewer, compared to two for Gordon—but these are the kinds of situations you'll want to find next season.
The Texans need an entry among our biggest losers, considering that they flirted with being the worst rushing attack of all time. That will go to Mark Ingram over Rex Burkhead, the two qualified players in football with just 3.5 yards per carry apiece. Burkhead's problem is that he didn't have a single qualifying day before Week 11, whereas Ingram took the load for the early-season Texans disasters and then had some duds in New Orleans as well, proving that he wasn't just bad in one system. We value versatility here in the Loser League.
Our final spot goes to a season-long Loser, with Michael Carter squeaking out a victory over Chuba Hubbard. Carter and Hubbard were one-two in Loser points per game, with Hubbard being just worse than Carter at 10.4 to 10.5; they were the only two running backs to not hit 200 points this season. Hubbard was the worst back at actual football, with his -14.3% DVOA being well below Carter's 5.5%; Carter actually had a decent season considering his circumstances. His circumstances, however, were being on a terrible team that couldn't pass or play defense, leading to the Jets having to abandon the run sooner rather than later most weeks. As such, Carter led the league with eight qualifying days with fewer than 50 rushing yards—more than half his appearances this year. No matter how you slice it, Carter was one of the best-scoring backs for Losers this year; he appears in the top three in every single split for "Worst X games. It's true if you're looking at the full season numbers, it's true if you're cherry-picking six or seven terrible days, it works for everything. This isn't true for Hubbard, who mostly just lacked high-end days to get him over 200; he was plodding and bad without explosiveness, not in a disaster week-in and week-out. There will be better days ahead for Carter, but he's our top running back this year without question.
Michael Carter fumbles the rock and the Jets have had themselves a no good very bad day pic.twitter.com/xXTnJ4Fjod
— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) October 24, 2021
Just one player—Zach Pascal in Week 12—managed to dip into negative figures this season, fumbling against Tampa Bay during a seven-target, 12-yard day. That's enough to earn an honorable mention by itself, as he leads in our list of Goose Eggers—65 players earned 75 zeros this season. That includes multiple zero-point days from Tavon Austin, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, DeSean Jackson, DeMarcus Robinson, Bryan Edwards, Adam Humphries, Parris Campbell, and Preston Williams, all of whom get acknowledged here. We'd also like to give shoutouts to Tim Patrick (three one-point days to go with his Goose Egg), Rondale Moore (seven days of two or fewer points to go with his Goose Egg) Mecole Hardman (five days of two or fewer points to match his Goose Egg), Courtland Sutton (no Goose Eggs, but five one-point days), and Marvin Jones (no Goose Eggs, but seven days of three points or fewer). Honorable mentions all around.
Darius Slayton finished the season with 28 receptions, 368 yards, and two touchdowns, which is abysmal for someone of his credentials. He's a deep threat without the quarterbacks to throw him the ball deep, and he's no good as a possession receiver, with six drops and a drop rate of 17.1%. Slayton is another double-Goose Egger; a boom-or-bust player with a lot more bust than boom this season. He doesn't appear near the top of the scoring table because he did miss some time, and had a stretch in September where he simply wasn't targeted, but he had a six-week stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas where he posted seven points in six weeks. That's not good.
Jalen Reagor was held under 50 yards in 15 of his 17 games this season, hurt in part by the fact that he dropped 10% of his catchable passes. The Eagles' first-round pick from 2020 was, maybe, the seventh-best receiver in Philadelphia's offense, behind DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Greg Ward, and if you wanted to pitch me a Boston Scott or something, I'd listen. At least he was no J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Reagor occasionally struggled to hit the three-target minimum, but when he did, he averaged 2.8 points per week.
But our top wideout spot has to go to Laviska Shenault. I mean, it had to go to some Jaguars player, with Shenault and Jones finishing one-two in fewest points per game at the position. But Jones averaged 5.9 points, just barely ahead of Jakobi Meyers, Tim Patrick, and Courtland Sutton. Shenault averaged 4.1. Shenault missed one game, but played and qualified in every other week. He had one game with double-digit points: his 99-yard day against the Bengals in Week 4. He had one other day above five points, his 62-yard day against the Jaguars on Sunday. Every other game was at five points or fewer, and typically fewer. This was a man supposed to break out in his second year. Instead, he's not performing. Part of it may be not being used properly by the poor Jacksonville coaching staff, but you'd expect him to flash more. He has not.
— Laurie Fitzpatrick (@LaurieFitzptrck) December 12, 2021
We give honorable mentions to the kickers we lost this year. From Alex Kessman and his -10 points that got away, to Josh Lambo getting kicked out of Jacksonville, to Tristan Vizcaino's month and a half in Los Angeles, to Matt Ammendola's six misses on 19 attempts in New York, to Brian Johnson's adventures in New Orleans and Washington. All of them, fantastic Loser League kickers, but perhaps a bit too fantastic, as none of them could last the season.
We also give honorable mentions to our two season-long low scorers. Chase McLaughlin only made 71.4% of his field goals, lowest among kickers who were rostered for the entire season. Jason Myers was just ahead of him at 73.9%—and both players attempted fewer than 25 field goals all year long, again finishing last and second-to-last among kickers who lasted the entire season. No kicks and no makes means no value.
But our winners are the two kickers who, by the end of the year, we were advising teams to plug in each and every week, regardless of matchup. Matthew Wright made 87.5% of his field goals this season, but only had 24 attempts as the Jaguars' offense simply couldn't get into field goal range all of the time. Ka'imi Fairbairn topped that, with just 19 attempts and a 78.9% hit rate. Those sound like numbers for an injury replacement who played a partial season; Brett Maher had 18 attempts in eight games. But no, Fairbairn suited up 13 times! For week-in, week-out excellence, Wright and Fairbairn are our men.
