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Re-Evaluating the Rookie Running Back Class of 2020

We're six weeks into the 2020 NFL season and are starting to get some good ideas of what usage patterns are looking like.

Which means we probably have enough data now to start to re-evaluate where certain players stand in relation to other players. For example, we've got a better idea of how this year's rookie running backs are performing as rookies and what their 2020 value is for the rest of the season.

So, let's do that by ranking the top rookie running backs for fantasy re-draft leagues for the rest of 2020, then breaking down why the players rank where they do.

 

Rookie Running Back Redraft Rankings

I've put a lot of thought into the various nuances here and this is what I've ended up with as my ROS rankings in PPR leagues for the rookie backs.

  1. Jonathan Taylor - Indianapolis Colts
  2. James Robinson - Jacksonville Jaguars
  3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire - Kansas City Chiefs
  4. D'Andre Swift - Detroit Lions
  5. Antonio Gibson - Washington Football Team
  6. Joshua Kelley - Los Angeles Chargers
  7. J.K. Dobbins - Baltimore Ravens
  8. Zack Moss - Buffalo Bills
  9. Cam Akers - Los Angeles Rams
  10. La'Mical Perine - New York Jets

Apologies to the handful of guys who are not ranked, especially Darrynton Evans, who would leap up this list in the event of a Derrick Henry injury upon return from IR.

Now, let's talk about why these 10 guys rank where they do.

 

Re-Evaluating Rookie RBs - The Top Tier

Let's start with the player who is No. 1 in these re-rankings: Jonathan Taylor.

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- everyone told us for months that Taylor was the rookie RB1 and we just didn't believe it, which is how I ended up with so much Clyde Edwards-Helaire in dynasty and not enough Taylor.

But there was definite reason to not have Taylor as your redraft RB1. The main reason: his path to carries was crowded by the existence of Marlon Mack, while CEH had no competition.

Well, Mack's done for the season, and since Week 2, Taylor is eighth among running backs in red zone attempts with 16. This week, he saw 80 percent of Indy's carries, the second-highest percentage in the league behind Derrick Henry. Take out quarterback carries, and this past week paints a very clear picture of this backfield. Per Add More Funds:

image taken from AddMoreFunds

This is Taylor's spot moving forward, which makes him one of two rookie running backs with a very clear grip on a No. 1, workhorse-type role. Taylor is 100 percent the top rookie.

Second is someone who was on no one's radar until just before the season kicked off: Jacksonville's James Robinson.

When Jacksonville let Leonard Fournette go, things opened up with the Jags. Ryquell Armstead, Chris Thompson, and Devine Ozigbo were expected to compete for the lead role.

But nope, it was none of them who emerged. Instead, undrafted rookie James Robinson became the lead back.

Over the last three games, Robinson is ninth among running backs in snap rate, and he's second to David Montgomery in positional attempt rate at 95.45 percent, as Jacksonville's other most-used back by snap rate, Chris Thompson, is exclusively a receiving option and has two carries in the last three games to Robinson's 42.

Robinson isn't as talented and doesn't run behind as good of an offensive line as Taylor, but his usage on the ground and in the passing game makes him the clear No. 2 rookie running back for fantasy right now.

Next is where things start to get a little dicier.

I have Clyde Edwards-Helaire third for now, with D'Andre Swift fourth. But this was the decision that perturbed me the most as I was working on this piece. It ultimately came down to going with the player in the better offense, but it was close.

See, CEH is about to be in a timeshare with Le'Veon Bell. I'd guess the split breakdown with Bell goes more to Edwards-Helaire's side -- and that we see a good bit of Bell split out at receiver with Edwards-Helaire in the backfield. It's not like Bell is in his prime at this point, but he's still a capable back provided Adam Gase didn't permanently ruin him. He'll get opportunities, which cuts too much into Edwards-Helaire's workload.

D'Andre Swift almost earned the third spot in my ROS rankings, but I was worried that I was buying into recency bias just a little too much. See, Swift is coming off by far the best game of his young career, rushing 14 times for 116 yards and two touchdowns while catching three passes for seven yards. But while his touches and production rose, he still saw action on just 38 percent of snaps, plus Adrian Peterson received 15 carries and also found the end zone. This team won't be as efficient each week, which ultimately lowers Swift's floor. He's a clearly talented back, but I don't trust the opportunities as much as I do with CEH, even with the Bell addition factored in.

Fifth is Antonio Gibson, who suffers from "bad offense" syndrome. The Washington team plays from behind a lot, which is part of why they average just 23.4 run plays per game. Gibson's 55 carries rank 26th at the position, and the Washington offensive line ranks 28th in adjusted line yards per game. So while Gibson is his team's primary back -- he's had 64.71 percent of their running back carries over the last three games -- he's also limited by a terrible supporting cast, which has helped contribute to him not running for more than 55 yards in a game yet, though his three touchdowns this season has boosted his value.

 

Re-Evaluating Rookie RBs - Lower Tier

Sixth, we have Joshua Kelley. The Austin Ekeler injury is giving Kelley a short-term boost, and he'd probably drop below J.K. Dobbins if I did this exercise a month from now. But the short term matters when ranking rest of season value, as does the importance of his bye week being behind him. Kelley has lost some touches to Justin Jackson, but it's always good to follow where these touches come from. Kelley does have a team-high 10 red zone carries, while Jackson has none.

J.K. Dobbins is seventh and I'm probably undervaluing him a little, but the Ravens remain a tough team to project. Over the last three games, here are some attempt numbers for the team:

image taken from AddMoreFunds

Dobbins has trailed Gus Edwards and Mark Ingram in carries, even while surpassing Ingram in snaps. And with Lamar Jackson siphoning off 19.35 percent of the carries over that span, it's hard to love Dobbins right now, even after a season-high nine carries in Week 6. A Week 7 bye week also helps keep him under Kelley in my rankings, as does the fact that while he's the best receiving back on this team, there's still not a lot of running back receptions coming in this Ravens offense.

The final three ranked players come with a good bit of a gap between them and the first seven.

At eight is Zack Moss, who just played his first game since Week 2, getting five carries for 10 yards. Moss is barely playable in fantasy, but he does have one advantage: in Weeks 1 and 2, Moss had seven red zone attempts to Devin Singeltary's three. He's got touchdown upside, even if it's not a lot of upside.

Ninth is Cam Akers. I like Akers. I'm sure we all like Akers. But a seemingly healthy Cam Akers played just one offensive snap against the 49ers, despite rushing for 6.78 yards per carry in Week 5. If he gets opportunities, he has flex appeal, but he's ninth right now because we can't guarantee anything at all when it comes to chances, thanks to Sean McVay's unpredictable usage.

Rounding out the top 10 for now: La'mical Perine. Sure, he gets more touches than Akers, but his low ceiling makes it tough to justify him on your fantasy roster right now. He's backing up Frank Gore in an Adam Gase offense. There's nothing at all good about that, even if he had seven carries and two catches this week, and this team has a very tough upcoming schedule that will lead to pass-heavy game scripts.



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Lies, Damned Lies, and Fantasy Football Statistics (Week 7)

The more data we get as the season goes on, the better equipped we are to interpret matchups and make informed decisions. Then Week 6 comes along and blows it all to hell.

The unpredictability of sports is what keeps us intrigued, as frustrating as it may be at times. Numbers are supposedly to be black and white, with no inherent bias. That may be true, but it doesn't mean that we can't misinterpret them.

Not all advanced metrics are meaningful and some can be downright deceptive. My aim here is to point out potential outliers that could steer you wrong when making key lineup decisions for Week 7 and beyond.

 

Target Share

The very talented (and lovely) Phil Clark publishes his FSWA-award-nominated series on WR Snap Counts and Target Trends on RotoBaller each week. A major component of fantasy value for receivers, tight ends, and running backs alike is target totals. By recognizing trends and major risers or fallers, we can identify players to add, drop, start, and sit based on matchups.

Of course, this is where I reveal that even target share can be misleading at times. "Owning" a large market share of your team's passing targets doesn't always translate to production, especially on a bad offense. Thinking of one in particular where the gang wears green...

Conversely, players who are more efficient with the targets they see or may have a lower rate based on a high-volume passing attack could be undervalued. Let's look at both sides of the coin in this week's editions of "Stats That Lie."

 

Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

26.4% Team Target Share

It's no surprise that Hollywood Brown is third in the league in total air yards and AY%. He is the field stretcher for a run-first offense that exploits the secondary when they least expect it. It might be surprising to see that he is ninth in TGT%. At first blush, the reaction is that he garners that market share because the Ravens don't have a deep receiving corps and limit their passes to Brown, Mark Andrews, and the running backs. This is true to an extent but Brown's 42 total targets rank 18th among all wide receivers.

Brown is known as a boom-or-bust player in fantasy but his target totals have been steady and he is among the leaders in that area. He hasn't seen fewer than six targets in a game this season, even as the Ravens rank in the top-five in total rush attempts once again.

Here's the deceptive part: his 61.9% catch rate ranks 133rd among all skill players. The targets will be there, but he isn't always going to come down with them. That's by no means an indictment on him as a player, it's a byproduct of how he is used in this offense. Brown does have seven receptions of 20 yards or more, so the boom aspect is still there while the bust has been mostly mitigated.

Brown isn't as risky as you may imagine, nor will he have the potential to be a top-1o fantasy receiver as some posited in the preseason. He is simply a volatile WR3 with a high weekly ceiling. If you happen to play in a league that rewards PP1D (points per first down), you'd be glad to know that Brown is tied for 19th in that department. More leagues should play PP1D instead of PPR, don't you think?

 

Travis Fulgham, Philadelphia Eagles

26.0% Team Target Share

I'm almost afraid to touch this one because anything short of calling Fulgham this year's breakout performer doesn't go over well in the fantasy community. This particular stat is also very telling yet misleading at the same time.

Fulgham was non-existent in terms of fantasy relevance for the first year of his NFL career and the first three weeks of 2020 as well. He caught two passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco but only saw two targets that game. Then came Pittsburgh where we ALL discovered his name. Fulgham didn't just have big yardage, he caught 10 of the 13 targets thrown his way. He followed up with six receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown, making it three straight games with a score. His 10 targets that day made 23 in a two-week span and 26 over his three weeks on the active roster.

While that target total ranks far down the list, his extraordinary target share over the small sample places him 11th among all wide receivers, ahead of Odell Beckham, Cooper Kupp, and DK Metcalf. With an average of 10.9 yards per target, this could indeed be indicative of a breakout season but perspective is needed.

Fulgham has achieved his target share due to two huge games. One down week might tank that. As of this writing, the Eagles haven't played on Thursday Night but once again I am being realistic in suppressing expectations. The Giants have only allowed one 100-yard receiver all year (CeeDee Lamb) and no other WR has even reached 75 yards, thanks mainly to James Bradberry. With no other options to distract from Fulgham, he'll draw plenty of attention from Bradberry and others. I am ready to buy into Fulgham as a streaming option even if Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson ever return but it's with the understanding that his target share will eventually even out.

 

Emmanuel Sanders, New Orleans Saints

21.3% Team Target Share

It was a slow start in the Big Easy for Sanders but the last couple of games before the bye reaped great rewards for fantasy managers. Sanders caught six of nine targets for 93 yards in Week 4 and outdid that with 12 catches on 14 targets for 122 yards in Week 5. Steadily trending upward, the return of Michael Thomas comes at an inopportune time. That is, if it's coming at all.

The team's franchise wideout is now questionable again after aggravating a hamstring that could be related to his existing ankle injury. Don't forget about his mysterious suspension that came on the eve of his supposed return too.


If Thomas doesn't go in Week 7 or beyond, Sanders seems like an obvious start. Otherwise, it's a tricky proposition.

His value has been buoyed by the target volume but a decline, especially a substantial one that could happen when Thomas returns, could make him unplayable outside of very deep PPR leagues. For what it's worth, Thomas had the second-highest target share among all WR in 2019 at 34.5%. The only player who topped that was... Emmanuel Sanders at 43.8%. Of course, that was with Denver and San Francisco, so circumstances have changed.

Targets are indeed the lifeblood of a receiver's fantasy value but we do need to see them convert into yardage and touchdowns. Sanders' 39.9% Air Yard Share is even higher than his target share but his 9.0 aDoT is middle-of-the-pack and his air yard total is barely higher than guys like Zach Pascal and Jeff Smith (see below).

Sanders is worth a shot in Week 7 based on the uncertainty surrounding Thomas but GMs should know that the Panthers allow the lowest points per reception to WR relative to the opponent's average. Here's a chance to share the very latest #DFBeersReport courtesy of Mike Beers on Twitter.

The Saints' next two opponents are Chicago and Tampa Bay which allow the third and 11th-fewest fantasy PPR to the receiver position. This is a good time to exploring trading Sanders away if possible.

 

Jeff Smith, New York Jets

21.2% Team Target Share

I'll admit to being excited for a minute about the potential of a fantasy sleeper on a forgotten team (or a team we wish we could forget) like the Jets. By Week 4, they were rolling out Braxton Berrios and Chris Hogan as starting wideouts due to the sheer volume of injuries. In stepped Jeff Smith, an undrafted second-year player out of Boston College with 4.4 speed and apparent doppelganger to Travis Fulgham in terms of career trajectory.

He was inactive for three weeks, suddenly burst onto the scene with seven catches and 81 yards in Week 4 on nine targets, then saw 11 targets the following week, catching only three for 23 yards sadly. Was Smith the playmaker this team sorely needed? Apparently not, as he fell to four targets in Week 6 with Breshad Perriman back in action. Despite the ball being thrown his way a ton, he only averaged 4.7 yards per target.

Jamison Crowder is already second in the league in target share, so with Perriman on the field again and Denzel Mims looking ready to return this weekend, Smith is a distant fourth in pecking order for a team that ranks last in passing yardage. He could be a deep dynasty stash for 2021 if Crowder is traded and/or Perriman signs elsewhere but he would need Trevor Lawrence on the team in order to jump back to relevance.

 

Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

11.2% Team Target Share

The first WR picked in this year's draft, Ruggs hasn't gotten the chance to full showcase what he can do yet. He missed two games, exited early in two others and the Raiders have already had their bye. Since we're looking at target rate rather than total targets, that shouldn't matter if he was a major part of the offense in those couple of games, much like Fulgham.

Ruggs hasn't been targeted much when he's actually on the field but he doesn't need to be. Unlike a slot receiver who depends on volume, Ruggs is content to take one pass and turn it into a 72-yard touchdown. He has quickly shown exactly what Mike Mayock envisioned when drafting him with his blazing 4.2 speed. A mere 11 targets has resulted in 177 yards.


Simply put, his target share doesn't matter if he's hyper-efficient on deep balls and can outrun the defense at every step. When a player averaged 16.1 yards per target, it doesn't take very many to be productive. If Ruggs stays healthy, he has boom potential any given week regardless of opponent and may be considered a midseason trade target.

 

Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

15.2% Team Target Share

Here is another rookie, albeit one who has yet to explode on the scene to the level of Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb or Chase Claypool. Shenault had been steady but not especially fantasy relevant until last week's dud. He had been on a steady climb in terms of targets and receptions until he laid an egg in a great matchup with Detroit.

image taken from RotoWire

His steady snap count totals and occasional involvement as a runner are good signs. The red flag isn't his one-week drop in target share, it's the complete lack of involvement in the red zone.

As far as his low Target%, it has to do with the fact that the Jags are passing so much to so many players. After six games, they are fourth in total pass attempts at nearly 43 per game. D.J. Chark absorbs most of those when healthy and Keelan Cole is actually the team leader with 38 targets. Shenault is right up there with 36.

Shenault has yet to provide a huge play or a breakout game but he should continue to grow as the season progresses. He can provide a steady floor in PPR leagues but is nearly useless in standard leagues without any touchdowns. He has seen just as many targets this year as Emmanuel Sanders, so being higher on the veteran than the rookie would reek of recency bias. Maybe reverse ageism too.



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Slow Starters Ready to Break Out in Fantasy?

We are now more than a third of the way into the fantasy football season and a seemingly clearer picture is available across the landscape. After a pandemic-shortened offseason and lack of preseason exposure, there were plenty of worries headed into the first month specifically. Thus far, one of the most prevalent topics with regards to how the pandemic played a part in fantasy is injuries because that is the easiest connection to make between lack of training camp reps, allowing for limited ramp-up time for players.

While injuries are the most tangible, slow-starting players are also ones who may have been hurt by the limited reps. Several skill guys had their snaps/roles cut early on in the season (Joe Mixon for example), yet were brought along over the course of subsequent weeks. Every player's performance is affected differently. Some are due to the pandemic, others are due to a rough schedule. It is often hard to pinpoint but this piece takes the best possible approach to evaluating each player's position.

Here are five slow starters expected to bounce back this season. For any questions on this topic or any other post, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@RotoSurgeon) and shoot it through.

 

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

I'm not buying any of the Jalen Hurts hype coming from the internet. Wentz has not been perfect, but thus far, he is not the only problem in Philadelphia's offense. Currently, nine out of 11 offensive starters are out with injury. Plus, Wentz is dealing with a league-worst 16 drops from his pass-catchers.

The Zach Ertz injury is a blessing-in-disguise because a plodding TE is now removed from the equation, allowing for more dynamic players to take his place. Richard Rodgers will sub in for the interim and Dallas Goedert, upon return from IR, will then take over. Ertz has been terrible this season despite having a fruitful history as Wentz's safety blanket. He shrinks the field around him, forcing more attention elsewhere.

Losing Miles Sanders would prove costly if the Eagles were not facing the New York Giants this week and then facing off against Dallas' putrid defense afterward. Boston Scott and the backups should fill-in just fine. With a bye week right after, Sanders should be fully healthy for the stretch run to take control of the NFC East in the second half.

Jalen Reagor's timetable to return from his thumb injury lines up here as well along with DeSean Jackson and Lane Johnson. The Eagles are in the most advantageous position within the division, making it possible they even add a dynamic piece at the trade deadline given the plethora of receivers potentially available for trade. Wentz is currently QB15 in scoring with a ceiling around the top-six given his increased rushing. Wentz is running more, and more efficiently than ever with 6.1 yards-per-carry on 28 carries. He is on pace for a career-high 75 attempts and already has four touchdowns on the ground which make up for and negate the increased turnovers this season.

 

Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

It is inconceivable that Akers only played one snap this past weekend versus the 49ers but it happened and Rams head coach Sean McVay's "game-flow" explanation was a non-answer. Akers was not drafted with their first pick in the 2020 draft and named starter out the gates to ride the bench. Either there was an issue in practice or Akers is still not fully healthy.

Despite playing 13 snaps in Week 5 and touching the ball nine times, it did not make much sense to keep him benched the next week, especially with McVay commenting on his increased involvement. Akers returned along a reasonable timeline from his rib cartilage injury, yet the "optimal recovery time" according to Inside Injuries of The Athletic is five weeks as to not re-aggravate the rib. Akers suffered the injury in Week 2 and we are now heading into Week 7.

Darrell Henderson has looked very good in a handful of games and mediocre in others. Nevertheless, he has the "hot-hand" and will continue to start until he is usurped or fails. Akers will have to be the one to usurp him and fortunately for fantasy GMs who are stashing him, he is quite capable. Henderson is seldom used on third-down and obvious passing-situations because of his limitations as a pass-blocker and receiver. This is where Akers could thrive and eat into the RB snaps.

Malcolm Brown has been a black hole when given touches since Week 2 but that is nothing new. Brown is averaging 3.7 yards-per-carry and 2.2 yards-per-target thus far, below-pedestrian numbers. If Akers' issue with getting on the field is due to the Rams' desire to unleash him on third-down and passing downs, there is a fantasy monster brewing that should have been unleashed earlier.

 

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

Hilton has been extremely disappointing early on, no one is arguing against that. The assumption coming into the season was that despite a clear decline for Philip Rivers, the fringe Hall-of-Fame QB would still be an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett as a passer. That, unfortunately, has not been very true as Rivers is looking like a shell of himself but the Colts are winning games on the back of their top-three defense. The addition of RB Jonathan Taylor in the second round of the 2020 draft was meant to spark the offense as well but he has been just as disappointing, if not more than Rivers given the high hopes that come with youth. All-in-all, the Colts' offense is bad.

Hilton's 6.5 yards-per-target on the season is a career-low and he has not found the end-zone yet through six games. However, he did have a TD called back this past week on a penalty far away from the play. He has six red-zone targets on the season and is still building rapport with Rivers. Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. are out for the foreseeable future and now Hilton is playing nearly every snap. Over the first four weeks, he did not play more than 80% of the offensive snaps in a single game, but these past two, he has played 95% and 94%, respectively. Hilton owns a 19% target share this season with a season-high 10 coming two weeks ago versus the Browns. He is still fast/explosive and has brighter days ahead given a very soft second-half schedule.

 

Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens

Hollywood Brown is one of the fastest players in the league playing on arguably the most versatile offense, and yet, his fantasy production is lacking in 2020. Part of the reason for this is Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' low-passing volume, and another is the lack of need for extensive receiving production.

Brown has just one red-zone target on the season and did not crack 80% of snaps through the first four weeks of the season but has 86% and 85% over the past two weeks, respectively. The Ravens have outscored opponents thus far by a margin of 75 points. In their one loss to the Chiefs, Brown was blanketed and then phased out from the game by being on the opposite end of a blowout.

Brown's home-run ability makes him a stereotypical boom-or-bust option but with a 26% target share and nine yards-per-target, he is just on the wrong end of touchdown variance with one on the season. He's a fantasy star on the cusp of breaking out.

 

Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns

Austin Hooper has ascended to fantasy relevance over the past few weeks but has yet to truly break out. After signing the largest free-agent TE contract ever, Hooper was expected to be a massive part of Cleveland's offense after a fantastic stretch in Atlanta. While a good bit of his production was driven by a high-volume passing offense next to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, Hooper held his own with a large target share and end-zone production.

Through the first three weeks of the 2020 season, Hooper totaled seven receptions on 10 targets for 62 yards and no touchdowns. Just this past week, he had five receptions on six targets for 52 yards with 57 yards the game prior. Snaps have not been an issue as he is on the field plenty but with David Njoku back in the mix, he has seen a dip below 80% over the past two weeks despite an increase in targets.

Fortunately, Njoku has once again requested a trade out from Cleveland, leaving Hooper and Harrison Bryant as the primary options at the position. Hooper played up to 98% of the snaps in games sans Njoku and will likely carry a massive share moving forward. He's building rapport with QB Baker Mayfield but there is work to be done.

Having only two red-zone targets thus far is disappointing, but that could change as the chemistry grows. Cleveland is being forced to throw more often than they'd like with star RB Nick Chubb out-of-commission. Hooper's role will continue to grow and it could hopefully blossom in the second half of this season.



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How to Value Clyde Edwards-Helaire with Le'Veon Bell in KC

Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Jonathan Taylor? Coming into the season this was the biggest question for fantasy GMs, both dynasty managers who were thinking long-term and redraft managers who wanted to know who would be better for this season. There were many different theories and believe me when I say, both sides thought they were 100% right.

After a monster Week 1 against Houston, CEH truthers were already taking their victory laps. That coming Sunday though, not only did Taylor show his pass-catching potential, Marlon Mack also was lost for the season. Bring on the Taylor truthers. While Taylor has been rather steady, albeit unimpressive thus far, Edwards-Helaire has been up and down for sure. With the entrance of Le’Veon Bell starting in Week 7, he may lose more than a bit of value, for this season at least. The real worry is how much value will he lose and does this affect his dynasty value as well.

When it comes to dynasty, the answer is a bit easier to decipher. So, we will conquer this area first followed by the more challenging question of what to do in redraft leagues. We know the Chiefs high powered offense is capable of supporting multiple weapons. But with Travis Kelce and Tyrek Hill already there, is there room for two RBs to thrive?

 

Dynasty Value

After being taken with the first or second pick in all but the rarest of dynasty leagues, it will be hard-pressed to find a manager willing to trade CEH for anything less than a boatload of assets. Even if the production looks to be taking a hit, managers refuse to admit so quickly that someone will not retain all the value they had at the start of the season. To be fair, it is only six weeks into his first season. So, if I were the one with Edwards-Helaire on my roster, I would not sell cheap either.

Le’Veon Bell may have his best days behind him. It is also possible he may still be capable of performing as he did in his prime. Either way, it is likely Andy Reid and the Chiefs brought in the disgruntled RB to help make a second straight Super Bowl push in 2020. Much like LeSean McCoy, Bell is more of a one-year rental and less of a multi-year compliment in the offense. It is clear the Chiefs and more importantly, Patrick Mahomes love their rookie. When your newly-minted $500 million QB asks you to draft someone, this is not really an ask. It is more of a polite demand. Mahomes got his way and he will make sure CEH is a featured part of the offense.

