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3 Best Ball Passing Stacks to Target
By Kyle Dvorchak
Before we get into the best passing stacks for the 2019 season, is stacking quarterback and their targets beneficial in the first place?
Stacking in 2018
Each week, in a Best Ball league, we want to have one of the top-scoring passers in the NFL. The top-50 individual games for quarterbacks is a good place to look for elite performances. Those performances generated spike weeks for receivers at a significant rate. The top-50 QB weeks featured 35 of the top-100 WR weeks (both using PPR scoring).
Note: Receivers were counted out to 100 because most Best Ball leagues require you to start at least three each week compared to a single quarterback.
The quarterbacks produced at least one top-100 receiver game 31% of the time. If we have an idea of which quarterbacks are going to put up high-total weeks, then we can assume that one of their receivers will follow them roughly one-third of the time. When drafting a quarterback, especially if it’s your first quarterback, you should be actively looking to pair him with one of his wideouts.
Elite quarterback play wasn’t as much of a necessity for big tight end weeks as it was for receivers last year. Tight ends score less than receivers by a wide margin. This means that a simple two-touchdown week for a tight end can propel him into the top-50 weeks at the position. At the same time, if his passer threw just two touchdowns that week, they likely didn’t even come close to a top-50 overall week.
Having a quarterback who erupted on a week did still help tight ends. The top-50 quarterback performances produced 10 of the 50 best tight end performances. This mark doesn’t make TE-QB stacks as necessary as a WR-QB stack but it can still have value.
Where to Look in 2019
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The tight end position was extremely top-heavy for stacking viability. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce accounted for three of the ten stacks weeks. So to make a profitable stack, we need to find a player with a Kelce-like ceiling. Look no further than Tampa Bay.
O.J. Howard has been in the league for two seasons, and over that span, he’s led all tight ends in yards per target twice (11.1 and 11.8). In his first season, Howard was targeted 2.8 times per game. That averaged went up by two in his second season. Another uptick in volume and Howard has the potential to break out in a major way.
The argument for Jameis Winston and Mike Evans to round out this stack is much easier to make. Evans was WR9 last season despite facing a revolving door of starting quarterbacks. He also had Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson siphoning targets away in both the short and deep quadrants of the field. The duo accounted for 179 targets and neither are with the team anymore. Evans finish last season represents his floor for the upcoming season.
Without Ryan Fitzpatrick lurking in the shadows, there’s almost no risk of Winston being benched mid-season. This makes him one of the sneakiest Best Ball quarterbacks. The Buccaneers passers combined for four of the top-50 QB games in 2018. Only three teams produced more elite passing games. Coincidentally, only three teams attempted more passes per game than Tampa’s 39.1 mark.
Now they have a new head coach in Bruce Arians but that doesn’t meet they are guaranteed to be a balanced attack moving forward. Arians’ Cardinals squads were second and fifth in pass attempts during his final two seasons in Arizona. If Ronald Jones can’t turn his career around, the Bucs should be the favorite to lead the league in total passes. That makes the Winstons-Howard-Evans stack a premium option in Best Ball or redraft.
The Vikings were one of the four teams to produce two of the top-100 receiving performances along with a top-50 quarterback outing in a single game. Along with Tampa Bay, they led the league in those elite wideout games with eight. The big difference was that their eights games came entirely from two receivers. Four Tampa receivers made the list.
Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both finished in the top-12 in per game target share. They were the only duo to both make top-12. With no one to challenge them for targets in Minnesota, the tandem will see similar volume to last year.
Despite the confidence we have in projecting the Vikings, both Diggs and Thielen are being drafted behind where they finished in 2018. Thielen was the WR7 and Diggs was the WR10. Fantasy players are taking them at WR10 and WR12 respectively. There’s not a young, handsome, and revolutionary coach that could take these players soaring past their draft positions. It’s not a new passer invigorating the offense. They are simply being undervalued in drafts.
Kirk Cousins is a similar story. He snuck into the QB12 slot by going over 30 passing touchdowns for the first time. Cousins is currently being drafted as the QB17. In his second year with a new team, it’s very easy to see Cousins improving as well. Had Cousins hit his career averages in touchdown rate and yards per target, he would have traded 1.2 touchdowns for an additional 242 passing yards.
Finally, there’s his rushing. Cousins has found the end zone on the ground at least four times in three of his four seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he missed that mark was last year, despite rushing 44 times--more than two of his seasons where he scored four times.
Minnesota is full of free value even if they don’t improve during Cousins’ second season in town. If that occurs, Cousins-Diggs-Thielen will be a league-winning stack.
Stacking Cardinals requires the most projection of these choices but it also features the highest upside. Their new head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, engineered a perennial scoring factory at Texas Tech with his Air Raid scheme. The Red Raiders played fast and scored in droves. They were top-10 in plays ran and points scored in four of their last five seasons.
Now Kingsbury brings that offense to the NFL and infuses it with Kyler Murray’s arm. Murray averaged 11.6 yards per attempt in 2018. That’s the highest mark in the history of college football. Baker Mayfield (making the list twice), Michael Vick, and Tua Tagovailoa round out the top-five. One of those players has been the QB1 before, one of them has a chance to do it in 2019, and Tua may be drafted first overall. Murray sits among esteemed company.
Who to stack him with is a harder choice but Christian Kirk is the highest-drafted Cardinals receiver for a reason.
At the age of 21, on an offense that averaged 241 yards per game (which is the lowest a team has recorded in over a decade), Kirk put up 625 yards. He also averaged more yards per target (8.7) than any other Cardinals receiving option. Kirk produced at a young age and was his team's most efficient receiver as a rookie.
The Murray-Kirk stack has the highest upside of any duo available. If Murray is as good as his college resume suggests and Kingsbury fully implements his offense, there is no limit to what they can do. Get these two now before their ADP continues to rise.