Week 18's Biggest Losers
Worst of the Worst
Two players tied for worst, though one deserves at least a small asterisk. Jordan Love and Taylor Heinicke both finished with 6 points. Love was up and down, throwing a couple of interceptions to cancel out his touchdown, and he probably wouldn't have finished anywhere near this list if he hadn't played only half the game. Heinicke didn't throw any interceptions … or any touchdowns … or really that many completions, going 9-for-18 for 120 yards. Washington didn't need to throw much to beat the Giants, and, well, they didn't.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) January 9, 2022
Other Loser Leaders
Jake Fromm (8) gives the Giants one more entry on the worst-of list. His late touchdown and 53 rushing yards keep him from being at the bottom of the list, but three turnovers and just 103 yards passing, on 31 attempts? Ugh. Whoever the new coach in New York is will have to … wait, what? Oh. OK.
Carson Wentz (10) had enough volume to avoid the bottom of the list, but his touchdown pass was basically in garbage time. In a must-win game. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ouch.
Zach Wilson (10), with just 87 yards in a windstorm, rounds out your bottom scorers.
Trevor Lawrence (21) averaged just over 12 points per game as he suffered more than his fair share of growing pains in his rookie season. But he bookended that rookie season with a pair of performances which remind people why he was the consensus top pick since he first stepped onto the field at Clemson, throwing some excellent bullets and a pair of scores in arguably the most impactful last-week upset in NFL history. It has been a long year, but at least it ends on a high note.
Worst of the Worst
Michael Carter (1) is the last Jet standing after a number of veterans came and went from the rushing attack. He looks to be the one New York will build their rushing attack around next season. But against the Bills, in windy conditions with no passing attack whatsoever, there was only so much he could do—nine carries, 19 yards, and the worst score of the week.
— NYJETSTWEETZ (@NYJETSTWEETZ) January 9, 2022
Other Loser Leaders
Lots of low scorers this week, so we'll run through them very quickly.
It was a bad day for New York in general, with the Giants having two players join Carter near the bottom of the list—Devontae Booker (2) and Saquon Barkley (4). The Steelers, too, had a pair of bottom finishers, with Najee Harris (4) being joined by Benny Snell (2)—rare that two Steelers have enough volume to qualify, but there you have it.
Dontrell Hilliard (5) scored low in what may be the last Titans game this season without Derrick Henry as the lead rusher. But at least he's going to the playoffs, as is Sony Michel (4). Phillip Lindsay (4), Nick Chubb (5), and Javonte Williams (5) weren't so lucky, as their teams were eliminated from the playoffs over the past couple weeks. Jamaal Williams (4) and Dare Ogunbowale (5) at least get to ride into the offseason after big upset wins!
Antonio Gibson (20) was a staple in this column for the first few months of the season, battling toe, shin, and shoulder injuries that limited his effectiveness. He finishes the year, however, with 146 yards on 21 carries, just squeaking over the 1,000-yard mark—not an impressive milestone anymore, but one that has to feel good considering just how much went wrong for Gibson this year.
Worst of the Worst
A trio of Goose Eggers to finish the season – Tyreek Hill, Parris Campbell, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Of the three, only Hill had a catch; his numbers were depressed by some sort of heel injury he suffered in pre-game warmups, after which the Chiefs decided to limit him significantly rather than risk turning a minor problem into a major one.
Other Loser Leaders
Six players with one point apiece: Anthony Schwartz, Courtland Sutton, Josh Reynolds, Demarcus Robinson, Odell Beckham, and DeVante Parker.
Amon-Ra St. Brown (17) looked like a lock for Loser League legend, lagging ludicrously on lists of lucrative lineups. Over the last month and a half of the season, however, St. Brown turned it on—51 receptions and 560 yards over his last six yards, setting Detroit rookie records. He finishes his season with eight catches for 109 yards and a score, and looks to be a Loser no more.
Worst of the Worst
Mason Crosby (-1) missed an extra point, cancelling out the two kicks he actually did make.
Other Loser Leaders
No one else ended with negative points, or even zero! Heck of a day, kickers.
It's always a good idea to pick Matthew Wright (14), right? Wrong! Wright, very much in the running for worst kicker of the year, finally got to show off some success in the Jaguars' massive upset over the Colts, especially since Jacksonville sputtered in the red zone frequently. Four field goals, two extra points, and the best day of the year for one of the worst kickers of the year.
Week 18 Contest Results
We already talked about our season-long winner, but Week 18 was a regular competitive week too, with a unique prize. And so TheOldFrainster ends up as our last weekly champion, an 18-point day leading all comers. Like most people, he had Jake Fromm (8) locked into his starting lineup, pairing him with plenty of other New York studs—Michael Carter (1), Devontae Booker (2), and Graham Gano (1). Mediocre days from T.Y. Hilton (3) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (3) capped off the best day in a week without a ton of super-low scorers.
Week 18's prize is an interesting one. Not only does TheOldFrainster earn the obligatory Football Outsiders shirt, but also a 30-minute fantasy help session with our fantasy guru, Scott Spratt, helping you prepare for the 2022 fantasy season! Enjoy, and best of luck with your fantasy endeavors next season!
Your final top five of the year:
1. TheOldFrainster (18)
T2. Dmozone (19)
T2. Disadvantaged Soccer Club (19)
4. Drizzling Shits (23)
T5. Doomsday (24)
T5. AramJ 001 (24)
And thanks to everyone for playing, and for reading along. We hope we'll see you all next season!