While the value of CEH may or may not have gone down for the remainder of this season, his dynasty value remains as high as ever. Not only is he going to be a top-five dynasty start-up pick next season, but if you were to redraft the rookies again right now, he would still be top three. This shows the confidence managers still have in him and the machine which is the Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes mind-meld. As long as they are together this is an offense you want a major piece of. CEH is a great way to have it for at least three seasons. Maybe even longer.

 

Redraft Value

This is the more difficult place to put a value on Edwards-Helaire. We would have liked to see how the pairing between him and Bell co-existed this week but with COVID precautions in place, Le’Veon Bell was unable to participate in the Monday night game against the Bills. So, we will need to wait another week.

Bell has thus far not fared well away from Pittsburgh. With only 74 rush yards in two games this season and 3.2 yards per carry last season, it is challenging to get a read on his ability. Has it diminished to the point of him being relegated to a backup? Or was the Jets offensive line and coaching so dreadful he was bound for failure from the start? My feeling is a bit of both.

He has diminished a bit for sure. A one-year layoff will do this to an older runner. But the mish-mash offensive line did him no favors either. Combine this with the lack of any other weapons and his time in New York was set up for failure. Kansas City is a horse of a different breed.

The Chiefs offense is the antithesis of the Jets. They have the best QB in the NFL at the moment and arguable the top TE and a top-five WR as well. Bell will fit in extremely well on a veteran team who does not expect him to be a savior. Instead, he can simply meld in and take some pressure off the rookie.

After a Week 1 game with 138 yards and one TD, CEH has come down to earth a bit. He has not played bad by any means. He has come back to reality with mediocre games until Week 6 when he exploded again with 161 rushing yards. This is not a big deal for the Chiefs but for fantasy, it is not such a happy occasion.

After 92 receptions in college in 2019, Edwards-Helaire is having another good season with 21 receptions on 31 targets as a rookie. This puts him on pace for over 65 receptions and nearly 100 targets as a rookie. We also know what Bell can do in the passing game having over 80 receptions on numerous occasions in his time with the Steelers. This will be the main area in which Bell cuts into the production level of CEH. The real key is how much of a cut will it be. Will he take all the pass-catching work? Likely no. It may be far more than we hope though.

After Damien Williams opted out of the season, Edwards-Helaire was immediately being drafted at his ceiling of RB 5. To this point, he is RB 13 on the season. With the entrance of Bell this will take an even further hit. He will likely still finish as a top 24 RB on the season. Although it will be closer to 24 than it is 10 at this rate.

 

Verdict

It is clear Andy Reid and the Chiefs do not care about your fantasy team. This is rude and needs to certainly be addressed with them. Until we are able to have our complaint heard, you can continue to start Edwards-Helaire each and every week. He still has an extremely high floor. His ceiling though is not nearly as high as it was a week ago.

That said, Bell has not been the pillar of health in his career. If something happens and he misses some time, Edwards-Helaire could easily take over this backfield and run with it. We know Reid likes using a bell-cow back. If he is given a reason to do so, he will use it. Do not trade away CEH. He will be fine moving forward. More importantly, you will not get a good return. So, you are better off keeping him.

Good luck the rest of the way. Man, this is a fun season isn’t it?



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Dynasty Trade Targets for Rebuilding Teams

Maybe 2020 isn't going the way you planned. That could go for a lot of us in a lot of ways but this specifically refers to fantasy football.

Maybe your dynasty team that once looked like a strong contender is sitting at the bottom of the standings with one lonely win or none at all. You hate to throw in the towel before the season is half-done but sometimes you know a playoff run isn't in the books, especially if your powerhouse team consisted of Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Zach Ertz. Things aren't looking much better the rest of the way so it's time to act.

The key to winning in dynasty is to constantly look forward and build value as much as possible. If your present roster isn't helping you win in the present, do what is needed to help you win in the future. Here are some players to target in trade talks that could break out in 2021 and have greater projected value.

 

JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, PIT)

The supposed WR1 for Pittsburgh is looking more like their WR3. Rookie Chase Claypool has emerged and Diontae Johnson, if he ever gets healthy, will get just as many looks. In fact, the Steelers' top four WRs and TE Eric Ebron are all within four targets of one another on the season so far. This is looking like a true WRBC.

Coming off a career-low six yards on two receptions (not including the first game of his career where he wasn't targeted), fantasy GMs are raging. Should we be mad at Smith-Schuster for underperforming or the Steelers for underutilizing him? Our Antonio Losada gave a great detailed answer to this question but for our purposes here, it doesn't necessarily matter.

The fact is that Smith-Schuster isn't helping fantasy teams and the notion he is being phased out of the offense in favor of Claypool presents a trade opportunity. The manager who rosters Smith-Schuster that is in win-now mode may be willing to part with him for a more reliable starter. It may be tough to accept trading away someone like Julio Jones or Adam Thielen in exchange for an underperforming wideout but it makes sense. Both those receivers are past the age of 30 while Smith-Schuster is just 23. Both the Falcons and Vikings are 1-5 and could be rebuilding sooner than expected.

The final, unexpected component to this analysis is the fact that I don't expect Smith-Schuster to remain in Pittsburgh next season. He is set to hit free agency in 2021 and the Steelers simply may not want to pay up for his services. This is why they drafted Claypool a year after drafting Johnson. This franchise has a history of successfully developing wide receivers and not paying for them. The one exception was Antonio Brown and that ultimately ended badly. If Smith-Schuster gets paid to be the top dog on a team with cap room like the Colts or Patriots, he may see that target share shoot back up again. His value hasn't hit bottom yet but another disappointing performance or two may be the catalyst to make an offer.

 

Rashaad Penny (RB, SEA)

Remember when Penny was going to usurp Chris Carson's role as lead back in Seattle? Carson has proven to be better and more resilient than he ever got credit for. He's also had a penchant for getting banged up and will be a free agent entering 2021. As a Pete Carroll favorite, it's hard to imagine the Seahawks letting him walk but it might not be his call. The team has been burned before by signing Shaun Alexander and Marshawn Lynch to big deals, only to see them flame out less than two years later. Running backs just don't get paid like they used to - the recent Le'Veon Bell fiasco serves as another warning to NFL GMs.

Regardless of Carson's future, Penny should be back to contribute late in 2020 and could get back to what he was doing before his injury. In 2019, Penny was averaging 5.7 yards per carry and provided a nice complement to Carson. Even as the RB2 on his own team, Penny was flex-worthy in fantasy and a high-end insurance policy for the times Carson would be out of action.

The best-case scenario is that Penny takes over as the team's lead back in 2021. The worst case is that he doesn't fully heal from ACL surgery and lacks the same explosiveness. It's a calculated risk but one that shouldn't cost much to take on.

 

A.J. Dillon (RB, GB)

Similar to the Penny situation, Green Bay could be a team in transition for 2021, especially if the season ends on a sour note. Aaron Jones is a stud, especially for fantasy purposes, but he's also a free agent as is Jamaal Williams. One would imagine they drafted Dillon for this exact reason, to replace one or both of them.

The selection of Jordan Love to succeed Aaron Rodgers may not make an impact next season but the RB situation is more likely to change. Dillon has played sparingly this season, rushing only 13 times for 65 yards so far. He has only taken more than two carries in a game at the tail end of two blowouts. This isn't concerning for dynasty managers, it's encouraging. He will enter his second season with fresh legs and fully healthy. Wear and tear was a minor concern after taking 845 rush attempts in college.

Dillon was labeled a combine warrior after running a 4.53 40 time. This is outstanding for someone his size (247 lbs), resulting in an adjusted speed score in the 97th percentile. He might have been a fantasy favorite if he landed in a better situation. Instead, we will have to wait until next year to see what he can do in a part-time, if not a full-time role. Teams in need of startable players or in win-now mode have no use for Dillon so try to extract him from their clutches while you can.

 

Quintez Cephus (WR, DET)

I mentioned Cephus as a last-minute preseason stash for dynasty leagues due to the Kenny Golladay injury that kept him out of Week 1. Sure enough, Cephus was targeted a whopping 10 times in the opener, although he only caught three for 43 yards. He followed up with three catches for 54 yards in Week 2 and then disappeared from the offense once Golladay returned. It may take another injury for him to have any relevance this season but we're looking ahead here.

Detroit's top three receivers, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola, are all due for free agency in 2021. Golladay is likely to get paid while it wouldn't be surprising if Jones was set free. He is now 30 years old and appears past his prime based on a slow start. He's averaging a career-low 10.4 yards per reception and 6.1 yards per target while his 58.3% catch rate is 10 points lower than last year. He wasn't able to lift up this passing game while Golladay was out, proving how much more valuable one is than the other. Amendola should be an afterthought as this team gets younger at receiver again.

Cephus fell to the fifth round of the NFL Draft due to disappointing measurables, including a 4.73 40 time. He then became a preseason darling based on outstanding training camp performance. The sky may not be the limit here but Cephus could thrive with a QB like Matthew Stafford funneling passes his way.

 

Collin Johnson (WR, JAX)

Filling out your roster with upside can be an overlooked aspect of rebuilding a franchise. Those players at the end of your bench may seem disposable but in deeper dynasty leagues, you may not find any worthy waiver wire pickups during the season or be able to pull off a trade that satisfies your needs. If your WR6 has the upside to perform as a WR3 in the right context, that is the type of player hold onto. Not stashing Josh Gordon for the fifth straight year.

Johnson was a fifth-round pick out of Texas that landed on the outskirts of a deep receiving corps for a bad team. As the season began, he was behind D.J. Chark, Keelan Cole, Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook, and fellow rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. on the depth chart. Things are slowly changing in his favor and could take off in 2021.

It's clear Chark is the top target and Shenault has been what the team hoped for. Beyond that, only Cole has delivered value. Westbrook has been a healthy scratch multiple times. Conley has been his usual modestly productive self but the last two games he's only seen two targets in each. Johnson saw four targets in Week 5 alone before being blanked in Week 6. The Jags are already using his 6'6" frame in the red zone area since they don't have any other big-bodied receivers.

Considering that Westbrook and Conley are free agents next year, Johnson should surely take their place. Cole is also set to walk but it remains to be seen whether they retain his services. If Johnson proves capable down the stretch, they could easily save the cash by keeping him to replace Cole.

 

David Njoku (TE, CLE)

The tight end position is a tough one to glean dynasty value from. There are the elites who are off the market like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Mark Andrews, the reliable holds like Darren Waller, Hunter Henry, and Austin Hooper, and the young rising stars who you won't get at a discount like Mike Gesicki, Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, and Jonnu Smith. Then there's everyone else who isn't especially fantasy-relevant, especially in dynasty.

Njoku fit the rising star mold before 2019 began as a third-year player in an offense that was due to take off. Not only did Cleveland fall flat but an IR stint wiped out Njoku's season. The signing of Austin Hooper didn't sit well with him, leading to a trade demand in the offseason that was later rescinded. Now, it's back.


Since being activated from IR, Njoku has caught one pass in each of the last two games while Hooper has caught five passes in each and led the team in targets. Njoku wants out again and may get his wish before the November 3 deadline. If he lands with a team that could utilize him right away, he could deliver low-end TE1 production right away and become a solid starter heading into next year or an immediately trade-worthy asset.

 

Irv Smith Jr. (TE, MIN)

Smith was a popular preseason sleeper heading into his second year. He was drafted for one reason - to catch the ball. At 6'2", 242 lbs, Smith isn't out there to block. He was taken in the second round to be a field stretcher and offensive weapon after posting 710 receiving yards his junior year at Alabama.

Over the first month of 2020, he did neither. Smith graded out as the second-worst TE, 63rd out of 64, performing terribly as both a blocker and a receiver. It's understandable, as he was barely being used. Smith saw a total of six targets in the first four games and went without a catch in Weeks 3-4. Then, a light bulb clicked in Gary Kubiak's head and he realized that using Smith as a third receiver might not be a bad idea.

Since then, Smith has back-to-back games with four receptions and five targets, going over 50 yards in each. He hasn't hit paydirt yet but that might benefit the dynasty GM seeking a deal for a discounted TE salary. Smith has been dropped all over redraft leagues and even in some shallower dynasty leagues. The peak time to target him was two weeks ago, obviously, but with Minnesota's bye coming up the window is still open. Offer up a hot name like Robert Tonyan or a third-round pick to get the conversation started.

 

Sam Darnold (QB, NYJ)

"One man's trash is another man's treasure." To say that the Jets players are underachieving is putting it kindly. This team is a raging dumpster fire that Adam Gase keeps pouring hot grease on. Even if ownership insists on keeping Gase around until the season ends, whether it be to fulfill the tanking process to secure QB Trevor Lawrence or to stubbornly refusing to admit their mistake in hiring him, there is still hidden value to be unearthed here.

Although Breshad Perriman makes for a nice WR4 that can be had for a draft pick, the real value is with Darnold. His career arc has been rife with mediocrity and injuries/illnesses. We may never know what might have been of his first three seasons if he could have stayed on the field and had a competent coach during his critical developmental stage. As it stands, he currently has a 59.8% completion rate, 39-32 TD-INT rate, and has been On Target for just under 75% of his passes. By contrast, third-year quarterback Josh Allen, whose accuracy was always a question mark, has an 83.2% OnTgt% this season. Rookie Justin Herbert has a 78.8% OnTgt% in his first four career starts. Darnold has been put in tough positions his whole NFL career with a struggling offensive line, no running game, and incompetent play-calling. If any or all of those factors change, we could see the talent that made him the third overall pick in the 2018 draft.

The understandable concern with Darnold in dynasty is the fact that the Jets are on track to have the top pick in the NFL Draft, which would undoubtedly be Trevor Lawrence unless they trade it away. It's too soon to speculate on the final standings or what the team would do with its pick but Darnold ending up with another team a la Jameis Winston might not be the worst thing in the world for his future value. In Superflex leagues, he can be had for practically nothing at this point and is worth a future draft pick. The time to move is now while he remains sidelined. You never know, if Gase gets fired and Darnold returns next week, this offense could suddenly catch fire! Probably not though.



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Beginner's Luck? Chase Claypool, Travis Fulgham, Other WR Breakouts

It sometimes takes rookie wide receivers a season or two to reach their full potential. Davante Adams averaged 465 receiving yards in his first two NFL seasons. Michael Irvin had a total of 78 receptions in his first three NFL seasons.

The 2014 season was a special one for rookie WRs. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Kelvin Benjamin, and Sammy Watkins all finished the season with at least 800 receiving yards. All of those receivers, except Benjamin, are still in the NFL and playing at a high level.

Several young WRs have had breakout games and enjoyed fantasy success so far this season. Is their early-season success truly reflective of their talent or can we chalk it up to beginner’s luck?  Can we count on them for the rest of this season and beyond? The following are five young receivers who’ve been lighting it up as of late. Let’s try to determine if it's legit or if there’s a Kelvin Benjamin in the group.

 

Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

After a seven-catch, 110-yard, three-touchdown Week 5 performance, Chase Claypool was one of this week’s hottest fantasy football waiver wire adds. The Steelers selected Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, and with their reputation for developing top wide receivers, the rest of the league took notice.

The six-foot four-inch Claypool is an explosive receiver with a knack for being able to bring down contested catches. With his special teams experience and above-average blocking skills, it wasn’t surprising when he saw significant playing time to start the season. However, as detailed in the chart below, Claypool’s playing time seems tied to how many snaps second-year WR Diontae Johnson plays on a weekly basis. Johnson, who leads the Steelers with 26 targets, saw limited action in Week 3 (concussion), and Week 5 (back injury) and that’s when Claypool saw a significant uptick in playing time.

 

Steelers WR

Week 1
Snaps %
Week 2
Snaps %
Week 3
Snaps %
Week 5
Snaps %
Chase Claypool 30 37 76 69
Diontae Johnson 86 83 24 8
James Washington 58 48 61 71
JuJu Smith-Schuster 86 91 73 76

Claypool is currently second among WRs with 9.2 Yards After The Catch Per Reception (YAC/R) and has the type of skillset that can eventually help him become one of the NFL’s top receivers for years to come. Although he deserves to be rostered in all league formats, fantasy managers should temper their expectations. There are many mouths to feed in the Steelers passing game and that can lead to some inconsistency in Claypool’s fantasy production moving forward. Fantasy managers should expect Claypool to have some very good weeks, like when he’s got a favorable matchup, and some small weeks, like when he plays against the Ravens in three weeks.

Claypool can be a significant contributor to your fantasy team’s success for the rest of the season, but you’ll need to make strategic decisions as to when to put him in your starting lineup and when to leave him on your bench. Claypool’s talent is for real, but it may not be evident on a weekly basis early in his career.

 

Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Shenault hasn’t exactly lit the fantasy world on fire, but he’s gradually developing into a reliable fantasy WR. According to Fantasy Football Today, he’s fantasy football’s WR32, averaging 12.3 Fantasy Points Per Game (FPPG) in PPR scoring formats. That means that in a 12-team league, he’s a fringe WR3 or flex option.

Breaking tackles was his specialty in college. He broke 46 of them over his last two college seasons, so it makes sense that he’s tied for fourth in receptions per broken tackle among NFL WRs this season. With his combination of size, strength, and speed he has the potential to further develop into a big-time playmaker. Shenault’s outstanding running skills make him a versatile offensive force who has already had nine carries for 53 yards (5.9 YPC) through Week 5.

As part of a Jaguars team that surprisingly leads the NFL in passing play percentage (66.56%), he should continue to grow as a receiver as the season progresses. Shenault already leads the team with 23 receptions and averages 62% offensive snaps played per game. He’s still a bit of a work in progress, but Shenault deserves to be rostered in all fantasy league formats. Shenault may not have Claypool’s high ceiling, but at least for this season, he should provide fantasy players with a bit more consistency in weekly production than the Steelers WR.

 

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

With the Vikings a little thin at the WR position after Stefon Diggs shuffled off to Buffalo, many fantasy players and analysts (myself included), expected Justin Jefferson to be widely used in the Vikings’ passing game. However, asking a rookie WR to regularly put up significant fantasy numbers when he plays for a team that has the fourth-lowest passing play percentage dating back to the 2019 season is asking for a lot.

So far, the receiver who has benefited the most from Diggs’ departure has been Adam Thielen. He’s fifth in FPPG among NFL receivers. Like many rookie WRs who have come before him, Jefferson has had his ups and downs to start his career. He’s tied for fourth among WRs with 19.5 yards per reception. In Week 3, he caught seven passes for 175 yards, including a 71-yard TD reception. He followed that up with a four-catch 103-yard game. However, in his other three matchups, he’s averaged just under three receptions and 31 receiving yards per game.

Some college scouts cite Jefferson’s lack of speed and poor separation skills and consider him a career WR2, at best. Those alleged weaknesses haven’t been an issue thus far this season. He’s NFL’s WR11 when it comes to YAC/R (6.7). Maybe the scouts will end up being right and in the long term, Jefferson’s lack of speed will limit his ability to stretch the field. However, for the short term, the Vikings’ run-first offensive scheme (and maybe some typical rookie growing pains) will be his biggest hurdle to providing fantasy players with consistent fantasy production on a weekly basis. His ceiling isn’t as high as Claypool’s or Shenault’s, but he’s another rookie who deserves to be rostered. Just don’t consider him an automatic start on a weekly basis…yet.

 

Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Tee Higgins is averaging 12.7 FPPG in PPR scoring formats. That makes him a WR30 in fantasy football. If you start three WRs in your fantasy league Higgins should be one of them. He’s got it all. He’s a talented receiver who’s a deep-ball threat and can play all three receiver spots. Higgins doesn’t have blazing speed but he’s quick off the line of scrimmage and has excellent ball tracking and ball-handling skills.

Higgins finds himself in a perfect situation. Not only does he play for a team that loves to throw the ball, but because they’ll be playing from behind for much of the season, they’ll need to throw the ball.  He’s already become an integral part of the Bengals’ passing offense and averages close to eight targets per game. With future star QB Joe Burrow slinging the ball his way you’re going to want to find a way to get Higgins on your dynasty team’s roster. A.J. Green’s time has come and gone. Start Higgins every week.

 

Travis Fulgham, Philadelphia Eagles

Travis Fulgham has TDs in each of the last two weeks as the Eagles, who’ve been decimated by injuries to their WRs, desperately look for anyone that QB Carson Wentz can throw the ball to. Conventional wisdom tells us that Fulgham will find his way back to the Eagles’ practice squad once Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson are healthy enough to return to the football field.

Fulgham played his college ball for the lightly regarded Old Dominion and will probably never have a regular starting job as an NFL receiver, but he’s obviously formed a bit of a connection with Wentz over the past couple of weeks. Nevertheless, even if he gets one more week as a starting Eagle WR, this isn’t the time to put him in your lineup. He’ll be facing the Ravens who’ve given up the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to fantasy WRs. Chalk up his brief time in the Eagle’s spotlight to beginner’s luck. We’ve found our Kelvin Benjamin doppelganger.



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Lies, Damned Lies, and Fantasy Football Statistics (Week 6)

Are five games enough to start reading into ROS player values based on performance? Unlike baseball, where certain statistics can start to become reliable or "sticky" after a certain at-bat or innings-pitched threshold, it's never the case in football. It's a game where big individual plays make all the difference and only 16 games make up an entire season. Wait long enough to parse through the data and the season is over before you can do anything with it.

What about those teams who've been forced to early bye weeks and only played four times or those with unexpected schedule changes that forced them to play on Tuesday or extend their time between games? The answer: it's 2020 so accept it and move on.

A one-game sample in which a game flow goes completely off script can skew things dramatically on both sides. Outlier games (Travis Fulgham anyone?) can make a player look far more effective than his true value would indicate. On the other hand, some players might be underachieving based on unfavorable schedules. Not all advanced metrics are meaningful and some can be downright deceptive. My aim here is to point out those potential outliers that could steer you wrong when making key lineup decisions for Week 6 and beyond.

 

Yards per Carry

One of the first ways a running back gets evaluated is by how much yardage he produces on average when touching the ball. We know opportunity is everything in fantasy, but more touches only mean more yardage if a player can do something with the ball. Just ask those who added Joshua Kelley off waivers.

Context matters, of course. Le'Veon Bell averaged 3.2 yards per carry last year but not many players could do better in that offense. That's the reason several teams were scrambling to acquire his services as soon as he was released.

Here's a look at the 2019 RB leaders for yards per rush attempt:

image taken from NFL NextGenStats

Here's the current list for 2020 after Week 5:

image taken from NFL NextGenStats

So, apparently, Raheem Mostert is for real. While we also see the list littered with the best players at the position, some odds ones stand out.

When you see backups like Gus Edwards, Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison, and Matt Breida on last year's list (and again for Edwards and Mattison this year), it might make you wonder why they don't get more touches. In the case of Pollard and Mattison, they have an elite RB ahead of them on the depth chart. Breida can't stay healthy and Edwards is limited in many other ways outside of running the ball straight ahead.

What you don't see on these charts is that Derrick Henry is now averaging 3.7, Kenyan Drake also 3.7, Josh Jacobs is at 3.6, and Christian McCaffrey 3.8 Y/A in 2020, all in the bottom 10 among backs with at least 30 carries. It's almost like this figure can change from year to year!

There are many reasons for this but it varies so the best idea as always is to take it on a player-by-player basis. Let's dive into some running backs whose rushing average might be deceptive at this point in the season, for better or worse.

Rankings listed below are based on running backs who are on pace for at least 100 rush attempts this season.

 

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

5.1 Y/A - 7th among RB

I won't hate on Sanders here because there is no denying his talent. He was my favorite RB of the 2019 draft class and should be a solid RB2 for the next few years. The problem is the Eagles offense as a whole.

Sanders ranks seventh in rushing average among qualified RBs and is 12th in the NFL in total rushing yards. Savvy readers may remember that 74 of his 316 yards, or 23%, came on one play in Pittsburgh last week. Otherwise, he totaled six yards on his other 10 carries. The Steelers Defense is great at stopping the run, but there's more at play here.

Philadelphia has seen its offensive line decimated by injuries. Starters Brandon Brooks, Andre Dillard, and Jason Peters are all on IR or PUP. Lane Johnson is questionable as he battles an ankle injury. This will make for tough sledding, making it necessary for Sanders to create big plays on his own. Those home run plays won't always be there.

Sanders isn't the type of player you ever want to bench when healthy but he won't deliver big numbers each week and could be considered a candidate to trade coming off his two-TD performance if you can fetch a WR1 or more consistent RB in his stead (see Mixon, Joe below).

 

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

3.7 Y/A - 37th among RB

Any GM who selected Mixon with a first-round pick has likely considered trading him away at some point this year. He's not close to sniffing four yards a carry and has scored fewer than 16 fantasy points in four of his five games so far (full PPR). In half-PPR and standard scoring leagues, he's been far less valuable. While he ranks right around RB11 for the year, nearly all of that production came in his Week 4 outburst against the lowly Jaguars Defense.

Was Mixon overvalued? Not fitting in with the new Joe Burrow-led Bengals? Quite the opposite. If anything, we can ignore his rushing average for two reasons.

First, schedule matters. It's easy to use that excuse, but in this case, it's true. In his four duds, Mixon faced the Chargers, Browns, Eagles, and Ravens. Those teams currently rank sixth, 10th, 12th, and third in limiting fantasy points to running backs. Looking strictly at rushing average, they allow the 16th, sixth, fourth, and 13th-most yards per carry. The Bengals did not win any of those games, so game script definitely played a role as well.

Second, Mixon could stay under four yards per carry all year long and still finish as a top-10 fantasy RB. His involvement as a receiver keeps him valuable in any given matchup but is also increasing as of late. In the first three contests, Giovani Bernard was targeted 15 times compared to nine for Mixon. In the last two games, Bernard has seen a total of two targets while Mixon has 14. Bernard is nursing a groin injury, so expect Mixon to be the third-down back for the foreseeable future.

Going against the top-ranked defense in Indianapolis this weekend, Mixon will probably have another poor day on the ground. he can make up for it through the air and then should be off and running once the schedule softens considerably in the second half with defenses of the Cowboys, Giants, Texans, and Dolphins lined up.

 

Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers

5.5 Y/A - 6th among RB

First, the obvious. McKinnon's average is inflated by the Jets game where he broke off a 55-yard run and then another 16-yarder for a score. He turned three carries into a delightful fantasy game without needing to catch a single pass. He's also broken off a few more runs with double-digit yardage attached since then. The problem is that's all he brings to the table, so without the big play he can easily flop like last week against Miami.

The bigger problem is the lack of usage that could get lower as the season progresses. Even with Raheem Mostert sidelined for three games, McKinnon is averaging 38.6 rushing yards per game on seven attempts. He wasn't expected to carry the ball a ton, maybe 10-12 times a game, but it was even less than we imagined. His prowess as a pass-catcher would provide the fantasy floor but Week 4 was the only game where McKinnon caught more than three passes.

Between carries and catches, the most touches per game McKinnon has ever received was 13.5 as a Viking back in 2016. If he wasn't even at that threshold before Mostert returned, there's no way it approaches that going forward. If we imagine that Tevin Coleman returns at some point midseason and the Niners can figure out their QB situation to utilize the pass more, McKinnon becomes a desperation flex the rest of 2020.

 

Antonio Gibson, Washington Football

3.9 Y/A - 34th among RB

We saw Gibson struggle to get anything going whatsoever in Week 5 as the Rams stifled him. Gibson finished with 27 rushing yards on 11 carries, marking the third straight game he couldn't even reach the 50-yard plateau on the ground. Maybe he isn't cut out to handle the load as an NFL running back after all.

Or, and hear me out here, he's on a bad offensive unit shuffling ineffective quarterbacks and hasn't gotten enough usage to make the most of his skillset. Dwayne Haskins was unceremoniously yanked as the starting QB after four modest games, so it was a mixture of Kyle Allen and Alex Smith in Week 5. This came in a game where the Rams jumped out to a 20-7 lead midway through the second quarter and never let Washington back in it.

Washington has now lost four straight games, all by 14 points or more. Negative game script plus inconsistent quarterback play is not the recipe for a successful running game. The reason Gibson hasn't seen more than 13 carries in a game yet has nothing to do with the team's faith in him. They just can't afford to chew up clock when they are constantly behind on the scoreboard.

The main reason his subpar rushing average is misleading, however, has to do with the accumulated total that doesn't show how effective he was, when given the chance, on a weekly basis. he averaged four Y/A or more in his first three games; his average sank mainly due to last week.

image taken from Pro-Football-Reference

Rather than rushing production, notice the more important stats related to his target share and red-zone rushes.

image taken from RotoWire

Gibson is up there near the leaders in broken tackle rate at 20%, placing him in the 84th percentile. We know he is elusive with the ball in his hands. With a strong 49.5% team share of rush attempts and heavy involvement in the red-zone (11 touches, tied for team lead), Gibson should deliver eventually. Of course, eventually could mean 2021...



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Is JuJu Smith-Schuster Still a WR1?

In the last 10 seasons, only one man has been able to finish with more than 300 PPR points in fantasy leagues while playing wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown. The misunderstood and now much-maligned wideout did it six times from 2013 to 2018 without failing at it, getting between 307.3 points and 388.2 in every one of those seasons.

Sharing the field with Brown, then-sophomore JuJu Smith-Schuster had the season in 2018. When playing as the WR2 of the Steelers he racked up all of 296.9 PPR points, falling just three fantasy points short of the 300-mark. The expectations were super high for his 2019 season, but with Ben Roethlisberger getting injured, he could never live up to his WR1 role and fantasy expectations, finishing with just 113.2 PPR points in 12 games.

We're now five games into 2020 and JuJu, once more, got to the season with overly high expectations attached to his name--and with Big Ben back at manning the pocket. Smith-Schuster's ADP of 35.3 overall (drafted as early as the 21st player off the board) clearly had him as a WR1 entering 2020. At this point, though, he's just the WR31 and far from a WR2, let alone a WR1. So, what's the deal with JuJu? And more importantly, can he be trusted as a bonafide WR1 going forward? Let's explore.

 

What's a WR1, really?

The first thing I wanted (and feel the need of doing) to address is to define what we consider a WR1. I'm working with PPR-format, 12-team leagues data. In those competitions, starting in 2010 and up to 2019, here is how the WR1-3 groups have finished the season in terms of fantasy scoring:

On average, a WR1 has averaged 283.5 PPR over the season and 18.1 PPG, a WR2 14.4, and a WR3 12.1. Currently, through Week 5 of the 2020 season, the averages are at 18.9 for WR1 (+0.8 over the past decade average), 15.7 for WR2 (+1.3), and 12.3 for WR3 (+0.2). Makes sense, considering we're only past the first third of the season and those averages will probably come down a bit showing a regression toward those 10-year averages.

Considering those values, JuJu Smith-Schuster's current 59.8 PPR and 15.0 PPG would make him a borderline, low-end WR1 over the past decade on a per-game basis, and a high-end WR2 in 2020.

The numbers align with the reality of the Steelers roster production so far this season: Chase Claypool is putting up 17.4 PPG to JuJu 15.0, which makes Chase the WR1 in raw production for Pittsburgh followed by WR2 JuJu.

 

What's Going On With JuJu's Season?

After a good rookie season (WR20, 14.1 PPG) and the explosion he had as a second-year player (WR8, 18.6 PPG), all pointed to an established WR1 coming in 2019. Far from it.

JuJu's third year as a pro finished with him playing for middling, reserve quarterbacks. JuJu was also limited to just 12 games due to injuries and finished a putrid WR65 averaging a measly 9.4 PPG... With Big Ben slated to return this season, he could only get better, right? Wrong.

Here are JuJu's game results through Week 5 of the 2020 season:

Nothing beautiful about them except that Week 1 monster performance, which was a fluky, near-perfect, and hard-to-replicate 6-69-2 game in which JuJu excelled and had everything going his way.

After that, three underwhelming outings to the level of a WR3 are everything JuJu has been able to do in the past four weeks (Pittsburgh couldn't play its W4 game due to COVID-reasons leaving the Titans out of contention), touching a worrying floor this past weekend when he couldn't even reach seven PPR points (four receptions on five targets, 28 receiving yards).

 

JuJu's Numbers In Pittsburgh's Context

With great power comes great responsibility, they say. That was always going to be JuJu's fate as soon as Brown exited the team a couple of years ago. Through five weeks of play, JuJu's usage has hardly been low in the context of Pittsburgh, so that has nothing to do with his role as a WR1, which he has been so far for the Steelers.

JuJu has played the largest number of snaps among Steelers skill-position players and has the largest Snap% with over a seven percentage-point distance with TE Eric Ebron. No other player has even played 60% of the team snaps.

The same has been true when it has come to actual opportunities. Only Diontae Johnson (26) has more targets than JuJu in 2020 (24), who leads Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron (20) in that department. Smith-Schuster also has the highest amount of catches among Steelers with 21 receptions to Johnson's 15 as the second-best receiver. Only Claypool (four), after a monster W5 game, has more TDs than Smith-Schuster, who has three on the season.

What's wrong with JuJu, then?

 

Digging Deeper Into Usage

In order to get a better picture of Smith-Schuster's 2020 year, and why even on seemingly high usage and productive level of play he's struggling to get into the realm of top-tier WRs, I went to study some play-by-play data. The chart below includes Pittsburgh's top-four WR/TEs and how they've been used and fared in the passing game:

There is a lot of stuff going on there. Let's break it down a bit so it's easier to digest:

  • JuJu, along with Diontae Johnson, has mostly been used in short-to-mid pass areas (0-9 yards downfield). He has been targeted 16 times in that 10-yard span, with just one true deep pass thrown his way (he didn't catch it).
  • JuJu, though playing mostly off the slot, has yet to be targeted in the middle zone of the field at 10+ yards of distance, and he's the only Steelers pass-catcher lacking targets in three areas by distance/direction (Ebron is the only other player without a targeted area--deep right).
  • JuJu's catch rate of 87.5% is by far the best of all four players included in the chart above. In fact, he's only missed on catching one short/mid pass and his two other non-completions all went for 10+ yards.
  • Digging even deeper, we see how the two long passes he missed (right-side of the field, downfield) had Expected Completion Percentages below 50% (35%, and 46%), so it is not that those were going to be easy completions anyways.

Most of the problems of JuJu's fantasy production, though, can be spotted looking at the field-breakdown that is in the middle of the chart (third column: Avg. rePPR):

  • JuJu is generating the second-most PPR points of Pittsburgh on that 0-to-9 area, behind TE Eric Ebron.
  • JuJu's downfield production looks great at 5.2 PPR in 10-to-20+ yards passes, but he's only been targeted four times there. Johnson, on the other hand, is generating 9.4 PPR there while being targeted a lot more in those deep spots.
  • Chase Claypool has been a beast of his own in deep routes and targets, mostly thanks to his W5 historic performance.
  • Given how production is being shared between all Pittsburgh players, and although JuJu has caught passes all around the field (and then some), he's far from the most used player of the team in mid- (Ebron and Johnson) and deep-routes (Claypool and Johnson). Those passes, if completed, hand the highest fantasy-points per play in comparison to short ones (in the 0-to-9 yards clip)
  • JuJu's is making his damage in places and depth were the fantasy upside is quite limited, having to go for extra yards after the catch himself in order to really rack up high fantasy tallies.

 

Higher Role, Tougher Competition

Another important point to have in consideration when looking at JuJu's production is the fact that, as the supposed WR1 of his team (at least on paper), opponents are (almost) always going to throw their best cornerbacks toward him week after week, forcing JuJu's into the hardest of coverages to beat on a game basis.

The good thing for JuJu, though, is that he's Pittsburgh's slot receiver both left and right to the ball and rarely does he lineup on the outside. He has 178 snaps in the slot (78%) compared to just 46 outside (20%). Looking at PFF Grades over the 2020 season, only five slot-corners rank inside the top-25 at the position this year, which bodes well for slot receivers like JuJu.

Per PlayerProfiler.com, these have been JuJu's game logs this season, including the cornerback tasked with covering him for the largest number of snaps in each of those matches.

Let's look at each of those individually, just to know a little bit more about them and how they could have impacted JuJu's upside:

  • Darnay Holmes is a rookie, and his first assignment in the NFL was JuJu (not good for the Giant). So far through five weeks of play, Holmes has 13 tackles but just two passes defended. It was going to be a cupcake of a matchup for Smith-Schuster, and it was indeed his best game of the season catching every target and scoring two touchdowns.
  • Essang Bassey is also a freshman this season, and once more he couldn't do anything to stop JuJu, who finished with 7-of-8 caught targets, only missing on a red-zone one. But this marked the first letdown in JuJu's season, and it came when covered by a low-end CB like Bassey (45.7 PFF Grade, 71st among CBs). Bad outlook.
  • Eric Murray is the best corner JuJu has faced up to Week 5. Murray is the 22nd-best CB per PFF Grades, and one of only five slot-corners inside the overall cornerback rankings. JuJu improved his W2 score, but could only catch four passes for 43 yards. He scored a touchdown, though, so I'm not sure this could be labeled as a dud given the production and competition.
  • Nickell Robey-Coleman, although having dropped from seasons prior in PFF Grade (61st-best CB this year), is still a stud slot-corner and he limited JuJu to his worst outcome of the season at just 6.8 PPR points on 4-of-5 receptions.

Even playing at the slot position--which means avoiding top-dog CBs in most cases--JuJu has only been able to truly take advantage of one cover-man in his four games (he was a rookie making his NFL debut) while having another relatively good game against stud Eric Murray in Week 3.

 

Will JuJu Produce At WR1-Level Going Forward? The Verdict

The equation we all want to solve, am I right? And the answer is totally in Pittsburgh's hands, folks.

Why? Because JuJu Smith-Schuster is producing as a WR1, while used as a WR2--at best.

Sometimes in fantasy football, keeping things and analysis simple is the best way to go. And that is just looking at a couple of things related to the five weeks of play already in the books and how JuJu has done in them... only in a couple of simple metrics. That is all we need to have a good idea of what has gone wrong with him.

I'm going to use two numbers here: Expected Points, and Fantasy Points Over Expectation. Here is a plot including every receiver with at least four games played and 20 targets on the 2020 season. JuJu is highlighted in yellow.

As you see, not many receivers have been put in such a position as JuJu in terms of expected points through Week 5. JuJu's EP (39.3) over that span rank 49th among the 70 qualified WRs. His FPOE (20.5), on the other hand, are 11th in that same period. Do you see what's happening here?

We have gone through a lot of stuff in the sections above, and we already knew that JuJu has looked pretty good at catching every ball thrown his way, that he's used mostly in short-pass plays leaving most of the work to him to do after the catch, and that he's been really efficient through five weeks both against bad and good corners.

Looking at EP/FPOE, we can confirm our early takeaways. It is not that JuJu isn't playing as a WR1, it is that Pittsburgh is not putting him in a position where he can rack up WR1 fantasy points. As simple as that.

Here is the chart above, now showing the EP/FPOE per target instead of the raw number over the season (min. 4 games played, 20 targets).

That, my friends, is precisely how you don't use a WR1. Check the names of the players highlighted in the chart. Chase Claypool and Justin Jefferson have had one and two explosive games respectively that have their FPOE marks above the sky. Other than them, only D.K. Metcalf and D.J. Chark are being used as a WR1 and producing at incredible levels of efficiency.

JuJu, while the fifth-most efficient player on a FPOE/TGT basis, is just not used how he should given his dominant production.

While no one is here to argue about Diontae Johnson's viability as the Steelers no. 1 receiver (he very well can play that role), the truth is that JuJu has absolutely overperformed Johnson so far. JuJu is posting up 0.85 more FP/TGT than expected, while Johnson is at -0.17 through Week 5.

All of this gets magnified by JuJu's own work on the field with his impressive yardage after the catch, which makes his "low" usage even more puzzling.

JuJu has the second-highest YAC% among receivers with 20+ targets in at least four games combined. In virtually two of each three catches, he's racking up more yards after the catch than through the air. Imagine if he could add that yardage to longer, downfield completions.

Pittsburgh has a WR1 one in its roster, yet the Steelers are using him in places, situations, and roles akin to those of Larry Fitzgerald, Golden Tate, or Curtis Samuel.

JuJu is the real deal, but Smith-Schuster is just limited in what he can do on the field as far as his usage goes. It's time to #FreeJuJu, and let him pair his own exploits (look at his 10th-best FPOE, and his RACR-rank--Receiver Air Conversion Ratio: how many receiving yards a player creates for every air yard thrown at him--in the figure below, which is the third-best in the NFL) with a better placement of passes prone to generate more fantasy points per target (instead of that putrid 54th rank in EP through W5...).

Conclusion: Consider JuJu a WR1 even if his total FP aren't still there, full stop, and hope he and Pittsburgh can find a common way to benefit from each other and unleash his true upside as we get deeper into the season. Everything is there for the Steelers to exploit, and it's only a matter of time Big Ben comes to his senses, Mike Tomlin schemes more long-ball throws to JuJu and Smith-Schusters amps up his fantasy points for the GMs rostering him.

If you can buy low on JuJu in a trade, go for it. Pittsburgh is already past its bye week and faces the second, eighth, and third-worst defenses against wide receivers (in fantasy points allowed to the position) in three of the next four weeks, and two of those teams (Dallas and Tennessee) have slot-corners ranked among the 16-worst so far this season (Tennesse's Chris Jackson is the absolute worst CB in 2020 through W5, no matter the alignment).

It just can't go wrong.



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Should We Worry About Amari Cooper and the Dallas Receivers?

With Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott leading the way, the Dallas Cowboys' offense is stacked at the skill positions; however, the offensive line is a mess. Travis Frederick was a huge loss this offseason. The season-ending injury to Tyron Smith makes it even worse for anyone behind center. Andy Dalton is no Dak Prescott. He is not going to run for yardage and touchdowns. This means the run game will be important going forward. We saw this after Dak's injury last week as the first points scored were on a 12-yard run by Elliott.

Cooper has been far more consistent this season than he has in the past. No more is the boom or bust weeks where we do not know what to expect from him. We are now seeing steady weeks in which he finishes top-20 for fantasy. CeeDee Lamb has been a monster as a rookie. Again, Lamb went for over 100 yards in a game last week. Two passes on the final drive to Michael Gallup also show a connection is there between him and Dalton.

The new triplets in the Dallas offense do take a hit. Of course, Dalton is no Prescott, and this does remove some value. But not as much as you may think, as Justin Carter recently explained. Dalton is still going to throw the ball quite a bit. He will not average 400 yards per game like Dak was doing for the first month of the season. He is easily going to average the highest yardage per game of his career though - an average which to this point stands at 234.85 yards per game. While Dalton will be fine, we need to figure out what exactly we can expect from the pass catchers in Dallas.

 

Amari Cooper

After a career of inconsistency, Cooper has finally found his way this season in Dallas. With 39 receptions so far this season, he has established himself as the man for Dallas after signing his $100 million contract this offseason. Almost eight receptions per game is great for those playing in a PPR league format. For those still stuck in standard leagues, the 424 yards on those catches is a bit concerning for sure, as is only one touchdown catch.

Michael Gallup certainly takes the largest hit of the three main targets. Cooper also takes a hit though. No longer can we expect him to get eight receptions per game. Lamb could easily overtake him as the lead receiver with the offense going ahead the rest of the way. We also have nagging injury concerns with Cooper which we do not have with Lamb. This could cause him to lose even more of his potential output.

Of the top two receivers in the Cowboys' offense, Cooper is by far the riskiest. His tendency for inconsistency as well as his nicks and bruises could lead his managers to regret having him later in the season. If you are forced to keep him, he is still going to be good for you so do not be too concerned. He likely does not have the top-six upside he had under Prescott. He still has a comfortable top-18 WR potential the rest of the way. This can be extremely valuable, and he will still have a boom game at some point. On the other weeks, reign in your expectations and you will be happy with the production he gives you the rest of the way.

 

CeeDee Lamb

The rookie came into the season as an undersized prospect who has massive after-the-catch potential. He has only built on this through the first month of the season. With 29 receptions, 443 yards, and two TD so far, Lamb is on pace for a potential Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He already has two games of at least 100 yards receiving and he has yet to have fewer than five receptions in any game thus far.

In a move only Jerry Jones could achieve, Lamb fell right into the lap of the Cowboys and they pounced. It has not disappointed. Either for them or Lamb managers for fantasy.

As the slot receiver for the Cowboys, Lamb will retain the biggest value moving forward with Dalton at the helm. With the offensive line issues, Dalton will be forced to get rid of the ball quickly. Some of these dump-offs will go to Ezekiel Elliott. The majority of the rest will go to Lamb.

Lamb has already shown he is a true NFL receiver. His placement in the offense has helped Amari Cooper become far more consistent in 2020. Dalton is a smart veteran. He will realize the importance of Lamb going forward if Dallas wants to remain competitive in the NFC East.

While most weapons may take a bit of a hit due to the Prescott injury, Lamb is the exception. His value will only rise as he gains even more targets than before. This will give Dallas two WR1s in this offense. Trading for Lamb, if possible, is a good move. He is the receiver you want to roster.

 

Michael Gallup

Gallup was the fantasy community's sleeper darling this preseason. So far, he has been the WR3 in Dallas behind Cooper and rookie Lamb. Going forward, expect this to continue. With Cooper still receiving the lead target share, Gallup and Lamb will be garnering the secondary targets. Lamb wins in this matchup. He is the slot receiver and with the offensive line being in shambles, the short routes will be the desired dump off. Gallup will continue to get a few shots per game downfield. But he is clearly the third option so proceed accordingly.

Initially this season, Gallup was seen as a possible WR target for fantasy as he is on a great offense and has a clear connection with Prescott. With the emergence of Lamb and the continued ascension of Cooper, Gallup should be considered only a flex play at best going forward. And if you can find a league mate who is a Dallas fan or is still a believer, make a trade with them. You will be much happier and less stressed for having done it, as he could let down in low-scoring matchups.

 

Dalton Schultz

TE Dalton Schultz has been surprisingly productive since the injury to Blake Jarwin. Last week? Not so much. With only one reception against a vulnerable Giants Defense, his upward trajectory may have taken a downturn. There are much better options at the TE position moving ahead in the season. Of all the players on the Cowboys offense, Schultz is the only one you can and should drop.

 

Conclusion

In regard to the Dallas wide receiving trio of Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb, you can stick with them in 2020. Just know they are still going to have good seasons, but the hopes of GREAT seasons are likely gone. As long as you know what to expect from them going forward, they will not disappoint.

With not only the triplets, but solid pass-catcher Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, expect the offense to continue to hum. Especially the passing game. This is important since the Dallas defense just gave up 34 points to the Giants. Yes, to Daniel Jones, folks. The defense does not look to be getting better any time soon. So, the output on offense will be important if Dallas wants to remain in the lead of a bad NFC East.

Another factor to consider is that even if you did want to trade them, it would be difficult. Everyone else in your league also saw Prescott get hurt. They have the same concerns you do which means you will not get a fair return in a trade for them.

Injuries can crush a season. This goes for real teams as well as fantasy teams. Not all injuries are created equally though. Some hurt more than others.

Dallas was extremely smart in signing Andy Dalton this offseason. Instead of this being a death sentence for the fantasy production on the Cowboys, it is a lesson. If you have a solid backup QB, you can still be relevant. Dalton keeps them relevant if not top tier.

Do not panic. Do not sell on the cheap. Things in Dallas will stay level for the most part. At worst, a slight decline is coming. At best, no decline comes as Dalton lives up to his reputation and plays up to his surrounding weapons.

Man, 2020 is a fun season, isn’t it?



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Digging for Value in the New York Jets Backfield

It was a long time coming and finally it happened. The Jets wanted away from Le’Veon Bell and the feeling was certainly mutual. In a season marred by bad play and worse coaching, the Jets took another loss by releasing their prized free-agent signing from last season.

In a total of 21 games on the roster, Bell was a total bust. In two games this season, he recorded fewer rush yards (74) than Malcolm Butler did on his two interception returns on Tuesday Night Football (96).

It is clear to all that the New York Jets are in tank mode. Why else would they keep Adam Gase around and still calling the offensive plays? They want to lose. Getting rid of one of the few players who may stop that from happening is the final step in giving up. Next year, with the draft capital amassed and an entirely new coaching staff, the team could start to improve. As for this year? It is over with. The real question now is who are they going to hand the ball off to the rest of the year? And how will they do behind a subpar offensive line?

 

The Inconvenient Truth

Frank Gore is the main player who will gain even more snaps. It is clear Gase loves him despite his advanced age and steep decline. He was signed to the team at the first opportunity and he was the next man up when Bell was placed on IR this season. Although he is likely a future Hall of Famer, the time of Gore being fantasy-relevant has long passed. Do not tell this to the Jets though. They are still going to run him until the wheels fall off. As a Gore fan, I hope he does well. As a realist, I do not see anything but heartache for anyone who starts him for fantasy.

Through five games in 2020, Gore has 64 rushes for 204 yards. This is a paltry 3.2 Y/A. This has equated to exactly zero TD on the ground. He is also a non-factor in the passing game with only two receptions for 11 yards on the season. If this is the lead back on a team, it is a team you want no part of. This makes him at best, and I use the word "best" lightly, a flex play moving forward the rest of the season.

With this said, there are still a few others who may get a bit of run. There is not much to talk about with Josh Adams and Lamical Perine, but we still need to mention them. Just in case the Jets go on a tear in the second half of the season...

 

The Others

Josh Adams is a decent player but he is what he is at this point. He runs between the tackles, averages 4.1 yards per carry, and is limited as a pass-catcher. Not the type of player that wins you a week in fantasy unless he is scoring touchdowns, which is unlikely in this offense.

After the season-ending injury to Jay Ajayi two years back, Adams was able to come off the practice squad for the Eagles and provide some stability. Of course, he was playing behind an offensive line consisting of Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jason Peters. This is far different from the line the Jets are putting on the field each and every week.

After the 2018 season, Philadelphia did not feel the need to retain his services and he found his way onto this Jets roster as a backup to Le’Veon Bell and now Frank Gore. As the veteran backup next to rookie Perine, he will be next man up should something happen to Gore. This is still not someone even worth rostering. Even in the deepest of leagues, Adams is a dart throw at best. The type of dart throw you make after a night of drinking. So, stay away. If you are down to the dregs of playing Adams, you are already done for the season.

When it comes to Perine, the rookie from Florida, he is another shot in the dark who will not do much for you. Perine wasn't a workhorse in college, used mostly as a receiver out of the backfield. He gained a lot of yardage in a couple of big games but was quiet most of the time. His workout numbers don't exactly scream "impending breakout player" either.

image taken from PlayerProfiler

On 15 NFL carries this season, Perine has 56 yards. He has two receptions for -1 yard in the passing game. This shows not only the ineptitude of the Jets offense, but the effect it has on the players who try to play in it.

We are still not sure how severe the shoulder injury of Sam Darnold is. Until his return, Joe Flacco will be behind center for the team. This even further limits the upside as Flacco will not be able to move out of the pocket to extend plays. He is a figure of yesteryear - a statue QB in a league moving away from this type of player at the position.

The New York Jets are a ship going down in the sea. Le’Veon Bell was happy to get off the sinking ship. You should follow suit and abandon ship as well. It just might salvage your fantasy team.



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What Dak Prescott's Injury Means For Andy Dalton

On Sunday, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the New York Giants. It was a horrifying moment for anyone watching the game.

With Prescott out, the Cowboys turned to Andy Dalton at quarterback to end the game. Dalton was 9-for-11 throwing the football, with 111 yards. He didn't throw for a touchdown or an interception, but lost a fumble.

Dalton will now be the starter for the Cowboys moving forward. And while we've heard all of the "lol Cowboys still have the best quarterback in the division" jokes over and over now, what are we really to make of Dalton in this role? Can he be successful enough for fantasy managers to make him a starting option?

 

Dalton's Past Performance

Andy Dalton brings with him something that backup quarterbacks don't always bring: a long track record of NFL performances as a starting quarterback.

That gives us some room to explore his past, though it's not as simple as just saying "he's thrown for 4000-plus yards twice, so he's going to be fine."

Instead, let's focus on Dalton's 2019 performance to start, since it was his most recent season and was fairly uneven, since he was benched for Ryan Finley for a time.

Still, Dalton started 13 games last year, which is good enough as a sample size. He completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 3,494 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. The 14 picks were his most since 2014 -- that they came in three fewer games is definitely something that gives me pause.

Per PlayerProfiler, Dalton played on a Bengals offense that was fifth in passing plays per game last year. He was 11th among quarterbacks in attempts but just 18th in passing yards. A supporting cast efficiency that ranked 32nd among quarterbacks and protection rate that ranked 19th ere pretty big factors in that.

Still, even if we account for issues with who he was throwing the ball to, numbers like this worry me a lot:

image taken from PlayerProfiler

I'm especially concerned by that clean pocket completion percentage. If the offensive line woes were really the main culprit of his inefficiency, wouldn't we have seen some improvement on his completion percentage ranking on those clean pocket looks? Or was he so rattled by the lack of blocking and weapons that nothing could have saved his 2020 season and he was destined to be bad even when he wasn't getting pressured?

Good question and one I don't have an answer to except to say that the last time the Bengals had an offensive line rank in the top 10 in lowest adjusted sack rate was 2014, when they ranked fifth. Dalton was a Pro Bowler that year, passing for 3,398 yards and 19 touchdowns, but he also threw 17 interceptions and had a QBR that was lower than the year before and after. So, maybe the line isn't the culprit for Dalton's struggles?

 

How He Fits Into This Offense

Well, the Cowboys run the most passing plays per game in the NFL this year, thanks in large part to a defense that can't keep the opposing team from scoring. That's meant Dallas has had to run more plays than they might otherwise be running.

It also should mean that they're forced to keep running pass plays. Maybe not at quite so high a rate -- Ezekiel Elliott will get more chances to run the ball, though I don't think Booger McFarland was correct at all about this take:

Yes, Zeke's a good running back, but the downgrade from Dak to Dalton doesn't somehow make you better just because it means three more carries per game for Ezekiel Elliott.

Anyway, the big question is how Dalton will play with a better supporting cast. Remember, he was 32nd among quarterbacks in supporting cast efficiency last year. Dak this year is 14th and was eighth last year. Dalton gets a huge upgrade to the players who he is throwing the ball to, which is going to help him play more efficient football. And a better protection rate will keep him upright, though it might not help improve his efficiency too much.

But hey -- Dak was a top five fantasy quarterback rest of season and averaged 29.6 fantasy points per game including his final game, and he did so despite not being top 10 in any of these things:

image taken from PlayerProfiler

You can succeed in this offense without elite efficiency. So, even though Dalton does represent a decline in efficiency here, he can still be successful from a fantasy perspective because of the available opportunities for him.

This is, of course, assuming Dalton isn't completely cooked. Last year was bad bad, but he was throwing to the likes of John Ross and Auden Tate. Now, he gets CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. Considering the only consistent weapon he had last year was Tyler Boyd, I think this upgrade should help Dalton's efficiency. He was still 11th in accuracy rating last season, but 32nd in receiver target separation. In theory, Dalton should have some juice left and should be solid in Dallas.

Not Dak solid. But I'd project Dalton to be a high-end fantasy QB2 moving forward. He'll miss more than Dak. He'll throw picks more than Dak. He won't be as mobile. But he's also going to throw the ball a ton to three very good wide receivers, and Ezekiel Elliott's presence should open up passing lanes and the defense crowds the box a little more against Dallas.

 

Is There Dynasty Impact Here?

Could Dalton play so well that the Cowboys decide to let Prescott walk in free agency?

The answer to that is both yes and no. Yes, the Cowboys could let Dak leave if they don't feel comfortable with how much money he commands. No, Dalton's performance doesn't have an impact on that, and if Dak leaves, we'd expect to see the Cowboys draft a quarterback.

So, in terms of dynasty, Dak was a top-five dynasty QB before the injury. Because current-season value does matter, I might drop him a couple of spots, but he's still solidly a top-10 dynasty QB.

As for Dalton, his value does rise a good bit since we can assume he starts 11 games this year, but long term, he's about where he was, which is at the level of "solid backup." Yes, he should be universally rostered in Superflex. No, you shouldn't trade the farm for him, though a Dak manager in win-now mode might be fine with paying more than they should for Dalton right now.



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How Sean McVay Keeps Screwing With Fantasy Teams

Remember the halcyon days of 2018, when the Los Angeles Rams offense was just so easy to predict? Jared Goff was a QB1. Todd Gurley II was an RB1. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks were consistent WR2 starts for fantasy managers, while Cooper Kupp played just eight games, but was also a consistent WR2 start when he was on the field. Plus, you knew to ignore the team's tight end position.

Not so much in 2020. Woods and Kupp are still every-week starters, but the rest of the team is full of inconsistency right now.

Let's look into some of the usage trends for the Rams and see how head coach Sean McVay is messing with your fantasy teams.

 

Jared Goff's Confusing Year

Per Pro Football Reference, Goff is the QB13 right now, which is exactly where he finished in 2019. But how he's gotten to QB13 has been a weird ride:

Not listed is a Week 3 rushing touchdown.

So, Goff has thrown the ball about the same amount in each game, but his adjusted yards per attempt has varied pretty widely, and he's had games of zero, one, two, and three touchdowns. Those scores are the biggest variable. In Week 2, he tossed two touchdowns from inside the five. Since then, the scores have all been of the longer variety, with yardage of 28, 25, 16, and 55. That his only Week 4 touchdown was a 55-yarder to Cooper Kupp in which about 40 of those yards were after the catch is concerning.

Goff is tied with Drew Brees for fewest intended air yards per attempts at 5.8, but he doesn't have the age-related reasons that Brees does. Goff was at 7.8 last year and at 8.8 in 2018 when he was a fantasy QB1. He's been less effective as he's thrown the ball shorter distances, which makes complete sense. And if that trend continues and is coupled by Goff not getting red zone touchdown passes, he's a streaming option at best moving forward.

 

What's Up With These Running Backs?

Over the last few years, the Rams backfield has been easy to figure out. Sure, there was that short stretch where C.J. Anderson was extremely good, but otherwise it's just been a backfield where Todd Gurley was the bell cow and you ignored everyone else. That worked, because Gurley was one of the league's best rushers.

But he's in Atlanta now, leaving the Rams with three running backs all trying to carve out roles: Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson Jr., and Cam Akers.

Akers has missed the last two games with a rib injury, but in the first two games with all three players available, the snap breakdowns were:

Week 1: Brown (60%), Akers (33%), Henderson (7%)
Week 2: Brown (54%), Henderson (38%), Akers (4%)

And then once Akers was out:

Week 3: Brown (49%), Henderson (49%)
Week 4: Brown (61%), Henderson (39%)

The big thing here is that while Brown has led the backs in snaps each week, he was trending down in terms of snap rate until a 12 percent jump this past week. It looked like Henderson was trending towards taking over lead back duties while Akers was out, but in the end, it really seems we know nothing here in terms of who to trust when it comes to workload. And while that's not McVay's fault -- the downgrade from elite running back to "three non-elite running backs" is tough to manage -- it does seem that how he's managing this backfield leaves fantasy managers unable to rely on it at all, which does suck for fantasy managers.

 

The Lack Of A Consistent WR3

While Brandin Cooks was in Los Angeles, we got so used to being able to start three Rams receivers in fantasy. Their heavy use of 11 personnel and light use of substitutions made for some pretty easy lineup decisions.

This year, the Rams are in 11 personnel 73 percent of the time, the same percentage as last year. But in 2018, that number was a league-high 89 percent of total plays.

So, it's no surprise that the No. 3 role here isn't consistently fantasy relevant.

It would help, though, if we knew who the third guy was.

Rookie Van Jefferson as targeted eight times in the first two games and played 45 and 38 percent of the snaps in those games. But just as it looked like Jefferson was sliding into that role, his snaps plummeted, as he's been on the field for just 11 total snaps the past two weeks and doesn't have a catch.

Josh Reynolds has had a weird ride too, with his snap rates looking like this: 51, 61, 90, and 53 percent. His nine targets in the last two games suggest that he's taking on a larger role now, but that role's only really been fantasy relevant once, which was the four-catch, 60-yard performance in the game where he played 90 percent of the snaps. If he can't get to that level of playing time, he won't be much of a fantasy option.

 

Tyler Higbee ?????

Higbee had three touchdowns in Week 2, but mostly he's been consistently getting not-many targets. He's gotten between 21 and 54 yards in each game and pretty clearly seems to not be the elite option that some thought he'd be.

Makes sense, right? McVay's offense supported a top tight end for a short time at the end of 2019 when Brandin Cooks was hurt and no other time, so it's actually pretty consistent for McVay's time as a coach that Higbee is mostly just putting up decent numbers and has only had one really "good" game.

Still, you have to think of Higbee as a low-end TE1 option with upside, even if consistency is going to be a week-to-week issue going forward.

Gerald Everett is also lurking here. An increase in 12 personnel has Everett's snap rates increasing, including to 58 percent last game. He has just four catches, though, and really is more of a roadblock to Higbee or Josh Reynolds than he is a standalone option.



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Lies, Damned Lies, and Fantasy Football Statistics

Believe it or not, there are plenty of ways to enjoy NFL football without referring to or even understanding statistics. Just ask the 76% of Americans who watch the Super Bowl each year without having watched a single NFL game the entire season prior to that day. Nearly 35% of those viewers can't name a single player on either team.

I made up those percentages, by the way. They sound believable, though. For all I know, they could even be true. That's not the point, however. Statistics can be used, misused, or downright fabricated for a variety of purposes which we won't touch upon in this space.

A one-game sample in which the running game doesn't work, the quarterback has accuracy issues, or a key injury to a wideout affects the play-calling can skew things dramatically. But what if, a quarter of the way into the season, things are still skewed? Not all advanced metrics are meaningful and some can be downright deceptive. My aim here is to point out those potential outliers that could steer you wrong when making key lineup decisions.

 

Now We Can't Even Trust Numbers???

Those of us who not only watch the NFL religiously but play fantasy football in highly competitive leagues will look at the statistical component of the game as essential. Some even find watching the games themselves largely useless.


Addison, a former RotoBaller and very smart man, would also go on to state, "But statistics do tell the truth if you can accurately interpret the data. I think that’s one thing a lot of people hate about analytics is that I can frame three different stories from one number."

We know this to be true, yet it continues to happen because personal biases, whether intentional or subconscious, will always exist. Let's remove those biases regarding "good" or "bad" teams, and dive deeper below the surface for some real statistical analysis.

 

Defense vs Position Stats

One of the starting points (emphasis on starting, not end-all-be-all) for my weekly positional rankings is to analyze Defensive Ranking versus Position. This information is widely available and can show specifically where a defensive unit is vulnerable or impenetrable.

It goes without saying that Seattle is bleeding points to quarterbacks and wide receivers each week. You may not realize they've allowed 1,345 yards to WRs in four games which is 500 yards more than the next closest team (Cleveland). That means just the wide receivers on an opposing offense are averaging 336 yards per game. The worst defense in this regard for 2019 was Tampa Bay, which allowed 198.5 yards per game to WRs. So if you were streaming receivers against Tampa last year, should you be falling over yourself to grab every receiver who plays Seattle this year, including this week? More than likely, you should realize that Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are the only Vikings WRs with more than four catches this year. Sorry, but those Bisi Johnson and Chad Beebe shares in your DFS tourney will be wasted flex spots.

Conversely, don't assume that any defense outside of the most elite can't give up big games to quality players.

Here's a fun example: After Week 1, Jerick McKinnon was involved in the offense, scored a touchdown, and was one of the hottest waiver wire pickups I recommended. I also had the audacity to suggest he would be a smart flex play in a plus matchup against the Jets in Week 2 since, well, it's the Jets. Believe it or not, that didn't go over so well with some users on Reddit.

I received a direct line of inquiry based on this suggestion, the first comment of which read, "The narrative that the Jets are a good RB matchup is just false and undermines the analysis in this article." That's right, everything in the whole article was trash because of the failure to recognize how dominant the Jets run defense was! Better yet was the notion that nobody can run on the Jets because "thats literally the only thing that jets are good at... lol."

It's true that in Week 1 the Jets limited Buffalo to 98 total rushing yards and 57 of those came from Josh Allen scrambles. The running backs, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, combined for 41 yards on 18 carries. The Jets, for a brief shining moment, had a top-10 defense vs the RB and I failed to recognize it. To be fair, they actually ranked eighth in limited fantasy points to RBs in 2019, so it seemed logical. This is where the statistics couldn't be counted on. Jamal Adams isn't there anymore, C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor are on IR, and Adam Gase is, for whatever reason, still the coach. It wasn't going to last.

Aside from the sweet redemption of seeing the Jet torch the Jets for 77 yards and a touchdown in that game, it proved the larger point that you can't always trust the stats alone. Here are some early rankings for defenses that I don't quite trust yet.

 

Washington vs RBs

The Football Team from the nation's capital isn't in a great spot, sitting at 1-3 and ready to try out Kyle Allen as the starting QB. The offense, particularly the passing game, has been the main issue but it's not as if the defense has been much better. Washington has given up at least 30 points in three straight games since their opening-week upset over Philly.

However, a glance at the ranks for Defense vs. Position reveals that Washington is allowing the 11th-fewest PPG to RB, just behind Tampa Bay and impressive units like Buffalo, Baltimore, and New England. This is where things get tricky.

image taken from RotoWire.com

In Week 1, Miles Sanders didn't play so they only had to contend with Boston Scott and Corey Clement. Holding Kenyan Drake to 86 rushing yards in Week 2 looks far less impressive now considering that is his season-high. The Browns ran all over the place in Week 3 and then Lamar Jackson had his way with the Washington Football Team Defense last week. So, while they only allowed 88 yards to RBs, they allowed 144 total rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. For a team constantly facing negative gamescript, it would seem that starting running backs against this unit is a no-brainer going forward. Maybe this is the week Cam Akers arrives...

 

Dolphins vs QBs

Unpopular opinion - the Miami defense isn't terrible. I'm not saying it's good, just not one of the worst units in the league as many think. Statistically, this opinion is hard to justify as they have allowed 27.1 fantasy PPG to quarterbacks, the fourth-highest average, 24.6 fantasy PPG to running backs, which is eighth-most, and 27.7 fantasy PPG to wide receivers, good (bad) for sixth-most. This isn't a case to excuse their defense completely but we should think twice before lumping them in with the worst of the worst.

Against quarterbacks specifically, the reason Miami has done poorly is that they've faced some of the best talent so far - Cam Newton's renaissance game in the opener, the start of Josh Allen's breakout in Week 2, and then watching Russell Wilson cook in Week 4. They were torched twice but limited Gardner Minshew to his worst game with 275 yards, zero TD and one INT. Newton had a great fantasy day but did all his damage on the ground. He only threw for 155 and no TD.

image taken from RotoWire.com

The biggest factor has been the absence of Byron Jones at cornerback, who was a key free-agent acquisition. He missed the last two games with a groin issue but should be back in Week 5. Xavien Howard remains a top-20 CB with Pro Bowl upside, as we saw in 2018. This unit will be put to the test on days where Ryan Fitzpatrick has turnover issues but they aren't an automatic defense to exploit for mediocre offenses like the Broncos and Chargers in Week 6 and 7. By the time the Jets arrive in Week 10 and 12 with the bye in between, you may even consider streaming this DST.

 

PPR Allowed Above Average

This is a great chance to introduce the weekly #DFBeersReport by Mike Beers (@beerswater). Now that we have a four-game sample, at least from most teams, there is a starting point to compare how teams are performing defensively relative to the offensive norms at each position.

The title is mostly self-explanatory but here's the gist of it:


Now, let's look into the data to see what useful information we can cull for Week 5 and beyond.

 

Atlanta vs WRs

By this point, it's obvious you want to start every receiver possible against Seattle. But what about Atlanta's porous and injury-riddled secondary? In trying to keep away from the debate about how Dan Quinn still inexplicably has a job, let's focus on the data.

This has a Groundhog Day kind of feel to it, as the Falcons always seem to have serious injuries in the secondary and give up a lot through the air. They allowed the sixth-most passing yards in 2018, 11th-most in 2019, and second-most so far this year at 341.5 yards per game.

We see them at the top of the list for QB and TE, so stream accordingly this year if that's how you roll at those positions. But how can they be firmly in the red at -13.3 for WR?? This is definitely misleading, seeing as how the Falcons have allowed more fantasy points to wide receivers than all but nine teams.

The key is the opponent's average combined with some unique circumstances. Atlanta has allowed five 90+ yard games to WRs already: DK Metcalf (4-95-1), Tyler Lockett (8-92-0), Amari Cooper (6-100-0), CeeDee Lamb (6-106-0), Allen Robinson II (10-123-1). Those are all fantasy studs who have put up better performances in other weeks, so compared to their averages it actually makes Atlanta's defense look less horrific.

If Davante Adams or Allen Lazard had played in Week 4, we would be staring at six or seven such games and probably four 100+ yard WR games in four weeks. Instead, Jamaal Williams collected 95 receiving yards as did a second-string TE.

It also just so happens that Atlanta has been so terrible against tight ends that it makes the wide receivers slightly less impactful in comparison. Both Dalton Schultz and Robert Tonyan performed like All-Pros when facing the Falcons. Jimmy Graham went for 60 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta and that came with both Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles at QB in the same game.

Both primary receivers should be ranked highly in a week where Atlanta is the opponent. Don't forget to play whoever is at tight end too.

 

Buffalo vs WRs

Small sample size alert: this stat is likely skewed by one specific game against a division rival. Buffalo now fancies itself an offensive juggernaut but we know the defense is the heart and soul of a Sean McDermott team and the Bills still have one of the best units in the AFC. Specifically, Tre'Davious White is one of the best in the biz and third-year man Levi Wallace grades out as a top-20 CB. Yet, they are 15th in overall team defense and allowing the eighth-most passing yards after a quarter of the season. What gives?

Part of this can be attributed to the high-octane offense that has made it necessary for opponents to pass more often to play catch up. Defensively, the Bills face the sixth-highest pace of play at 25.46 seconds between snaps. That puts pressure on the defense and forces them to face more situations where an opponent will eat up yardage. Whether that remains the case depends on how much you believe in Josh Allen's early-season performance.

The most important reason is the schedule, however. During their 4-0 start, Buffalo has had the pleasure of facing the Jets, Dolphins, Rams, and Raiders. The Rams are legitimately good, as are their receivers. The Dolphins are legitimately not, yet the combo of DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Isaiah Ford, and Jakeem Grant combined for 157 receiving yards in Week 2. That's not overwhelming but it's more than that WR corps achieved in Week 1 (126) or Week 3 (109). They then faced Seattle in Week 4, so you know how that turned out...

Similarly, the 133 yards gained by Raiders receivers against the Bills isn't much but it's pretty good for that bunch considering they don't have a single WR who's reached 200 total yards and only two who've reached the 100-yard mark after four games (Hunter Renfrow and Nelson Agholor).

This Buffalo secondary is good, their linebackers are back healthy, and the game flow should slow down enough eventually against tougher opponents coming up on the schedule. You aren't playing Tennessee receivers this week for other reasons but don't feel too confident streaming the likes of Sammy Watkins, N'Keal Harry or whoever the Jets trot out there in the coming weeks.



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Resetting the Rules - How Fantasy Leagues Can Cope with COVID

Out, out, out, in, in, in, in, in, in, out, in, out, in, in, out, in, out, out, out, in, in.

That’s not me working as a bouncer for the pretend nightclub I started in my house (it’s me and my wife and my two dogs, no Darren Waller fundraiser situation here,) it’s me seeing how many of the Rotoballer Top 20 have missed time, barely four weeks into the season. 

It’s worth noting that by no stretch of the imagination is this unexpected, but for a pastime that most of us specifically leaned into because it was something to do mid-COVID-19 (more so than usual) some of our leagues didn’t spend September toiling away at the lengthy rules that were needed to ensure that games could function week-in and week-out.

 

Changing the Rules

Many of us haven’t had to set a roster with a Tuesday night football game involved when the 2010 Eagles and Vikings were forced to postpone their game due to a snowstorm (if you’d like to win bar trivia, that was Andy Reid’s Eagles team, which would’ve put him in the useless statistics library if the Chiefs-Patriots game had to be pushed to Tuesday.) Many of us wouldn’t have assumed an IR of 10 players was a good idea for the whole league. While some of our leagues maybe did away with buy-ins or other facets to make the complicated game slightly more simple in 2020, a much larger portion of you did not. 

Sportrac has 224 players on IR as I write this, plus 67 opt-outs in the pre-season. This doesn’t cover the players who are on a single game Out designation, of which there are 62 on offense as of my writing this on 10/5. There are bad years, and then there is 2020. 

The NFL is a bit of a moving target as far as rules and regulations for COVID-19; while it originally hoped daily testing and contained travel would help ensure games could be played safely and normally, the league has also dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines before even a hundred total games have been played. It announced Monday that regulations would be updated, which serves as a nice reminder; the league didn’t quite know how this would shake out.

The NFL updating its own rules serves as an important reminder to everyone in your league; it’s not too late to update some of your own. For some of you, you’ve already done this. For others, especially the ones frustrated over how your teams have been affected while your leagues have ultimately stayed silent, this is something you can forward over to your commissioner to review. 

One last note: none of these rules require a change that should affect anyone’s roster. We won’t recommend you switch to team QBs like an XFL fantasy league or switch the scoring to best ball, as those changes wouldn’t affect all teams equally. Too much season has already occurred, now it’s more about making it sustainable the rest of the way.

 

Ground Rules

Any new league rule that is proposed and adopted should abide by the following three principles:

  1. The rule has to provide relief for poorly affected teams while also providing an opportunity for less affected teams, without straying too far in either direction
  2. The rule has to be unanimously approved, or at least majority+1 (seven of the 10 in a 10-player league, though I always hope the commissioner lets the league decide and stays out of it); if we’re not largely on board, then let’s not do it
  3. Is the juice worth the squeeze, or will instituting this rule cause more of a headache to everyone than it will provide a solution? The goal is to ensure that the league is fun, fair, and competitive. A hundred rules to try to provide total fairness to an already weird year isn’t a solution, it’s just some temporary safeguards that may have some unintended consequences. 

I would also say that rules are more necessary if there is a financial implication, or even a winner/loser punishment system, for the league. Leagues that didn’t have a buy-in or prize this year may find that rolling the dice week to week makes more sense. On the other hand, if you’ve paid quite a bit of money for a down year, I’d almost certainly insist that some rules be added so that I didn’t simply forfeit my investment.

Everything on my list follows these three rules, and while it may evoke some commissioner eye-rolling, it’s a good start that most of the league can agree upon!

 

Designated Players

If a game is being threatened with a COVID-19 related postponement, one of the easiest things you can do is mark a designated player for each of your starters whose games are being threatened with a new start date. Whether it’s a “wait and see” approach like the Patriots and Chiefs ended up taking, or rescheduling for a future contest like the Titans and the Steelers, more games will end up being threatened this year in a similar matter. Your ground rules should be as follows

  1. If a legitimate reporting sports organization (ESPN and Adam Schefter, the NFL or NFL PR, Fox Sports, or another outfit that has reporters who communicate directly with the league off) reports that a game risks being postponed the day before a kickoff, swap in the temporary starter and bench the designated player. The designated player is the starter you’d prefer to start whose game is being threatened. 
  2. Text or email your commissioner and their opponent to let them know which of their starters are being substituted for a designated player. This must be done the day before the game, and cutoff times can be decided by the league. 
  3. If the game that was set to be postponed is actually played, the commissioner swaps in the designated player. If the game is not played, the lineup is not adjusted.

This means that you have a safeguard in place for the games whether they occur or not, and you win or lose based on a full lineup, not a last-second cancellation.

 

Additional IR or Bench Spots

With the statistics I highlighted above regarding league-wide injury statistics, there’s a high probability that each team in your league has enough major injuries to warrant consideration of more IR spots. For affected teams, it’s a necessity. Keeping a healthier roster, having the room to acquire backups or upside guys, means that they’ll be competitive even if they’re less so. For teams not affected, especially when it comes to keeper leagues, the upside is obvious; you get more places to stash the guys who you can keep next year. 

Not interested in IR specific roster spots? Why not open up the bench and let guys go deeper. This is even more of a boon for the team managers who don’t have a lot of IR guys, though it may require a way to do a mini-draft to fill the five or six bench spots more fairly (though waiver chaos has its obvious benefits)

It’s arguably one of the most controversial new rules on this list, but if your bench is small and BYE weeks are arriving, is it really worth winning because teams had to drop their short-term IR studs just to roster a whole team? I have no interest in winning a matchup because a guy felt the need to drop Christian McCaffrey to temporarily roster Justin Jackson.

 

Best Projected Substitutes

If a game is canceled on the day-of and the “designated player” option isn’t doable, you can institute a sweeping rule that allows for any day of replacements, even if games have already started, for the highest projected player. For lack of a better term, I call it the “Best Projected Substitute”

The rule is simple; if the league votes to institute this rule, and a game is canceled on the day-of, any affected players are automatically replaced with the highest projected player in that position on the bench. Team managers are allowed to add drop or adjust their lineup as they see fit without commissioner intervention, but it is a stopgap for teams that may not be able to adjust in time to institute a replacement, or their best available replacement is locked. 

This is one of the trickier rules, as your league may find that you want this rule to only be in place once Sunday games start. But the most careful clarification is regarding locked players and projections; the commissioner is only allowed to substitute in the player with the highest projection, regardless of the actual score. This may mean a player has already played on Thursday and gets added to a lineup, or it could regard a player with a questionable designation on Monday. You’ll want to be clear here because solving one problem could mean more are added, so it’s best to get this rule exact before it becomes necessary.



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Can We Count on Kenyan Drake?

After a top-four finish following his trade from Miami to Arizona, running back Kenyan Drake was all the hype coming into fantasy drafts this season. With Arizona giving him the transition tag and the $10 million that came with it, the thought was he would be used heavily this season. So far, it has not been the case.

So far in 2020, Drake has only carried the ball 67 times through four games. On those carries, he has an average of only 3.8 y/a and a total of 254 yards. With only one TD thus far, all of his numbers are well down over what was expected when he was drafted as the RB 13 as pick 2.3 in 12-team leagues.

So now the real question we need to answer is what to do with him. Is he the type of player on a team you want to be patient with? Or is he someone you need to get rid of? Of course, there are many variables to this. So, I will do my best to provide you information needed to make an informed decision for your circumstance.

 

What's the Deal?

The biggest problem with Drake this far has not been his rushing work. At 16.75 carries per game, he is getting the work needed to succeed. The issue has become a phrase we are all too familiar with from following the New England Patriots - "running game through the air."

Instead of running the ball with Drake or even Chase Edmonds, the Cardinals are using their full complement of receivers to get the job done. Whether it be behind-the-line screens or long shots downfield, Arizona is using their receivers for the entire offense. After having 50 receptions on 68 total targets in 2019, Drake comes into Week 5 with only five receptions on five targets in 2020, which is eighth on the Cardinals. That barely puts him on the radar when it comes to value through the air game in this Air Raid offense.

The health of Andy Isabella and the arrival of DeAndre Hopkins have made Arizona a better team. They have also hurt the production level of Drake. This means we need to lower our expectations for him.

The offensive line which was a mess last season has not improved as much as hoped when they drafted Joshua Jones in the third round of the NFL draft. While the Cardinals do not rely on the TE position as a receiver, Maxx Williams was a big loss for them. He was their blocking TE and gave help to a suspect line. Hybrid WR/TE Dan Arnold is a capable receiver but is grading at a 49.1 in run blocking from PFF - eighth-worst among all tight ends who've taken a snap this year. Darrell Daniels has been better but not great at a 63.8 RBLK grade. Both are much better pass protectors, which is the focus of this offense. The blocking isn't doing Drake many favors and might not going forward.

 

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

The simple answer? Trade him now. This is easier said than done, though. Everyone in your league has seen his struggles.

He is coming off a game against a bad Carolina Panthers Defense in which he only managed 35 yards on 13 rushes. This followed a game against a miserable Lions front seven in which he managed 73 yards on 18 carries. If you try to trade him now, the return is likely to be minimal. With this said, he faces the New York Jets this week. If he is unable to get right in this matchup, sans Jamal Adams and C.J. Mosley, best to trade him for something before it's too late.

Those who have the luxury of keeping Drake benched or made strong-enough waiver pickups like James Robinson early in the year might want to acquire someone like Le'Veon Bell, who could be more productive down the playoff stretch. If you have a Drake truther who feels he might be getting a steal from you, offer him for someone like James Conner. Realistically, you could fetch a player like Antonio Gibson who is talented but plays for a bad team and hasn't seen as much usage as his managers would like. It's all relative to your league's settings and the GMs involved, of course.

 

Conclusion

There is no easy answer when it comes to Kenyan Drake. If you trade him now, you may not get a lot for him. If you wait, hoping he balls out against the Jets, it may work out or blow up in your face. The thing to do seems to be to stand pat and continue to use him, hoping for the best. Just realize he is not going to be the breakout RB1 you had hoped for.

He is likely going to be an RB2 going forward this season unless the offensive line can get figured out in the desert. If so, you might have that RB1 for your playoff push.



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Will Bill O'Brien's Firing Change Anything In Houston?

On Monday, the thing Houston Texans fans had wanted for years finally came true, as the team fired head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien.

An exciting hire back in 2014 to replace Gary Kubiak after he'd helped steady a heavily sanctioned Penn State program, Texans fans eventually soured on O'Brien, whose uncreative playcalling and failure to win in the postseason became an issue. Things got worse when he took over the GM job, which culminated in some terrible personnel moves that we'll talk about in a minute.

So, does this move improve the prospects of the Houston Texans players from a fantasy perspective? Let's discuss.

 

How Did We Get Here?

The Texans are 0-4 and don't have a first or second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. That's why we're here.

Those picks were shipped away in various deals from GM O'Brien. The first-rounder was included in a trade with Miami for left tackle Laremy Tunsil. That would have been fine, but then this offseason they turned around and traded star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona in a deal that didn't bring back a first-round pick.

It did bring back a second in the 2020 draft, which O'Brien used on defensive lineman Ross Blacklock, whose highlight so far was punching an opposing player and getting ejected.

Meanwhile, Houston's own 2020 second was traded to the Rams in a deal for Brandin Cooks, who has not been a huge factor so far.

Their own 2021 second was part of that Tunsil trade.

This could all be made slightly better if Houston was winning. But O'Brien's gotten off to a horrendous start, looking overmatched as the team dropped those four games. A win in Week 4 over Minnesota could have saved his job, but losing to another winless team was the nail in the coffin for the O'Brien era. Romeo Crennel takes over as the interim head coach, and this offseason Houston will have the chance to find a head coach who can help quarterback Deshaun Watson take the next step.

 

How Does This Change Houston's Fantasy Outlook?

So, here's where I might deviate from a lot of people who are out there shouting things about how Deshaun Watson is free and things of that nature.

I don't actually think this improves the short-term outlook of the Houston Texans that much.

Crennel is taking over as the head coach. He's a defense guy, which means he won't have anything to do with the team's offensive playcalling, which will all fall onto the shoulders of offensive coordinator Tim Kelly.

The problem? Kelly was the play-caller for the first three games of the season before O'Brien took the role back over on Sunday against the Vikings.

Kelly is an O'Brien guy through and through. He started his coaching career as a defensive guy before he joined O'Brien's Penn State staff as a graduate assistant in 2012. In 2014, he went with O'Brien to the NFL, working as an offensive quality control coach, then an offensive line assistant, then a tight ends coach, and finally as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons.

Kelly's links to O'Brien should be concerning to anyone expecting a quick turnaround for this Texans offense. Sure, there's always the possibility that he opens this playbook and we see Watson ripping the ball down the field, but it's hard to expect wholesale changes from a playcaller who has 1) been the play-caller in 75 percent of the games this season and 2) has never been an offensive coach outside of this specific system.

That's not to say the Texans offense can't improve. Watson has been a borderline fantasy QB1 this season when he was drafted to be a high-end QB1. Watson is likely to improve, as he's a multi-dimension quarterback who is currently ninth in air yards per attempt. When he's facing defenses that aren't as good as teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh, those intended air yards will be more likely to be converted into completed air yards.

But it's hard to know if that improvement will be from Kelly or just from Watson's talent, and no offense to Kelly, but I'd be hesitant to attribute anything to him.

One thing that I do believe is that things can't get worse under Kelly. O'Brien's play-calling was a serious issue in the waning minutes of his final Texans game. The team was first and goal at the four needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion, and they called consecutive runs up the middle then tried to run an option to the left with Watson and David Johnson. That all led to what was almost a miraculous fourth-down touchdown pass from Watson to Will Fuller V, but it was called back after review.

But Houston shouldn't have been in the position to have that final play overturned. You have one of the six or seven best quarterbacks on the planet. How do you call three runs play in a row in that situation? It was the worst potential moves that O'Brien could have done short of just kneeling the ball and intentionally losing

Kelly can't call plays worse than that one.

The best-case scenario for the O'Brien-less Texans in the short term is that Kelly mostly calls the same plays the team was calling before, but does so in a slightly smarter way. If that's how things shake out, the Texans players can reach the fantasy level we thought they'd be at when the season began.

That would mean Watson's a QB1. Will Fuller is a WR2. David Johnson is probably a WR2. But the rest of the offense -- Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, Jordan Akins, Duke Johnson Jr. -- will still suffer from "too many mouths to feed" syndrome. They'll still be inconsistent plays who can go off one week and then post three fantasy points the next.

 

Looking Down the Road

Again, Houston's long term outlook is better now. They'll bring in an offensive-minded coach like Eric Bieniemy who can actually do some interesting things with the football. They'll figure out the logjam at wide receiver, likely by letting at least Stills go this offseason and potentially moving on from the oft-injured Fuller as well. This move is a big plus arrow for Watson in dynasty.

But forgive me if I'm not optimistic that this suddenly becomes a top-level offense in 2020. Kelly will either coach just like O'Brien or will coach like a better version of O'Brien. But all the things that made this offense struggle -- no true No. 1 receiver, a lot of offensive line issues, and a very good quarterback who might need to stop holding the ball so long -- are still present.

O'Brien's firing is the right move. But it won't necessarily pay immediate dividends for the Texans offense or for fantasy managers.



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Key Moves to Save the Season for Winless Fantasy Teams

No fantasy football manager ever goes into the season thinking he or she is staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start. Maybe we have a roster spot or two we can foresee giving us issues, but unless we possess the most defeatist of attitudes, we likely feel the team we drafted will give us a chance to win. Then the season starts, and any of a number of things go horribly awry.

One 2020-specific misfortune that may have befallen you is the maelstrom of early injuries that pulled the rug out from under so many promising fantasy rosters before they even really had a chance. Perhaps your early-round picks are playing less like stars and more like guys trying to earn a one-way ticket to the waiver wire. Maybe they're playing relatively well, but suffering from a lack of touchdowns (Amari Cooper) or questionable usage patterns (*sigh* Joe Mixon). Or, in the cruelest of fantasy plot twists, maybe your team has been very good for the first three games, but you keep running into buzzsaws in the form of the one or two teams in your league that actually outscore you in a given week.

At the end of the day, how you ended up here only matters to the extent that you can identify what needs to be done in order to rise from the ashes.

 

Important Reminders

Even if you're sitting at the bottom of the standings with an unsightly 0-3 record, please try to remember two things:

  1. It could be worse. You could be 0-2-1, and you could've just elected to punt from midfield with 19 seconds left in overtime against a team that won two games last year.
  2. It doesn't have to stay this way, so don't give up!

Because no two rosters are exactly the same, there is very little I can offer in the form of specific advice on how to climb out of the cellar. If you want some help pertaining to your team directly, you can always reach out to me on Twitter, @cjoreillyCLE.

But through the art of shrewd trades, smart navigation of the waiver wire, and looking ahead at teams' schedules beyond just the upcoming week, there are always moves you can make in order to give your team the boost it needs to get in the win column. Let us begin.

 

Trade for Deshaun Watson

Okay, I know I said this wouldn't be specific, but allow me this one exception. Deshaun Watson has gotten off to something of an un-Deshaun-Watson-like start in 2020, and a big part of that can be attributed to what has got to be the most difficult early-season schedule in the NFL. Watson has faced the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers so far; the two AFC North foes in that trio are among the league's top defenses, and the Chiefs are an incredibly tough team to play catch-up against, which is exactly where Watson found himself in Week 1. The person in your league who drafted Watson may be growing restless, and now is the time to take advantage of that.

Is having Bill O'Brien as his head coach and losing DeAndre Hopkins a detriment to Watson's fantasy outlook? Sure. But from where I stand, Watson has earned the right to be considered one of the league's best quarterbacks independent of his surroundings, and his schedule is about to get a lot less daunting. Watson's next three opponents are the Vikings, Jaguars, and Titans--all of whom have been there for the taking through the air.

Following a Week 7 bout with Green Bay, the Texans hit their bye in Week 8. Here are their remaining opponents from Week 9 on: at Jacksonville, at Cleveland, New England, at Detroit, Indianapolis, at Chicago, at Indianapolis, Cincinnati (Week 16, when most fantasy championships are played), Tennessee. Other than two matchups with the Colts and one home game against the Patriots, who do we need to be afraid of on that schedule? With a brutal first three opponents in his rear-view, Watson has been cleared for liftoff.

If you already have Watson, keep him and know that better days lie ahead. If you don't have him, reach out to the person in your league who does. They might be impatient enough to sell him off for less than what it would normally take to acquire him. Watson is the type of player whose "boom" games can single-handedly win you a week, and they're coming sooner than later.

 

Find the Right Trade Partner

Unless you are just the most woefully unlucky person in the universe, chances are you've got at least a few players on your roster who would command a nice haul on the trade market. At 0-3, now is the time to start seriously considering making some of those deals. Having two or three guys go off in a given week while the rest of your lineup turns in a collective dud isn't doing you any good, and you, unfortunately, don't have the luxury of waiting to see if those underperforming players can turn it around.

Again, since I don't know exactly who is on your roster, I can't tell you exactly which personnel moves to make. But I can try to steer you in the right direction so you approach the best trade partner(s) based on the construction of your roster and theirs.

Is QB one of your greatest strengths? Go see how the person in your league who drafted Tom Brady or Carson Wentz would feel about an upgrade at the position. It's hard to imagine things getting much worse for Wentz and the Eagles, but with all their injuries it doesn't appear things will get significantly better for them anytime soon, either. In Week 4 they face the 49ers, who just dismantled the Jets and Giants despite missing almost all of their most important players on both sides of the ball. If the Wentz manager in your league hasn't acquired a serviceable backup yet, they may be desperate for a trade.

Brady has two solid fantasy outings and one total letdown through the first three weeks, but he and the Tampa Bay offense have hardly been the juggernaut we were hoping to see, and now it looks like Chris Godwin will miss some time. No harm in sending out a feeler to gauge whether your league mate's patience is wearing thin there.

If you can spare some running back depth, reach out to the league mates who lost Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley. In my primary home league, the guys who drafted McCaffrey and Barkley now have pretty barren RB depth charts. Someone in that position should be agreeable to any reasonable trade offer that involves a running back going their way.

If you have McCaffrey, or Raheem Mostert, or George Kittle, or any other injured star slated to return at some point in 2020, strike up negotiations with the owners in your league who have the best rosters and records. They may already have visions of championship banners dancing in their heads, and consequently they may feel their lineup can survive until the injured star comes back. You'll obviously have to include a non-injured player in the deal, but you might be able to persuade someone into giving up some depth in return for a guy who can put them over the top in the second half of the season.

Regardless of who you engage in trade talks, do not let your league mates push you around. People will prey on your desperation and try to coerce you into making a panic deal. Don't give in. If you have a strength in your lineup that can fortify one of their weaknesses, then they need your player(s) to remain competitive just as much as you need theirs to turn your season around. Drive a hard bargain until you get the offer you want, or keep the player you're offering and look to improve your team elsewhere.

 

Scout Future Matchups

You admittedly need a little roster depth to do this, and at 0-3 you might not have very much of that. But looking ahead to future matchups can help you better prepare for any positions in your lineup where you might generally be streaming from week to week, especially defenses. Take note of teams that are exceptionally weak against a certain position group, and see what you can do about getting in on the players set to face them in upcoming weeks before your league mates turn their attention there as well.

For instance, everyone wants the defense facing the Jets right now. Not everyone is looking ahead to see who plays the Jets in Weeks 5, 6, or 7, however (Cardinals, Chargers, Bills). If you're finalizing your lineup on Sunday morning and you feel like you have a roster spot to spare, scoop up the Arizona defense to keep on your bench until their ultra-inviting matchup in Week 5. This is just an example; the Cardinals might already be on someone's roster, but you get the idea. Always keep an eye on next week's schedule late in the current week to see if there are any advantages you can get a head start on exploiting.

Conducting reconnaissance on future matchups can also help you out in trade negotiations. For example, Miles Sanders is about to hit a pretty brutal stretch of his schedule over the next three weeks with road games at San Francisco and Pittsburgh, and a home bout with Baltimore. If Sanders is on your roster, you might be able to capitalize on his high-draft-pick pedigree and offload him to an RB-needy team in return for a player with less of an uphill sled in his immediate future. Again, just an example, but knowing the upcoming schedules of the players you and your league mates are putting on the table in trade negotiations can give you some hidden leverage.

 

Make Late-Week Waiver Adds

One sneaky way to give yourself as much roster flexibility as possible is to drop your kicker and/or defense after each week and replace them with actual players. There are two reasons I do this when I'm able.

The first is if I have multiple players on my roster who are listed as questionable to play for the upcoming week. As we all know, those are fluid situations and we're not guaranteed to receive any clarity on them until late in the week with the way NFL coaching staffs play everything so close to their vests. If I have an IR spot(s) on my roster, it can't be occupied by "questionable" players. It can be occupied by players who have officially been declared inactive for a given week, regardless of whether those players are on the real-life IR (at least in ESPN leagues, this is the case). As soon as one of my players is ruled out, I can then place him on my IR and go pick up a kicker or a defense without having to drop a running back, tight end, receiver, etc. By doing this, I'm leaving myself as many outs as I can at positions that aren't as easy to stream as kicker and defense.

The second reason goes hand in hand with the first. Let's say Player A, who is the starting running back on his NFL team, suffers a mild ankle sprain in Week 4. His status for Week 5 is cloudy, so I go to the waiver wire and pick up Player B, his backup, who is set to see an uptick in volume if Player A is out. I'm not sure how the situation will play out, so I drop my kicker to make room on my roster for Player B. Friday afternoon rolls around, Player A is declared active, rendering Player B a non-factor. I drop Player B and replace him with a kicker.

But what if I dropped another RB or WR to make room for Player B? Sure, his value probably wasn't especially high if I dropped him for a second-string running back, but now he is freely available to everyone else in my league. What if it was someone like Kansas City's Darrel Williams or Arizona's Chase Edmonds, both of whom are one teammate injury away from taking on a prominent role in his respective offense? A league mate with a roster spot to spare might pick him up once I release him, and now I'm stuck with an unusable Player B instead.

The moral of the story here is to wait as long as possible before making roster decisions that force you to drop players who could potentially be usable in fantasy lineups at some point. You're not missing out on anything by waiting until Friday, Saturday, or even Sunday morning to pick up a kicker. Give yourself until the weekend to wait out injury designations and other variables, and then you can choose who to drop based on a full week's worth of information. Every bit of roster flexibility you can squeeze out of a week matters when you are trying to claw your way back into the playoff mix.

 

Parting Words

At the risk of sounding like a head coach trying to save his job after a bad start, I want to drive home the point of refusing to throw in the towel. My best friend started out 0-4 in our most cherished home league last year, and his future couldn't have looked any bleaker. He traded for Lamar Jackson and Leonard Fournette, wound up going 7-2 the rest of the way, and nearly made the playoffs. It would've been pretty easy for him to surrender, but instead he got aggressive and tried to turn his season around. If you're sitting at 0-3 right now, that comeback story could be you in 2020. This whole year has been about trying to make the best out of a truly dreadful situation, so you might as well apply that philosophy to your fantasy football team and have some fun with it.



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Were We Wrong To Be Excited About Joe Mixon?

We did it again. I say "we" because I'm right there with you. We told ourselves we wouldn't be duped. We told ourselves that we wouldn't go back considering the frustration he caused us in the past; yet, here we are, rostering Joe Mixon and wondering what we've gotten ourselves into again.

It seems like every season we convince ourselves that the talent Mixon possesses is too good to ignore. Surely an offensive mind like Zac Taylor will notice this and make better use of it. Surely the presence of first overall pick Joe Burrow will only make Mixon better. Surely, Giovani Bernard will eventually get phased out of the offense and become just another back-up running back. Yet, through three weeks, Mixon is the 38th ranked running back in half-PPR leagues. He's averaging a career-low 3.2 yards per attempt, has not found the end zone, and has already lost a fumble after not losing one in either of the last two seasons.

Fantasy GMs are fed up and thinking about shipping Mixon off to any interested buyer, but should we be abandoning the much-maligned running back so quickly? I re-watched a lot of Bengals film on NFL Gamepass, looked into the usage metrics, consulted some great work from Ben Gretch and Football Outsiders, and analyzed the upcoming schedule to try to help us all understand what to do with Mixon.

 

A Clear Lead Role, But Does It Matter?

Right off the bat, we see that Mixon is clearly the lead back in Cincinnati. The Bengals have 70 total carries on the season; 52 have gone to Mixon, 16 have gone to Burrow, and only two have gone to Giovani Bernard. That means Mixon gets 74.3% of the total rushes, only Josh Jacobs (77.3%) and Derrick Henry (79.6%) have a higher total of their team's rushes through the first three weeks. In the game against Cleveland, where Cincinnati gave up 35 points and was trailing all game, Mixon still received 16 carries, and against Philadelphia, when Cincinnati led for a while and ended in a tie, Mixon received 94.4% of the team's rushes, which was 17 total carries (not as much as one might think with 94%).

All of which shows us that Mixon will get consistent carries no matter how the gamescript plays out. In fact, Mixon's 52 carries are 6th most in the NFL, behind Henry, Jacobs, Ezekiel Elliott, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Kenyan Drake (also a surprise).

He has also gotten the most Red Zone opportunities of any player on the Bengals. That total is only seven, and he's only two ahead of Bernard and three ahead of Drew Sample, whose gotten four passing looks, but leading the team is Red Zone usage is still a plus. The majority of Bernard's red zone looks have come in the two-minute offense when he was the main back on the field, so there is optimism that, if the offense can improve and get more Red Zone chances, Mixon would see more high-value touches.

The second part of the equation simply comes down to: does it matter how many carries Mixon gets?

Of course, we know opportunity trumps all in fantasy, so, on one hand, yes, it matters. On the other, Cincinnati's offensive line is bad. According to Football Outsiders, the Bengals are 31st in the league in line adjusted yards ("the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line"). They are 27th in the league in success with power blocking (43%) and 29th in the league in Stuffed Runs - runs where the back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage - with 22% of runs being stuffed. If we want to pile on, they're also 28th in 2nd level yards gained ("runs when running backs earn between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage") and 31st in open field yards ("runs where running backs earn more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage").

So the big problem here is clearly the offensive line. Mixon is getting enough carries to be successful but is simply unable to do anything with them, as evidenced by only having 78.8% of runs go for positive yardage. Mixon has 57.9% of his yards coming after contact, but he averages only 1.8 yards after contact, which means Mixon is getting a sizable percentage of his yards after being hit but isn't actually able to gain many more yards.

A perfect example is this 3rd down run on the first drive against the Browns. Joe Burrow reads the coverage and audibles to a draw from the shotgun formation.

Within seconds, about the time Mixon even lays a hand on the football, Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has blown by the right guard responsible for him, Fred Johnson.

Before Mixon can hit the hole, he's engulfed by Richardson - who also has an unblocked teammate ready to help out just in case Mixon had broken the first tackle. As seen above, he takes the handoff at around the 36-yard line, and, as seen below, he's met by Richardson at basically the 35-yard-line.

There isn't a running back in the NFL who could consistently wiggle out of that jam, and it's one Mixon finds himself in all too frequently. In short, we love the usage, which is actually elite, but the quality of that usage has been poor and may not get better with no offensive line help on the way.

 

Will They Ever Throw To Him?

Since we've established how often Mixon is used in the running game, this is the crucial area to determine Mixon's value.

First of all, Mixon is a good receiver. Just watching him makes that clear. You can't watch him make catches like this and come away thinking that he couldn't be an elite receiving back.

If we need stats, he has zero drops on the year, has a 77.8% catch rate, and has gained an elite 10.3 yards after the catch per reception this year, as evidence by his open-field agility and the ability to break tackles for additional yards.

However, Mixon is eighth on the team with nine total targets. Bernard has 15. Mixon has caught seven of those nine targets, but seeing only 6.6% of your team's total targets is never a positive. Especially when Bernard has 11%. This is doubly problematic since the Bengals are currently second in the NFL with 141 passing attempts through three games. This is a team throwing the ball often and still not targeting Mixon nearly as much as we'd like.

However, perhaps it's not all bad news. In total, his number of routes run is elite, and his route participation is fine. In Week 3, Mixon ran routes on 56% of Cincinnati's dropbacks, which was a season-high. Although the targets weren't there, the fact that he is running more routes gives me a bit of optimism that he can be more involved in the passing game going forward.

The key difference is that Bernard has 24.6% targets per routes run; yet, Joe Mixon has only 9.7%,. That could either be because Cincinnati is running more designed screens when Bernard is in the game (hurry up and playing from behind scenarios), but it's also a bad sign that Mixon is below his previous season threshold of 17%-22% targets per routes run.

The lack of passing game usage is a major concern, and we can't sugar-coat that. We know the talent is there, but we simply have to hope that the increase in routes run in Week 3 will lead to more targets as he gets closer to the rate he's had for the previous three seasons.

 

Room for Defensive Improvement?

One of the main arguments used against Mixon is that the Bengals Defense is so bad that they will always be trailing, which will lead to more Bernard than we might see if the Bengals were in competitive games and didn't need to throw to catch up.

When you dig into the Bengals' defensive stats, there is some cause for mild optimism that they won't be trailing as much as we expect. The Bengals defense is 24th in the NFL in yards allowed and are 0-2-1 despite facing the Chargers, Browns, and a banged-up Eagles team. However, their 74 points allowed is actually 11th in the NFL, and they've only allowed scores on 38.9% of the offense's drives, which is good for 12th in the NFL. Their Red Zone conversion percentage against is currently 60%, which is also 12th in the NFL, their average points allowed per drive is 11th, and their average time allowed per drive is 12th. What that all amounts to is that the Bengals may actually be an average defense and not a bad defense.

Yes, their opponents haven't been great, but they also have upcoming games against the Jaguars, Colts, Browns, Washington Football Team, Dolphins, and Giants, so there are enough games coming up to suggest that the defense may not be an outright liability. This is obviously important because closer games mean less hurry-up offense and, likely, less Giovani Bernard since, as we discussed above, Mixon is clearly the primary ballcarrier and is running enough routes to be effective in the passing game when the games are close.

 

Upcoming Schedule is a Potential Playoff Boon

Which delves right into the upcoming schedule. The remaining fantasy games for Mixon (with defense's yards per attempt ranking) are as follows: Jacksonville (9th), Baltimore (14th), Indianapolis (11th), Cleveland (6th), Tennessee (32nd), Pittsburgh (1st), Washington (15th), New York Giants (7th), Miami (23rd), and Dallas (8th).

When you factor in yards allowed per game, Tennessee, New York, Washington, Miami, and Dallas are all ranked 20th or worse in the NFL. Which, all in all, means that Mixon has a relatively average schedule for the rest of the season. Miami, Tennessee, Washington, and New York are all clearly plus matchups. Dallas, Jacksonville, and Indianapolis would be neutral in terms of running back value, and Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Baltimore would appear to be tougher matchups. So, four plus-matchups, three negative-matchups, and three neutral-matchups.

Looking further into it, Mixon will end the fantasy regular season with a game against Washington or New York (depending on your league's schedule) and then begin the fantasy playoffs with games against New York, Miami, and Dallas (again, depending on your league's schedule). Obviously, a lot can change with injury and performance of those defenses over time, but, if you're confident that your team can make the postseason, Mixon could be a strong contributor for you in Weeks 11-14.

 

Final Verdict

In looking at everything above, I think we were all foolish if we assumed Mixon would rise to RB1 status. The Bengals offensive line simply isn't good enough, and they target him in the passing game at a rate that won't raise his floor to compensate for the poor blocking.

However, I still think Mixon can be counted on as a matchup-dependent RB2 and an RB3/Flex in his tougher matchups. His fantasy playoff schedule will also make him more of a low-end RB1 in those Week 11-14 games, as mentioned above.

There simply aren't many running backs in the league getting the workload that Mixon is, and we know that he has the talent to do well with those opportunities. If there's any clear indication that the number of trustworthy backs may be minimal, it's that Adrian Peterson and James Robinson are both among the top-12 running backs in rushing yards and both Christian McCaffrey and Raheem Mostert are top-15 running backs in half-PPR leagues despite missing one full game each. Rex Burkhead, Jerrick McKinnon, Darrell Henderson, and Todd Gurley are all currently top-24 runnings backs - or RB2s - in half-PPR leagues, and they all have equal, if not larger, concerns that those facing Mixon.

You likely didn't draft him to be an RB2, but there is value in consistent opportunity. Mixon's elite rushing percentage is rare and if Bernard ever missed time, as he has in three of his seven seasons, Mixon would have a top-five share of touches among all running backs.

I don't think you - or I - are going to get much for Mixon in a trade right now, so my personal plan is to hold onto him, especially in leagues where I have a strong enough stable of running back or flex options to pick up the slack during his tough matchups. I'll adjust my expectations for his performance, hope that the target share increases, and that he can come through for me in the playoffs. If it looks like my team won't get to the playoffs without help, I'll likely try to dangle him after a good game against Indianapolis or Tennesse coming up (or Jacksonville this week if your team is in a desperate situation).



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Top Early-Season Trade Targets

We’re three weeks into the NFL season, and it’s time for you to start getting aggressive on your league mates. After three weeks, people are convinced they know who’s going to be the producers for their fantasy teams later in the year. They’re wrong, and, with that in mind, you can capitalize on guys that are hot now that will be cold later. Values are constantly in flux, and it’s time to hit that buy-low while it’s available.

You have guys like New England Patriots’ running back Rex Burkhead in the top 15 at the position because he had one crazy week. After not doing anything in Week 1 or Week 2, Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver Justin Jefferson went off in Week 3, and he’s now a top 24 wide receiver. We have to wait until we’re further into the season to truly understand how this fantasy season is going to go. 

That’s why you have to focus on guys that have been proven producers in the past. If you have the depth to afford a trade because you’ve avoided injuries, go knocking on the door of a player in your league that’s getting desperate. You can scoop one of these players off of his roster, and, while he’ll benefit in the immediate, it will work out for you in the long run.

 

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

I was beating the Stafford drum all offseason, and, despite this early stumble, I still have faith. He was on pace to finish as QB3 last season on a point per game basis before his season was cut short due to his back injury. Now, he’s started slow, but he’s got all of his weapons back. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay is healthy. In his first game with Golladay back, he had two touchdowns to go with a respectable 270 passing yards. We’ve already seen quarterbacks Drew Lock and Jimmy Garoppolo go down with injuries, don’t be the guy starting backup Jeff Driskel.

After being more of a gunslinger earlier in his career that was willing to throw into contested situations, he’s gotten better at taking care of the ball in the last two seasons. Prior to his injury, he was on pace for just short of 5,000 yards to go with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His offense got even better this offseason with the additions of running back D’Andre Swift and wide receiver Quintez Cephus.

Stafford is currently QB20, and this is one of the interesting scenarios where you could trade a good player for Stafford and another piece to benefit you. If you have a weakness at running back, but you’re good at wide receiver, you could move a guy like Minnesota Vikings’ wideout Adam Thielen for Stafford and Jacksonville Jaguars’ running back James Robinson. It would boost you at two spots while taking a sustainable hit. 

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

This could be some recency bias after the performance he put up against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3, but there’s more to it than that. For one, Brees started the year slow after no offseason to meld with his new receiver in Emmanuel Sanders, and he didn’t have an entire offseason with running back Alvin Kamara who missed some time during his contract negotiations. Now, his stock price is getting ready to start trending upwards.

Wide receiver Michael Thomas has missed the last two weeks, but he looks on track to play in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions. That’s exactly what the doctor ordered for a quarterback that is needing an easy matchup. If you take a quick glance at the splits from above, in the 58 games where Thomas and Brees have both played, Brees averages 5.5 points per game. The Lions are allowing offenses to move the ball over them to start the year, and Kamara is really humming in the receiving game right now.

Brees, similar to Stafford, is in the middle part of the QB2 category right now. He’s QB18, but his ceiling will be higher than that when gets his feet under him. Brees is rarely going to turn the ball over, and he’s going to rely a lot on his receivers to generate yards after the catch. They’re doing that now, and it’s unlikely that that will change. A package similar to the one you had in the Stafford deal would likely get the job done, and it might not even cost that much with how Brees has looked early in the year.

 

Running Back

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

Hey, Zac Taylor, knock off the Giovani Bernard gimmick and just give the ball to Mixon. Seriously, I’m getting sick and tired of this. Mixon is running behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, so, how do you properly utilize your handsomely paid running back? You let his backup take the other part of his workload. What do you want from Mixon? How is he supposed to maximize production when you’re only giving him 50 percent of the snaps? In the 12 games of his career that Mixon has received at least 20 carries, he averages over 20 PPR points per game compared to just 11.34 PPR in the other 35 games. Give him the ball.

Now that I got that out of the way, you need to be trading for Mixon right now. He’s one of the NFL’s most talented running backs, and he just needs to be given the opportunity to prove it. His running average isn’t going to be there behind this line, but his work in the receiving game is going to come. This team is going to have to involve him in it because he is one of their best weapons. You don’t pay a guy his contract while letting him sit on the sidelines.

Now, the price to add him to your roster. Whoever rosters him currently, they’re looking to get out of the Mixon market. They’re desperate for running back production, and you just so happen to have a few. Maybe they’re looking to add another wide receiver. You could acquire Mixon for a guy like David Johnson, who continues to be involved in the offense. Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole is another movable option. He’s been inconsistent, and he’s bound to regress after his hot start.

Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In Week 2, the genie was let out of the bottle. Fournette exploded late in the game against the Carolina Panthers, and he had a fantastic day. However, in Week 3, he was relegated to second-string duty again. Against a stout Denver Broncos’ defense, they didn’t get much rolling on the ground. Fournette is going to be the guy by the end of the season. He’s bigger and able to handle a full workload. Once he gets his feet fully under him, there’s just no way that incumbent Ronald Jones is going to be able to hold him off.

For his career, Jones averages 3.9 yards per carry. Fournette averages 4.0, and that’s held down by an awful year during his second season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Outside of that season, he’s averaged at least 3.9 yards per carry in each season. Last year, he dramatically increased his workload in the receiving game. In this offense, that’s going to continue once he takes over the lead-back role.

Fournette can be had for a rotational running back or a third wide receiver right now. His value is extremely low after two poor showings in three weeks. A couple of the guys I’d be looking to move to get him include the aforementioned Cole and New England Patriots’ running back Rex Burkhead. Both of them have dramatically outperformed expectations to start the season, and their value likely won’t remain this high.

 

Wide Receiver

D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars

Entering this season, the arrow was pointing straight upwards for the third-year wide receiver. In 15 games last season, he finished as WR 17, and he was just 12 points outside of finishing in the top 12. Early in the season, he missed Week 3, but he was fantasy consistent in Week 1 and Week 2. He’s averaging 12 points per game, and he’s still the lead receiving option for this team.

Despite missing Week 3, he’s still third on the team in receiving yards. He’s also caught all seven of his targets so far. You would like to see his targets per game improve, but quarterback Gardner Minshew has focused on check-downs a lot to start the season. When they’re playing down by more points later on, he’ll see more work down the field, and he can generate big plays on those opportunities.

A couple of guys that you could move for Chark include Atlanta Falcons’ receiver Russell Gage. Gage has massively outperformed expectations to start the season, and he’s bound to regress, especially from a touchdown perspective. Additionally, if you could get someone to bite on Kansas City Chiefs’ wide receiver Sammy Watkins, I would move him while his value still remains high.

Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns

I was high on OBJ entering the season, and, while he’s fallen flat thus far, I still think that brighter days are ahead for the Cleveland wideout. He remains one of the league’s more talented wideouts, and he’s struggled to get into a groove with quarterback Baker Mayfield since arriving last offseason. 

After a rough Week 1, he’s had a solid couple of games since. In Week 2, he caught four of his six targets for 74 yards and a touchdown. In Week 3, against an overmatched Washington Football Team secondary, he caught four of six again for 59 yards. He leads the team in targets by nine through three games, and that’s not going to change moving forward. In fantasy, volume remains king, and Odell is getting his volume. When he gets enough volume, he’s a valuable asset.

Similar to Chark, guys like Gage and Watkins remain interesting trade options for Beckham. His value is low right now after struggling since he arrived in Cleveland, and people are looking for immediate production that he’s not getting him. Beckham will have easier matchups ahead than he did against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, and that will lead to more production as we’ve seen in recent weeks.

 

Tight End

Evan Engram, New York Giants

Engram has stumbled out of the gate, but he has nowhere to go but upwards. Since he made it into the NFL, the only thing that has held him back has been health. He’s currently in the perfect scenario to be producing at a high level, but the offense isn’t functioning properly around him. Running back Saquon Barkley is out for the season, and the other wide receivers, outside of Darius Slayton, have been inconsistent at best to start the year.

Engram is second on the team in targets, receptions and yards through three weeks behind the aforementioned Slayton in all three categories. Fellow tight end Kaden Smith has just seven targets compared to the 20 that Engram has. He’s dominating the receiving workload for the tight end room, but quarterback Daniel Jones has to give him more opportunities to be successful. In the last two games, Engram has played 11 games. In the six games he’s caught at least five passes, he averages over 16 PPR points per game compared to just 6.62 PPR points per game in the other five games. He’s going to get volume simply due to the attrition of the other pass-catchers. 

If you’re looking to move another tight end for him, a guy like Logan Thomas would be an easy sell. Thomas has performed well to start the season, but he’s likely going to be held back by the play of quarterback Dwayne Haskins and wide receiver Terry McLaurin dominating the target share. Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis is going to see his value tank dramatically when teammate A.J. Brown returns, and it would be wise to move him while you have that chance.

Jace Sternberger, Green Bay Packers

This one is the longest of long shots that we’re going over today. Tight end is impossible to predict outside of the rock-solid guys at the top. If you’re looking for the guy that could turn into that huge value late in the year, it’s Sternberger. After failing to register a catch through his first season, he finally broke through on Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints. He caught all three of his targets for 36 yards, and he gives this team that seam threat they’ve been searching for.

Tight end is an often overlooked position in fantasy, especially when it comes to getting a second one on your roster. Most players, if you punt on the position, are content to stream the position on a weekly basis. However, if you have a solid option at the position like Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce or Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders, Sternberger gives you a great flier for later in the year. 

If Sternberger were able to break out, you could lock in two tight ends to your lineups every week. Having that additional flex versatility makes your roster more and more dangerous. Sternberger is also the easiest guy to acquire with a price tag in the range of Indianapolis Colts’ tight end Jack Doyle or Raiders’ wide receiver Bryan Edwards, which is one player that people have a lot of faith in to break out this year.



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Mitch Trubisky Era Over - Do Bears Improve Under Nick Foles?

With the Bears trailing the Falcons 26-10, Matt Nagy finally made the move Bears fan have anticipated by going to Nick Foles in Week 3. While this may have been expected by most and a surprise to a random few, no one knew exactly when it would happen. With the announcement Monday of Nick Foles being named the new starter, it is now officially a new era in Chicago.

Not only did Coach Nagy and GM Ryan Pace spend all summer claiming Trubisky was the starter, but he also did not play all too badly in the first two weeks of the season. He led the team to a 2-0 start and had 123 passing yards with one TD in Week 3 before getting pulled. Why then did they decide to make the switch now?

We all know how Foles plays when he is the starter out of training camp. Not well. But when he comes in after a few games, he is incredible. From his 27/2 TD to interception ratio under Chip Kelly to taking the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory in his second tour, Foles is the man when nothing is expected from him. So what does the ascension to starter mean for the rest of the offense in Chicago? This is the question we will hope to answer here.

 

Bears Unleashed

After a struggle in the first two weeks with only eight receptions for 107 yards and zero TD, Allen Robinson had a coming out party with Foles in Week 3. Some of this has to do with the putrid nature of the Atlanta defense. But 10 receptions, 123 yards and one TD are nothing to dismiss. We know from history Nick Foles likes to do two things. He likes to hyper-target one receiver and he loves using the tight end position. Both of these happened in Atlanta and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Unlike the tight end position, which is manned by aging Jimmy Graham, Allen Robinson is still at his prime at 27 years old. This makes him a buy-now candidate in fantasy leagues. He isn't a buy-low based on ADP cost but he is a player that could exceed expectations and carry teams through the fantasy playoffs. If you are able to get him for another receiver who garners more respect or has more hype, it would greatly benefit you to make the trade. Perhaps you know of a Terry McLaurin truther or maybe a Robert Woods fan. They would be great pieces to dangle in hopes of landing Robinson.

With Nick Foles behind center, A-Rob is set to remain a fixture as WR1 the rest of the season. He will consistently be a top 10 to 15 WR and will earn his new contract extension this off-season.

The other name to remember in the passing game is the tight end mentioned above, Jimmy Graham. He is not great anymore, however, he is the starting TE and this is a valuable position in a Nick Foles-led offense.

Certainly, the two TD receptions are a bit fluky. The six receptions for 60 yards are not. This will be the baseline for the production level you can expect from Graham. At a position where points are hard to come by unless you have a very select number of players, 12 points is nothing to sneeze at. One thing we know about Graham is he has no ability to block. This means, if he is on the field, he will be used as a receiving target.

Robinson has been in on 80% of the offensive snaps for Chicago this season while Graham has a nice 69% snap share. Miller, on the other hand, is at a 47% snap share on the season so far.

 

Effect on the Running Game

Of course, we cannot expect every game to go the way it did in Week 3. When Foles came in, the Bears were trailing by 16 and needed to throw frequently to catch up. There is another factor in the likely ascension of both Robinson and Graham though. The fact that Tarik Cohen joined the list of NFL players out for the season with ACL injuries. He was the main pass-catching back in the offense. Those targets will need to go somewhere, and it will not be David Montgomery. It will be a mixture of a few to Anthony Miller and mostly to Robinson and Graham, both of whom are on the field the majority of the time.

David Montgomery had a solid Week 2 with 125 total yards. He did not fare so well this past week with only 45 rush yards and nine receiving yards. This will be the type of ping-pong season we can expect from a running back in this offense. As much as Matt Nagy and the Bears will want to get the run game going, with Cohen out, it will be difficult to rely on it to be successful. Chicago will be forced to bring in someone to spell Montgomery meaning his ceiling will still be limited moving forward. He will likely still be usable as an RB2 for fantasy though. Therefore, do not just give up on him especially with all the attrition we have seen to this point. An RB2 this season may be the last man standing and win it all for you.

Anthony Miller is a nice piece. He is a good WR 4 on your roster. He will likely be better as a bye week fill-in than a weekly start. If he starts to get a few of those departed targets which had been going the way of Cohen, he can help a fantasy team. It will not be a huge jump in production though. As stated earlier, Foles likes to concentrate on one main receiver and his tight end.

Miller may also see him get some carries, although Cordarrelle Patterson could fill that role going forward. Patterson averages five carries per game so far and should see that number jump up. That doesn't make him fantasy-relevant though. For fantasy purposes, the best bets in Chicago are Allen Robinson and Jimmy Graham. Anything else you get will be icing on the cake.

 

Conclusion

Nick Foles is going to make the Chicago Bears a better team offensively. He will win them more games than they would have won under Trubisky. He may even get them to the playoffs in a seemingly weak NFC. But for fantasy, he is not the boon some were hoping for. An upcoming matchup with the Colts' top-ranked pass defense in Week 4 isn't the time to plug him into your lineup either. While he will raise the consistency of the offense, he will not elevate them into the stratosphere so tread carefully.



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Giant Problems: Projecting Daniel Jones and Receivers ROS

No one expected the Giants to be able to challenge for a playoff spot in “real life” football this season, but fantasy football players were optimistic that their roster could be a good resource that might help them reach the playoffs in their own fantasy leagues. Now that the dust has cleared after what has been a cataclysmic week for the Giants, let’s take inventory and try to determine if their offense still has enough fantasy firepower left for fantasy football managers to exploit. Will the loss of Saquon Barkley create a negative domino effect that will cause the Giants offense to sputter and force fantasy players to look elsewhere for fantasy productive talent?

The Giants’ new offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, was obviously counting on Saquon Barkley and the Giants’ run game to be the focal point of the team’s offense. Barkley’s season-ending torn ACL put an end to that plan, but Garrett still has a lot to work with.

In short, the Giants’ offensive line has to improve for their offense to have a chance at making a fantasy impact. The Giants are confident that the addition of rookie LT Andrew Thomas and veteran OT Cam Fleming, along with the continued development of third-year Guard Will Hernandez will help solidify their offensive line as the season progresses. Collectively, the Giants offensive line has gotten off to a slow start. It does take some time for a young offensive line to gel and without any preseason games, it might take a little longer for that to happen. Let’s take a closer look at a few individual components of the Giants’ offense and try to forecast what their rest of season fantasy production might potentially look like.

 

Quarterback

Daniel Jones

Jones has a strong arm and throws a crisp, accurate ball. His rushing ability is often overlooked. There was a lot to like about Jones’ rookie season. He threw for at least 300 yards in five games and recorded 24 passing TD in 13 games despite never having Barkley, WRs Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Golden Tate, or TE Evan Engram on the field at the same time.

Jones did have some issues. He tended to remain in the pocket, (waiting for plays develop), a bit too long. While that can sometimes be a good thing, it contributed to his leading the league in fumbles (18) and fumbles lost (11) last season. Garrett’s timing-based, fast-paced offense is designed to help Jones with that issue. It’s known for being QB friendly and many believe it was instrumental in the development of Dallas Cowboys QBs Tony Romo and Dak Prescott’s success.

So far this season, Jones’ pocket time (average time he’s had in the pocket before it collapses around him) has dropped from 2.5 last season to 1.2 this season. With less time to set and throw the ball, Jones’ on target percentage has dropped from 71.1 in 2019 to 39.2 this season. Improved play from the Giants’ offensive line can help in this area.

Fantasy Evaluation: Jones remains a work in progress, but there is hope. He possesses some real tools and should benefit from Garrett’s offensive scheme. He’s tied for 21st in fantasy points scored per game per Fantasy Football today, valuing him as a potential starter in Superflex leagues and as a bye week replacement. Jones needs another season under his belt and some more talent around him before he can take that next step and reach QB1 status. The Giants’ schedule eventually eases up and his offensive line should play better as the season progresses, which should help his fantasy production.

 

Running Backs

Devonta Freeman

Freeman’s got some mighty big shoes to fill. With his skills eroding over the past few seasons and the fact that he’ll be running behind what is currently a poor offensive line, don’t count on him to provide you with RB1 type fantasy production. He’s very good at catching the ball out of the backfield, averaging 54 receptions per season between 2015 and 2017.

Fantasy Evaluation: You probably saw some very sizeable FAAB dollars invested in Freeman this week, and just about any RB with a pulse has some fantasy value, but he’s probably more of a flex play or bye week replacement at this stage of his career. Based on his skill set he might have slightly more value in PPR scoring leagues.

Dion Lewis

With Freeman’s skills in decline, there’s a chance that Lewis will have a sizeable role in the Giants’ offense. His role probably won’t be big enough to give him much fantasy value, but he might be awarded the smaller share of a 60/40 or 65/35 split backfield workload. He’ll probably occupy a change of pace role moving forward and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield should give him some third-down opportunities as well. Don’t be too surprised if he gets a bunch of carries in Week 3 as Freeman eases back into game shape and spends time learning the Giants’ playbook.

Wayne Gallman was a healthy scratch in Week 2. That should give you an idea about what the Giants think about his abilities and his role on the team. Rod Smith is a member of the Giants’ practice squad and could be called upon if needed, but neither he nor Gallman have any fantasy value right now.

 

Wide Receivers

Sterling Shepard

Shepard is an outstanding receiver who averages just over seven targets and close to five catches per game for his career. The Giants have tinkered with having him play on the outside but he’s more comfortable and effective when lining up in the slot. Injuries and specifically, his history of suffering concussions are concerning.

Fantasy Evaluation: When healthy, Shepard needs to be in your starting lineup, but if you roster him, you have to accept the risk that he might miss time. He’s currently on the IR due to turf toe and is eligible to return to action once three games have passed. If someone in your league drops him and you have room on your bench or an IR spot, pick him up. He might even present a good buy-low opportunity depending on your risk tolerance.

Golden Tate

The Giants actually have another slot receiver who can take Shepard’s place while he’s on the IR! Yes, it seems kind of dumb that the Giants have two WRs in Tate and Shepard who, at their core, are slot receivers. However, Tate should see an uptick in production with Shepard sidelined. He breaks tackles and according to Pro Football Focus, he leads all receivers with 1003 yards after the catch over the past five seasons.

Fantasy Evaluation: He’s worth adding off the waiver wire if available with Shepard on the IR. He averaged just under nine targets and six catches per game between Week 6 and 10 with Shepard sidelined. He’ll have a short shelf life. His fantasy value takes a modest hit with Shepard in the lineup. Overall he’ll likely provide lower WR3/flex play type fantasy production. If he has a good Week 3, he might be a nice sell high option.

Darius Slayton

Slayton is the Giants’ primary deep threat. His 10 TDS since Week 5 of last season leads all WRs. He has good chemistry with Jones, tracks the ball well, and has excellent contested-catch ability.

Fantasy Evaluation: He’s a good trade target based on his potential production but right now you’d be paying top dollar in any transaction. It’s going to be difficult for him to keep up his extraordinary pace of catching TDs (one TD for every six catches) but as the Giants’ big-play threat and as one of Jones’ favorite receivers, he will continue to get plenty of opportunities to find the end zone.

C.J. Board and Damion Ratley round out the rest of the Giants’ receivers. Head coach Joe Judge has been talking them up this week and their roles are expected to gradually increase. Board has five catches and 9.8 yards per reception, and Ratley has yet to catch a pass so far this season. Neither has any fantasy value as of yet.

 

Tight End

Evan Engram

Garrett historically has heavily utilized TEs in his offenses. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had a very good one in Jason Witten on his roster for many years. Engram is a TE that plays like a WR. He’s actually lined up in the slot and on the perimeter 66 times so far this season. Unfortunately, Engram has missed 14 out of a possible 50 games in his young career nursing hamstring, knee, and foot injuries.

Fantasy Evaluation: He’s a high risk, high reward player. When healthy he’s one of the best receivers at the TE position, averaging just over seven targets and 4.5 catches per game for his career. If he can stay healthy for a full season he can provide your fantasy team with 65 to 75 catches and upwards of six TDs. Like Shepard whether you roster him or trade for him depends on your risk tolerance.



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Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.




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Is the Buffalo Bills' Offense For Real?

Move out of the way for the NFL's new most explosive offense: the... Buffalo Bills?

Through the first two weeks of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills rank 3rd in the NFL in total yards (928), 3rd in yards per play (6.6), 1st in passing yards (719), 2nd in passing TDs (6), and 5th in Pro Football Reference's Expected Points metric (which is the expected points contributed solely by an offense) with 35.50.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll seems to be scheming his offense perfectly for the opposition. The million-dollar question is: will it continue?

 

Finally a Franchise QB

Josh Allen has looked like a breakout star and is currently the number two quarterback in fantasy.

Stefon Diggs, the number four wide receiver in half PPR leagues, is making catches all over the field, and his presence has opened up more explosive plays for John Brown, who is currently the 10th ranked receiver in half PPR leagues. The Bills are a force to be reckoned with.

They've also played the Jets and the Dolphins to start the season.

So which one is it: is this an indication of how the Bills offense will operate this year and should we adjust our rankings accordingly or was this just a two-week aberration against bottom-barrel defenses? I looked through the Bills gameplans, formation usage, and production in order to understand what the true identity of this offense is.

Let's just get this out there right from the start. I'm not here for the Josh Allen hatred that has continued to pervade the fantasy community since the NFL Draft. Yes, he will fumble. Yes, he will make some bone-headed throws. However, he is also a young quarterback who is clearly getting better in many areas and has already proven that, even with his flaws, he can consistently put up fantasy goodness.

On the season, Allen has completed 57 of 81 passes (70.4%) for 729 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions. As was displayed online repeatedly this week, that start has only ever been equaled by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Patrick Mahomes. Not bad company to keep.

One of the keys to that has been Allen's improvement as a deep passer. The young quarterback has been maligned for having a big arm and no idea where the ball is going, and that narrative was affirmed last year when Allen finished 29th in the league in Football Outsiders' Deep Ball Project, completing only 19 of 57 attempts on throws 21-plus yards from scrimmage. To make matters worse, he was only four-for-29 on passes that traveled 30 or more yards in the air.

So far this season, Allen is seven-for-nine on passes over 20 yards and was two-for-three on passes over 30 yards against Miami alone. While the secondaries of the Dolphins and Jets can certainly be a factor in this (especially after the Dolphins lost Byron Jones), you can clearly see Allen's improvements in technique on a few of these deep passes.

On his first completion of the day (the first pass below), Allen sells the play-action well and stays light on his feet in the drop. He climbs up into the pocket, keeping his eyes on John Brown in the middle of the field to hold the safety in his place. Allen feels the pressure coming from his right side, and flings a pass that hits Diggs on the money. No matter who is in coverage on that play, that pass is perfect. It's the type of touch pass that everybody said Allen wasn't able to make.

Another play that shows Allen's growth was his long completion to Isaiah McKenzie. Here, Allen takes a deep drop and, again, works to climb the pocket. He doesn't take the immediate option to pass to Singletary in the flat because he sees the linebacker lurking behind him.

Allen works through two more reads before feeling pressure in the pocket. Here is where we see the growth. Instead of tucking the ball and running into that vast open space, Allen keeps his eyes downfield, giving McKenzie time to make one more move in space to lose his defender.

Then hits him in stride for a huge run after the catch.

Another throw that shows Allen's improvements in the pocket is the touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis. When Allen feels the pressure in the pocket, he has the presence of mind to switch the ball from his right hand to his left hand to keep the ball secure.

Then he switches back as he's rolling outside of the pocket. Even throw he throws off of his back foot, he squares his shoulders and puts the ball where only Gabriel Davis can get it. It's an incredible catch but is also a great throw on a 3rd and goal with the Bills down by three.

That's either a touchdown or a game-tying field goal if it falls incomplete because Allen was able to avoid some of the simple mistakes that plagued him as a younger quarterback.

That improvement in technique, and the improvements in his supporting cast, has led to a jump in production from the fourth-year pro. Despite Allen being 9th in the league with an average depth of target of 8.9 yards, he has only thrown only 19.8% "bad passes," according to RotoWire. That's fewer than Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, and some other names that wouldn't surprise you.

Allen will likely not hover around 70% accuracy all year, but it's foolish to write off this clear evidence of a young player improving and just saying that he's faced bad defenses. Allen is renowned for being a hard worker, and it's clear that all that hard work has finally started to pay off.

 

Josh Allen May Not Run As Much

Josh Allen's rushing prowess remains. The Bills have run the ball 55 times this year, and Josh Allen is second on the team with 18 carries (The Bills' top three rushers are all within two carries of each other, but that's a discussion for later). Allen has gained 75 yards and a touchdown on those rushes, which raises his floor as a fantasy quarterback. However, there's been an interesting development.

Josh Allen is no longer the goal-line back.

The Bills have had 14 rushes in the Red Zone so far this year, and Zach Moss has gotten eight of those carries. Devin Singletary is second on the team with three and then Josh Allen has two. When you remember that, last year, Frank Gore had 26 Red Zone touches despite converting on only 11.1% of rushes inside the 10-yard-line and 18.2% of rushes inside the five-yard-line, it becomes clear that the Bills don't want Josh Allen to be the primary goal-line back. He only had 14.3% of the team's Red Zone opportunities last year and that was with Gore being abysmal with his chances. Had Frank Gore had even moderate success at the goal-line, it's highly likely that Josh Allen's rushing touchdown total would have dropped from nine to something closer to four.

 

Brian Daboll Helps and Hurts Josh Allen's Fantasy Value

Another big factor in Josh Allen's rushing production is Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll. What's become incredibly clear after two games is that the Bills are going to have drastically different offensive approaches depending on the defense they're playing.

When the Bills faced the Jets, Daboll adapted a gameplan to counter the Jets' stout run defense, which included running Allen a lot: "The quarterback zone read is an obvious element to our game, particularly I would say last game... You go back and play a team like New York who is very, very good at stopping the run, it's just a way to try and get an extra [advantage]."

It was easy to watch that first game and think that Josh Allen was going to run all season long for the Bills. However, Daboll noticed an opportunity against Miami's secondary, even with Byron Jones healthy, that the Dolphins ran a lot of man coverage, which would make them susceptible to crossing routes and rub patterns. As a result, the Bills repeatedly attacked the Dolphins with those concepts, and Josh Allen was seven-for-ten on crossing routes for 172 yards and a touchdown.

On the flip side, Allen finished with only four carries against the Dolphins and 17.4% of the team's rushes, an obvious indication that Allen's scripted rushing will be matchup dependent.

So with Allen no longer being featured as much near the goal-line and the designed runs being limited to certain matchups, the quarterback's overall rushing upside may not match last season. However, it's clear that Daboll will put Allen in the best possible position to succeed, which will just not always involve the fantasy-friendly rushing that we have become accustomed to. Getting 17.4% of a team's carries is still rare at the position and will give Allen a safer floor every week than most quarterbacks, but he may not come close to challenging guys like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, or Cam Newton (the Patriots goal-line back) for rushing value.

 

Stefon Diggs is Now a WR1

People didn't want to draft Diggs as a WR1 coming into the season even though he had been drafted as one before while playing with Kirk Cousins and sharing targets with Adam Theilen on a Vikings offense that is as geared towards the run as the Bills offense was supposed to be. That doesn't quite add up to me.

Diggs saw 94 targets last year, catching 63 balls for 1,130 yards and six touchdowns. He finished as the 21st ranked WR, just one spot behind John Brown. Diggs also finished 18 total fantasy points from finishing as a top-12 fantasy wide receiver. That's a few more big plays or touchdowns but certainly within reach.

After two games, Diggs has already seen 22 targets from Josh Allen, or 23% of his total from the ENTIRE YEAR last year.

Last year, Diggs caught 20 passes that were 20+ yards down the field. He has five already this season. However, the Bills are also using him on drag routes and crossing routes closer to the line of scrimmage, which is why his average depth of target (aDOT) is 11.3 after being at 14.9 last year for Minnesota. While that may seem like a bad thing, I should point out at, in 2018, when Diggs finished as the 11th ranked wide receiver in half-PPR leagues, he had an aDOT of only 8.8 yards.

That season, Cousins peppered him with 149 targets, and Diggs hauled in 102 passes for 1,021 yards and nine touchdowns. With the Bills, Diggs is currently on pace for 176 targets, 128 catches, 1,912 yards, and eight touchdowns. More importantly, he's running routes at an elite rate and seeing enough of a target share to make that route total especially useful.

Obviously, those numbers are skewed by a tremendously small sample size, but it illustrates the point that the Bills are actually using Diggs the way he's been most effective in the past. Last year, he was basically a glorified deep threat, but the Bills are allowing him to run his whole route tree, and he has proven for years that he is an elite route runner.

Josh Allen has also shown that he is going to go to Diggs when he needs a big catch, and since Allen has been known to lock onto his favorite receivers, it's not out of the question that Diggs gets over 120 targets this year. If he's able to do that, while being his team's clear top option, and running a more versatile route tree, I see no reason why he can't push to be a top 12-15 wide receiver by the end of the season.

 

John Brown Is Essentially Will Fuller (without the injuries)

John Brown's value is obviously impacted by the addition of Stefon Diggs; however, it's not only negative. Diggs is now the clear number one wide receiver, but that attention can also open up more opportunities for Brown, as evidenced by his long touchdown grab on Sunday, where the defensive attention on Diggs allowed Brown to sneak free over the top of the secondary.

There will clearly be games where Brown is heavily involved. He had ten targets in Week 1 and six in Week 2. However, his role as the number two receiver on this team also means that his opportunities will be harder to rely on. As I mentioned above, Daboll is clearly going to scheme to attack specific defenses. When the Bills pass, that will mean Brown can still be heavily involved in the passing game; however, if the Bills think their advantage is on the ground, Brown will be less of a consistent focus in the gameplan, but will still be used to stretch the field.

That sounds a lot, to me, like Will Fuller.

John Brown, much like Fuller, has dynamic deep speed and can change a real-life and fantasy game in one play. Below, you can see how far down the field Josh Allen tends to target Brown. Now, the Catch % isn't ideal, but we mentioned Allen's growth in that regard earlier on.

As a contract, Will Fuller has incredibly similar aDOT and AY/Snap but the Catch % has been much higher with Deshaun Watson throwing him the ball. Fuller's Drop % was 5.6 last year, compared to 5.2% for Brown, so the difference in catch rate is not because of the receivers' skill sets. John Brown also has a bit more of a diverse route tree than Fuller, which is why his percentage of team targets has always been higher.

However, to me, the crux of the comparison is simply that John Brown now becomes more of a big-play deep threat than the primary option he was in the past. Much like rostering Will Fuller, having John Brown on your team will entail the headaches of trying to decide which matchup is best suited to a big-play touchdown. There will be days when he does nothing and other days when he explodes, and at the end of the year, he's likely to end up as a top-40 fantasy wide receiver.

 

Buy Gabriel Davis in Dynasty

This is only a short segment, but if you have a dynasty team, you need to get this man. First, his touchdown catch against the Dolphins was all you need to know about the hands and playmaking ability that he possesses.

The Bills have also used 10 personnel (four wide receivers) on 32 plays this season. The next highest is the Cardinals with 17. They WANT to get Davis on the field with Diggs, Brown, and Cole Beasley. He is actively forcing them to play him. John Brown is 30 with only one more year on his contract, and Cole Beasley is 31 with two more years on his deal. Sometime in the next couple of seasons, Gabriel Davis is going to push his way into being Diggs' running mate, and there could be a lot more plays like this to come.

 

Buy Devin Singletary and Hold Zach Moss

So after all of this love for the Bills passing offense, why am I not concerned about the Bills running backs? Well first, I think it was foolish of anybody to assume that either of these guys would become a RB1 in fantasy. It was never going to happen unless the other got injured, and even then I think the Bills would try to rotate carries.

As it currently stands, Devin Singletary leads the team with 19 carries, but Zach Moss is right behind him with 17. The Bills want to run a timeshare. That always meant the ceiling for either of these backs was as an RB2. I don't think we're far off from seeing that.

The Bills may also not finish 6th in the NFL in rushing attempts like they did last year with 465, but Sean McDermott doesn't want to be a one-dimensional team. As I mentioned above, they will scheme to attack a specific defense, so there will be games where the Bills rely on their running backs to carry the offense. The Bills are going to run the ball.

The Bills also want to run the ball, or use their backs, in the Red Zone. So far, Zach Moss has gotten 31.3% of the Bills' Red Zone touches, and Singletary is second with 15.6%; that's 46.9% of the team's total Red Zone work going to the two backs. If the offense is humming, these guys are going to get Red Zone looks.

That's also why I still think Moss is fantasy-viable. He currently has 10 Red Zone touches on the season. That's a tremendous pace, and you always want to roster players getting those kinds of high-value touches. In games where the Bills are putting up points and getting goal-line carries, Moss has a real shot at a touchdown and his touchdown catch in the first game against the Jets showed that the Bills will use him in a number of ways in the Red Zone. That puts him in the RB3/Flex discussion depending on the matchup.

The reason I like Singeltary more is because of his passing game involvement. Even though Zack Moss has run routes this year, Singletary's numbers are a little bit better.

Singletary:

Moss:

Singletary has not only run more routes and gotten more targets, but he runs a higher percentage of routes when he's on the field and runs routes further down the field. Those are crucial for tallying fantasy points, and if you look at the Bills' schedule coming up, that receiving value will be even more important.

In the coming weeks, the Bills will take on a ton of high-performing offenses: Rams, Raiders, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Cardinals; plus, offenses that are slower-paced but are more than capable of getting ahead of the Bills by double-digit points: Titans, 49ers, and Patriots. If the Bills are trailing in any of those games, which seems likely, expect Singletary to be more involved given his two-minute drill and passing down work on top of his normal rushing share.

 

Summary - TL;DR

If you just came here looking for a quick answer, my take is that this Bills offense is absolutely for real but will likely look different week-t0-week which will make it tough to rely on anybody consistently outside of Allen and Diggs.

Josh Allen: I believe he pushes to be a top-five fantasy QB but will likely end up around seventh or eighth with some top-five weeks mixed in.

Stefon Diggs: I think Diggs finishes as a top-15 wide receiver because of target share and his obvious skills

John Brown: A rosterable wide receiver who will finish as a WR2 some weeks due to big plays but it will be tough to figure out which weeks those are.

Devin Singletary: I'm buying and think the upcoming schedule and his role in the passing game will give him an RB3 floor, especially in PPR leagues, with him pushing RB2 value often over the next few weeks.

Zack Moss: Holding because of his goal-line role. Will be more valuable in weeks where the Bills are ahead.



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Corey Davis's Fantasy Value Is Here To Stay

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis is finally enjoying some semblance of a breakout and it has been long overdue. The former fifth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has had a tumultuous start to his career with injuries, a lack of targets, and generally disappointing performances marring his real-life and fantasy value.

Davis's fifth-year option on his rookie contract was not picked up, leaving him a free agent after the 2020 season. It is in his best interest to perform as well as possible every year, but particularly, this year. Contract-year narratives are a tad overblown but there is an added sense of urgency and pressure to perform for players knowing that their careers are not guaranteed a few months ahead. Football is a brutal sport and every player needs to take care of themselves meticulously to navigate the confines of a 16-game season.

This piece is a follow up to my offseason article regarding Davis and why we should buy-in just once more. You can check that out here.

 

Consistency Finally Here?

Davis's fatal flaw is a lack of consistency. Through two games, he has put up 13 targets, 10 receptions, 137 yards and a TD (76.9% catch rate, 10.5 yards-per-target). Not particularly eye-popping but he has scored over 10 PPR points in each game which is something to keep an eye on. So often, we witness a game in which he looks to have broken out and the next game he falls flat.

Now, this article by no means intends that Davis is a superstar, The point is, with the caveat of health, Davis is fantasy-viable and an option to slide into our WR2 and/or FLEX spots from here on out, particularly with A.J. Brown out of commission with a lower-body bone bruise.

Notice below, some important numbers to note: his catch rate and yards-per-target have gone up each season of his career. He showed a solid rapport with current QB Ryan Tannehill in 2019 prior to injuring his hamstring and now, fully healthy, he seems to have re-kindled that relationship.

Corey Davis has graded out as the seventh-best WR in the NFL through two games and while this small sample is lofty in projecting his rest-of-season, we can rest assured knowing that what we have seen early on is not a result of flukey outcomes.

Also, upon A.J. Brown's return from injury, it is very likely that Davis returns to receiving secondary attention from defenses while Brown draws the primary focus of DBs. Davis might not always have the upper-hand in these matchups but he will have a marginal boost in seeing weaker coverage by the CB2 rather than the CB1 more often than not. Over the next few weeks, Davis has some excellent matchups in Minnesota and Houston along with some tougher ones with Pittsburgh and Buffalo. A.J. Brown should return by Week 5 to attract shutdown cornerback Tre'Davious White away from Davis.

For now, while Brown is out, Davis may have more difficult matchups, but that is made up for by the increase in targets allocated towards him. The Titans are extremely thin at receiver and need one or both of Davis/Brown to take on a significant chunk of the team's target share, even with the team more skewed towards the run.

Davis's athletic profile and build fits the mold of a WR1, however, he should remain the WR2 on his own team but could very well be productive for the rest of the season. Buy the new and improved Corey Davis as a true fantasy asset you can trust most weeks.



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So Much for Regression: 2019 Breakouts Continued

Sometimes, players do things that seem unsustainable, and before the next season, the analysis community universally goes "yeah, they're regressing."

But what happens when those players just... don't regress?

Through two games, we're seeing some examples of players who are sustaining things we didn't think were sustainable. Let's look at some of those things.

 

Lamar Jackson's Touchdown Rate

Lamar Jackson threw touchdowns on nine percent of his passes last season.

That tied him for the second-highest single-season mark of this century, behind 2004 Peyton Manning's 9.9 percent and tied with Aaron Rodgers. Sustaining a touchdown rate that high is incredibly difficult. There's only been 140 seasons in the entire history of this league where a player's rate was even seven percent.

So, through two games, 2020 Lamar Jackson is at 8.2 percent, which is still really, really good.

Sure, he only ranks tied for fourth through two games, but he's still throwing touchdowns on a very high percentage of his passes.

Why? Because of the way the Ravens play. Jackson's such a huge threat with his legs, which warps a lot of things for the defense and leads to more chances for scoring throws. He's also got a really good red zone threat in tight end Mark Andrews, which helps.

Jackson can be selective on what throws he takes, which should mean that he's able to keep sustaining this touchdown rate.

 

Ryan Tannehill!

Let's just do a quick rundown of where Ryan Tannehill ranked in some things last year:

  • first in passer rating
  • first in adjusted yards per pass attempt
  • first in adjusted net yards per pass attempt
  • third in completion percentage
  • second in touchdown percentage

Let's see where he currently ranks in those same things this year:

  • fourth in passer rating
  • seventh in adjusted yards per pass attempt
  • sixth in adjusted net yards per pass attempt
  • ninth in completion percentage
  • third in touchdown percentage

Technically, his rank in each of those categories is worse than it was last year. But Tannehill is still maintaining a high level of play, and if the narrative around him this offseason was that he was bound to regress in an offense that lacked a lot of weapons, it looks like that...might be wrong.

And like with Jackson, two things have helped Tannehill a lot this year. First, his team's run game. Sure, Tannehill isn't as involved as a scramber as Jackson, but he has an elite running back in Derrick Henry to take pressure off of him, and he also has a really good tight end receiving threat. Maybe the secret to quarterback efficiency is to have a tight end who can do this:

Mismatches: they can really help your quarterback's numbers!

 

Everything About Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones tied Derrick Henry for the rushing touchdown lead and Christian McCaffrey for the overall touchdown lead in 2019 despite not finishing in the top 10 in rushing yards.

His 11 touchdowns on carries inside the 10 was tied for the league lead, but he has just 19 carries inside the 10, while the other three players tied had at least 29 each.

That means Jones scored a touchdown on 57.9 percent of his carries inside the 10. [eye emojis]

He's only scored on 25 percent of his carries inside the 10 this year, but he has gotten 80 percent of Green Bay's work inside the 10-yard-line, so that percentage of touchdowns should rise. He's still getting the type of work that led to his big 2019 campaign, and he's tied for fifth in the NFL in first down runs. His 6.9 yards per attempt are tied for second and he's averaging 117 yards per game.

Jones is actually a very good running back. 2019 was not a fluke.

 

Diontae Johnson's Target Share

With a healthy and very good JuJu Smith-Schuster back, it seemed that Diontae Johnson would see his workload on this Steelers offense drop off.

In 2019, Johnson and Smith-Schuster both took 573 offensive snaps, and Johnson led the team with a 19.09 target percentage, with Smith-Schuster at 14.52 percent. He also had a higher air yards percentage than Smith-Schuster, though both trailed James Washington in that number.

The numbers essentially said Johnson was the No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh last year.

This season, Johnson's role is growing. He's been outsnapped by Smith-Schuster 114-109, but has gotten a 31.94 target share, with Smith-Schuster trailing at 19.44 percent. He's also jumped to the lead in air yards:

I know everyone loves Smith-Schuster. I also love Smith-Schuster. But Diontae Johnson is currently being used like a No. 1 receiver for the Steelers, which is also how he was used last year. That trend from last season is fully playing out now that the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger back on the football field.

 

Mike Gesicki's Air Yards

In 2019, Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki finished fourth among tight ends in air yards in a pass-happy Miami offense. He had 16.14 percent of the team's air yards and an aDOT of 9.9.

This year, Gesicki is currently leading all tight ends in air yards and has 31.1 percent of the Dolphins air yards. His aDOT is 11.

Gesicki's career got off to a slow start, but last year there were signs that the former second-round pick was on his way to being a top-tier tight end due to his down-field usage.

And in 2020, that's proving to be true.

In Week 2, Gesicki set the Dolphins team record for receiving yards in a game by a tight end with 130. He continues to be a threat in the deep passing game and is getting a lot of opportunities to pile up yardage because of his air yards.

If you thought that Gesicki's performance last season wasn't indicative of who he'd be in 2020, it's looking like you miscalculated something, as he continues to play an expanded version of his 2019 role.



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The Mysterious Case of Carson Wentz

It was only a few seasons ago when Carson Wentz was the darling of the NFL. Despite missing the final month of the season, he was in serious consideration for MVP. He got the Philadelphia Eagles in position to win their first Super Bowl. He was also beloved by the city of Philadelphia. How times have changed.

Based on my family group chat, Carson Wentz sucks. At least this is what I heard more times yesterday than the Eagles gave up points. Of course, being in Philadelphia, my family is made up of the quintessential obnoxious Eagles fan. The point still stands.

Wentz is not the same quarterback anymore and just two games into the season, fantasy GMs are starting to worry.

 

Worrying About Wentz

There are many reasons for his decline in production. Some of it has to do with his unwillingness to scramble and use his mobility. In the first two games, Wentz has run the ball three times for nine yards. Last year, Wentz averaged nearly four attempts and 15 rushing yards per game. In 2017, before his ACL injury, Wentz averaged 4.9 carries and 23 rushing yards per game. Of course, it was on a QB keeper that his injury took place.

More of it has to do with the volume of injuries suffered by a once elite offensive line. But the biggest impediment to his being a fantasy starter is simply the lack of receivers on the team.

By the end of last season, the Eagles were using more two tight-end sets, or 12 formation, than any team in the NFL besides the Baltimore Ravens. They were the only two teams to deploy the set more than 30% of the time. For the Ravens, this was more so due to the type of offense they want to run. In the case of Philadelphia, it was due to the fact their only other receiver who was healthy was Greg Ward. Miles Sanders came on strong in the second half of the season as did Boston Scott down the stretch but counting on your running back position is not a successful plan in what is now a passing league. This led to a mediocre 9-7 season and being bounced from the playoffs by the Seahawks.

This offseason Philadelphia was hoping to get stronger at the WR position with Alshon Jeffery coming back healthy alongside DeSean Jackson. They also added receivers Jalen Reagor and John Hightower in the draft. While Reagor was injured in camp leading up to the season, Jeffery has still yet to make his debut in 2020. Second-year receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has still not found his way into the good graces of the team meaning it is reliant upon its TE duo to once again carry the load. Dallas Goedert had a big Week 1 with over 100 yards and a TD but Zach Ertz was lacking with only two catches for 28 yards. In Week 2, Ertz raised his receptions to five yet still only gained 42 yards. Goedert also had a quiet week with four receptions for 30 yards.

It was nice to see Jackson get involved in the game plan but with the defenses of Pittsburgh and San Francisco coming up, the road ahead is difficult. The 49ers have lost some major pieces this week in Nick Bosa on defense and Jimmy Garoppolo for a while. Add in a banged-up George Kittle and still-absent Deebo Samuel, this means they will become even more run-heavy to slow things down. This will limit the time Wentz will have to gain you any stats.

With all the issues the Eagles are having on offense, Carson Wentz has only thrown for two TD while also throwing four interceptions in the first two games of the season. His 58.8% completion rate is also down over four points from his career average and his 6.0 yards per attempt is also far lower than his career mark of 6.9. The lack of receivers is part of the issue but Wentz has himself to blame too, with a 32.9% On Target rate in Week 1. After an end-zone INT in Week 2, the fans let him have it.


With tough games against Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and New England coming up, you are likely to find better streaming options on a weekly basis. Whereas Wentz was a clear top-10 QB only two seasons ago, he now becomes a fantasy backup each week unless things change drastically. If the receiving corps gets healthier, this could mark a turnaround. In the meanwhile, let this change happen without Carson Wentz on your team. You will be better off for it and so will your fantasy record.



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Cornerback Matchups Chart - Week 2 Analysis

With Week 1 in the books, there is now 2020 data for all 32 teams.  This article will take a look at each team's cornerback group in an effort to find the best matchups to attack in fantasy.

The following chart is a snapshot of each team's cornerback group as it relates to allowing fantasy points.  There are inherent flaws within data compilation of cornerback play.  The first being the fact that quantifying a 1-on-1 matchup in an NFL game is unfair because of zone coverages, mental errors, certain passing concepts, and a million other things.  Assigning fantasy points against a cornerback isn't a perfect science.  The purpose of this chart is to give more of a general sense of how defenses are handling opposing WR groups, rather than identifying exactly where, when, and how every single encounter happened.

The "Rtng" column is the rating of each cornerback based on film study and analytics.  The lower a player is graded, the easier the matchup for the WR, so low ratings are green and high ratings are red.  The "PPGA" is the amount of fantasy points that player gave up in Week 1.  The analysis below will help contextualize the chart, as in many cases a receiver did not score 100% of his points against the same player.  However, the chart is a useful tool in getting a sense of the weakest links among corners.

 

Cornerback Ratings - Week 2

click image to view full-screen

 

WR/CB Matchups to Target or Avoid

The breakout star in Week 1 was C.J. Henderson.  The Jags' rookie dominated T.Y. Hilton, making him someone you probably want to avoid going forward.  It's only been one game, but I wouldn't feel great about A.J. Brown in Week 2.  Henderson showed shutdown potential on his college film.  UPDATE: A.J. Brown could be out, which could mean Corey Davis sees more of Henderson depending on gameplan. Davis might be a worthy play due to volume, but don't be surprised if he disappoints against Henderson.

Another key takeaway from Week 1 is to attack Minnesota.  Davante Adams going nuts is one thing, but they allowed touchdowns to both the WR2 and slot in Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard.  All three Colts WRs have blow-up potential in Week 2.

The San Francisco data is skewed and can probably be ignored.  Kyler Murray targeted DeAndre Hopkins all over the field.  Richard Sherman may be on a decline, but we need more games to know.  UPDATE: He was dealing with an injury Week 1.

The New York Jets have a solid slot corner in Brian Poole, but will likely be susceptible at outside receiver all year.  If Brandon Aiyuk plays, he could have a surprise game.

Houston's corners went up against the Chiefs in Week 1, so we shouldn't overreact.  However, it's likely they'll give up a bunch of big games.  Bradley Roby isn't terrible but whoever he's not on will have an extremely easy matchup.

Jaire Alexander did not give up all 28 points to Adam Thielen.  He did give up the last touchdown, however.  I view Alexander as a tough matchup but it's a situation to monitor.

Washington's corners dominated the weak Philadelphia receivers, but they get DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and Larry Fitzgerald this week.  I buy their defensive line dominance, but I'm not sold on their secondary just yet.

The New York Giants don't have a good secondary, but they will be especially exposed by slot receivers.  Anthony Miller is a great play in Week 2.

Indianapolis has one of the best slot corners in the league in Kenny Moore, but very burnable outside corners.  Adam Thielen played mostly outside in Week 1, so expect him to have another good game, while Justin Jefferson gets stuck with Moore.

The following teams are tough matchups for all WRs including WR1s, WR2s and slots:

  • Baltimore
  • Buffalo
  • Cincinnati
  • Dallas
  • Los Angeles Chargers
  • Los Angeles Rams
  • New England
  • Pittsburgh
  • Tampa Bay

The following WRs are borderline Week 2 plays that get a boost based on matchup:

Thanks for reading and good luck this week.



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Re-Shaping NFL Depth Charts with Week 1 Snap Count Data

A common complaint heading into Week 1 was that some NFL teams had posted depth charts that felt a little...off. Some teams didn't have 11 starters. Some had guys who we knew were in for big roles not listed as starters. Things were not clear.

After one week of actual play, we have a clearer idea of who we can expect to see on the football field each week for these teams.

I thought a fun exercise would be to look at each team's snap counts from this week and give you a better idea of what depth charts actually look like. So, let's do that.

 

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Devin Singletary (59 percent) is the starting running back, but Zack Moss (45 percent) is a big part of things, and it appears they'll occasionally share the field. Don't be shocked if Moss keeps trending up and this is closer to a 50/50 split soon.

Stefon Diggs and John Brown were both over a 90 percent snap rate, but there are questions about who the No. 3 guy here is. Cole Beasley led the way at 63 percent, but Gabriel Davis was at 49 percent and Isaiah McKenzie was at 18 percent. This might suggest Beasley's grasp on his role isn't as tight as expected, making him a little riskier for fantasy purposes than expected.

Miami Dolphins

This was the weirdest situation of the week.

Let's start at running back where, when the week began, the depth chart was in this order: Jordan Howard, Matt Breida, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird.

So, how did the snap percentages work out? Gaskin (63 percent), Breida (23 percent), Howard (15 percent), and Laird (6 percent).

So, Gaskin appears to suddenly be the starter?!

At wide receiver, the numbers don't matter much because DeVante Parker left with a hamstring injury and Preston Williams is working back into shape in recovery from ACL surgery. It does appear Isaiah Ford is the third guy over Jakeem Grant.

New England Patriots

The leading snap share at running back was fullback Jakob Johnson, so that explains enough about how much of a committee this is. James White, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead all took the exact same amount of snaps.

Damiere Byrd took 88 percent of the offensive snaps and was not targeted. He led the receivers in snap share. I don't know what to make of this, but if he's going to be on the field that much, he's got to have some upside. N'Keal Harry took 80 percent of the snaps, and Julian Edelman just 58 percent, though I'm not worried about Edelman yet.

Also, Ryan Izzo was on the field for 98 percent of snaps. Deep-league tight end streamer, maybe?

New York Jets

I'm skipping the running back situation here since Le'Veon Bell was put on injured reserve. We'll probably see Frank Gore and Josh Adams close to a 50/50 split.

At receiver, Breshad Perriman had a 100 percent snap share, then Chris Hogan was at 91 percent, and Jamison Crowder at 86 percent. There's a clear top three here and if you believe in Sam Darnold, you might believe in some of these guys.

Chris Herndon's 71 percent snap share at tight end speaks to his potential to break out.

 

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

At running back, three players had a snap rate of at least 25 percent. J.K. Dobbins led the pack at 39 percent, followed by Mark Ingram II at 36 percent, and then Gus Edwards at 25 percent. This is a committee, with Dobbins and Ingram serving as the main two heads of that committee.

At wide receiver, no one had a snap rate over 70 percent, but Miles Boykin, Willie Snead IV, and Marquise Brown were all between 63 percent and 68 percent. But with two tight ends with high snap rates -- 71 percent for Mark Andrews and 66 percent for Nick Boyle -- it seems that the Ravens essentially are swapping three guys between two spots on the field at a fairly even rate.

Cincinnati Bengals

No surprise at running back. Joe Mixon (59 percent) is the starter. Giovani Bernard (29 percent) saw half the number of snaps that Mixon had and is a valuable backup option for fantasy managers.

Wide receiver was a place with questions. We expected to see some combination of A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and John Ross on the field the most, and we got that. Ross led the way, playing on 84 percent of snaps with Boyd at 81 percent. Green trailed them, with a 66 percent snap rate. The Bengals might keep Green off the field more this year to try keeping the oft-injured veteran healthy. Mike Thomas, Tee Higgins, and Auden Tate all played exactly 15 snaps, accounting for 22 percent of the team's snaps. Not a lot of separation yet in the hunt to be the No. 4 receiver, but it's clear that Ross is a step above them all in the pecking order and should be the non-Boyd/Green guy to roster.

C.J. Uzomah (72 percent) was the lead tight end over Drew Sample (35 percent).

Cleveland Browns

Virtual dead heat for the RB1 role, with Kareem Hunt at 49 percent and Nick Chubb at 48 percent. This is trending towards a full committee.

With the team playing a lot of two tight ends -- and with David Njoku hurt, Harrison Bryant is an interesting deep league guy as he played 42 percent of snaps -- the wide receiver rotation went like this: Odell Beckham Jr. (75 percent), Jarvis Landry (71 percent), KhaDarel Hodge (55 percent), and Rashard Higgins (22 percent).

Pittsburgh Steelers

With James Conner hurt, expect Benny Snell Jr. (45 percent) to be the lead back now.

JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson both took 55 snaps, which was 86 percent od the available snaps. That's your top two here, with James Washington (58 percent) likely facing a challenge for snaps from Chase Claypool (30 percent) as the season goes along.

New addition Eric Ebron outsnapped Vance McDonald 40 snaps to 38 snaps. Are we talking about Ebron enough?

 

AFC South

Houston Texans

Duke Johnson's injury means that David Johnson is going to be a workhorse for now.

At wide receiver, Will Fuller V and Randall Cobb saw the most work and seem to have firm spots as the top two receivers. Brandin Cooks (53 percent) was next, then Kenny Stills (37 percent) played a smaller role than some might have expected. DeAndre Carter was on the field for 13 snaps as well as the backup slot guy.

Indianapolis Colts

The Marlon Mack injury makes the Week 1 snap counts not matter a ton here. The team says Jonathan Taylor is now the starter and Nyheim Hines will get lots of snaps. Hines led Taylor in snap rate 53 to 35 percent in Week 1.

Parris Campbell and T.Y. Hilton are the top receivers, with both over an 80 percent snap rate. Zach Pascal (62 percent) and Michael Pittman Jr. (53 percent) are basically sharing the role as the No. 3 guy, which will hurt both from a fantasy perspective.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Undrafted rookie James Robinson is the undisputed starter, taking every RB rush attempt for the team in Week 1. Chris Thompson is the passing-down back. No surprise there.

At wide receiver, surprises! D.J. Chark Jr. was on the field for 84 percent of snaps and is the starter, but Keelan Cole was on for a surprising 66 percent, followed by Laviska Shenault Jr. at 62 percent, Chris Conley at 32 percent, and Collin Johnson at 18 percent. Some surprises there. Dede Westbrook was a healthy scratch. Tyler Eifert was the primary tight end.

Tennessee Titans

Running back is clear here. Derrick Henry will get around 75 percent of the snaps. Someone -- Jeremy McNichols this week, maybe Darrynton Evans in the future -- will play some, but not enough to be fantasy relevant.

A.J. Brown and Corey Davis both played 66 snaps. Adam Humphries played 44, and Kalif Raymond played 18. Again, no real surprises. They also relied heavily on their backup tight ends, with Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt combining to play 78 percent of snaps. That limits the upside of Humphries.

 

AFC West

Denver Broncos

It's hard to know as much here because of injuries, with Phillip Lindsay missing the second half and Courtland Sutton missing the whole game. But an injured Lindsay didn't help Royce Freeman, who ended with just a 10 percent snap share. This is a clear two-player backfield.

Tim Patrick (85 percent) and DaeSean Hamilton (80 percent) outsnapped Jerry Jeudy (75 percent). I don't think that means a ton, and when Sutton is back expect the 11 personnel unit to have Sutton, Jeudy, and one of Patrick and Hamilton. At tight end, Nick Vannett and Jake Butt both had 16 snaps as the No. 2 tight end behind Noah Fant.

Kansas City Chiefs

No surprise at running back, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire at 67 percent and Darrel Williams at 33 percent. Darwin Thompson had no offensive snaps.

The only surprise at wide receiver was Demarcus Robinson's 48 percent snap share over Mecole Hardman's 29 percent. Most people were expecting Hardman to play a larger role, and that might happen moving forward since Robinson had some drop issues. But for now, Hardman is fourth on the depth chart.

Las Vegas Raiders

Devontae Booker and Jalen Richard shared backup running back duties behind Josh Jacobs, but Jacobs is the bellcow here.

Wide receiver is harder to judge. Bryan Edwards took 75 percent of the snaps. Fellow rookie Henry Ruggs III took 67 percent. Then, things got murky. 48 percent for Hunter Renfrow, who I expected to see a lot more from. 19 percent from Nelson Agholor, who might have earned a larger role moving forward. Even Zay Jones appeared for 14 of the plays. Overall, my takeaway here is that I'm less confident in Renfrow now.

Jason Witten had a 44 percent snap share as Vegas ran a lot of two tight end sets. Jason Witten is not going to be fantasy relevant, though.

Los Angeles Chargers

Austin Ekeler took 68 percent of the snaps. Justin Jackson left with an injury after 11 snaps and Joshua Kelley played 18 snaps, but Ekeler seems to have control of this backfield.

No real surprises elsewhere either. Three wide receivers dominated the snaps -- Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Jalen Guyton -- and Joe Reed's three snaps were the only other offensive snaps from a wideout.

And Hunter Henry's 80 percent snap share at tight end was also not a surprise. The Chargers are who we thought they were.

 

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott is the clear starter, playing 88 percent of snaps. Tony Pollard played 14 percent, which is lower than some expected.

Zero questions elsewhere. Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper are your top receivers. CeeDee Lamb is your third guy when you go three-wide. Other names exist but aren't factors. And with Blake Jarwin done for the year now, Dalton Schultz is the main tight end and becomes a deep league streaming option.

New York Giants

Yeah, the 12 combined snaps for Dion Lewis, Elijhaa Penny, and Wayne Gallman is confirmation none have a role that is workable independent of Saquon Barkley.

At receiver, it's pretty clear that once Golden Tate returns, the trio of Tate, Darius Slayton, and Sterling Shepard will combine to take almost all of the snaps. C.J. Board (31 percent) and Damion Ratley (26 percent) will see their roles vanish.

Philadelphia Eagles

Miles Sanders missed Week 1. Boston Scott played 56 percent of snaps, and with a healthy Sanders will likely play somewhere around the 37 percent that Corey Clement played.

At wide receiver, things were messy. Jalen Reagor led the way at 59 percent, then DeSean Jackson at 54 percent. Greg Ward (44 percent), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (41 percent), and John Hightower (40 percent) also saw significant usage. This is...a messy situation for fantasy and one I might avoid completely in shallower leagues, especially with Zach Ertz at 85 percent and Dallas Goedert at 79 percent. This team will go double tight end on most of their plays.

Washington Football Team

The messiest backfield stayed messy. J.D. McKissic actually did become the starter, playing 31 total snaps, with Peyton Barber at 29 total snaps. But Barber led the whole NFL in red zone carries in Week 1, so McKissic might be the starter, but Barber is the fantasy play. Antonio Gibson played 18 snaps, and should see his role increase over time. McKissic is the No. 1 back, but not for long, I'd guess.

Only three wide receivers played. Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims Jr. are your top guys. Dontrelle Inman played 51 percent of snaps.

Logan Thomas played 74 percent of snaps at tight end and looks like a really good value moving forward, a deep-league streamer with upside. Jeremy Sprinkle and Marcus Baugh combined to play 79 percent of the snaps as well, but neither offers the upside of Thomas.

 

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Tarik Cohen (46 percent) and David Montgomery (45 percent) split right down the middle, but have to wonder if Montgomery will see more work moving forward when he's further removed from the groin injury he suffered in camp.

Allen Robinson was the only wide receiver with a high snap rate at 82 percent, and with the whole "maybe he wants traded talk," who knows how that works out. Beyond him, this is a mess. The depth chart should just feature a bunch of question marks: Ted Ginn Jr. (43 percent) and Anthony Miller (42 percent) lead the way, but Javon Wims (35 percent) and Darnell Mooney (32 percent) are just behind. Yikes.

Tight end was more clear: Jimmy Graham (80 percent), then Demetrius Harris (40 percent), and then rookie Cole Kmet (31 percent).

Detroit Lions

Have fun with the Lions backfield! Rookie D'Andre Swift led the way at 44 percent, then veteran Adrian Peterson at 31 percent, and then Kerryon Johnson at 26 percent. Swift seems like a solid fantasy play, but Peterson and Johnson might cannibalize each other's value.

Wide receiver doesn't matter much since Kenny Golladay was out. The only question is if Quintez Cephus (79 percent) goes back to a reserve role or if he takes some of Danny Amendola's (55 percent) snaps.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers running back situation looks a lot like last year. Aaron Jones led it at 54 percent, then Jamaal Williams at 40 percent. If you thought A.J. Dillon was the backup to roster in redraft, you thought wrong. Williams is that guy, again.

Only three wide receivers took snaps. Davante Adams and Allen Lazard led the way, which each at 87 percent or higher. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was at 54 percent. That was it. The team went tight end heavy, with Robert Tonyan (62 percent), Marcedes Lewis (41 percent), Josiah Deguara (31 percent), and Jace Sternberger (15 percent). Can't say any of those guys interest me right now.

Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Cook only played 58 percent of snaps. Alexander Mattison at 37 percent might have some standalone value in 2020.

We knew Adam Thielen would be on the field for pretty much every play, which was true as he was at 96 percent. Behind him, we had Justin Jefferson (69 percent), OlaBisi Johnson (63 percent), and Tajae Sharpe (13 percent). Jefferson's likely the one who'll emerge as the real No. 2 receiver here.

As for tight end, Kyle Rudolph (62 percent) and Irv Smith (60 percent) should essentially be considered co-starters this year.

 

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Have fun with this backfield. 46 percent snap rate from Todd Gurley II led it, with Brian Hill at 27 percent and Ito Smith at 25 percent. This could very well be trending towards being a full-on committee.

Wide receiver, meanwhile, is pretty clear. Russell Gage is the No. 3 guy and took 70 percent of the snaps. Guys like Olamide Zaccheaus and Christian Blake exist on the fringes here. And Hayden Hurst slid right into that Austin Hooper role, taking 78 percent of the snaps.

Carolina Panthers

Surprise! Christian McCaffrey played 97 percent of snaps.

Really, nothing here was amiss. D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel all had at least a 75 percent snap share. Tight end Ian Thomas was at 66 percent. Maybe other tight end Chris Manhertz being at 54 percent is a slight surprise, but he was targeted just once, so that won't matter much for fantasy.

New Orleans Saints

While it seemed like Latavius Murray was on the field at all times if you had Alvin Kamara in your lineup, Kamara was at 66 percent and Murray at 34 percent. But it was an active 34 percent, as he had 15 carries on his 23 total snaps.

Michael Thomas is going to miss some time, and Sunday suggests that Tre'Quan Smith (65 percent) and Emmanuel Sanders (49 percent) will step into larger roles. Beyond them, no one really played enough to judge, as Deonte Harris and Bennie Fowler each played seven snaps.

Expect a lot of two-TE sets with Thomas out, with Jared Cook (65 percent) and Josh Hill (53 percent) both likely to see that number rise.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hmm, this backfield. Ronald Jones II took 47 percent of the snaps, then LeSean McCoy was at 36 percent, Leonard Fournette at 13 percent, and Ke'Shawn Vaughn at 0 percent. Vaughn can probably be dropped in redraft leagues. Fournette should supplant McCoy at some point, but outside of Jones, it's hard to predict things here.

Scotty Miller (61 percent) outsnapped Justin Watson (16 percent) by a lot. Here's your slot receiver in Tampa.

Rob Gronkowski was immediately the main tight end, taking 77 percent of the snaps. O.J. Howard followed at 53 percent, then Cameron Brate was at 10 percent. Brate's been a solid fantasy option the last few years, but it doesn't look like that'll continue in 2020.

 

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

No surprise at running back, where Kenyan Drake received 71 percent of the snaps and Chase Edmonds 34 percent.

This team did run fewer four-receiver sets than expected though, which Andy Isabella only was on the field for 17 percent of snaps. Looks like predicting this team to spread the field with their top four guys might have been premature. They also always had at least one tight on the field and sometimes more, with Dan Arnold at 55 percent of snaps and Maxx Williams at 52 percent. Could a Cardinals tight end become fantasy-relevant?

Los Angeles Rams

The initial depth chart had Malcolm Brown starting, and he did, seeing 60 percent of the snaps. It had Darrell Henderson second, but he played just seven percent. with rookie Cam Akers jumping him and playing 33 percent of snaps. Abandon those Henderson shares, redrafters!

The battle for the third receiver role was basically a dead heat. Josh Reynolds played 37 snaps. Van Jefferson played 33 snaps. Someone will likely emerge as the year goes on, but Week 1 was too close to tell.

As for tight end, it's all Tyler Higbee, who played 89 percent of snaps to Gerald Everett's 33 percent.

San Francisco 49ers

Raheem Mostert truthers rejoice, as he was on the field for 60 percent of snaps. Jerick McKinnon was at 31 percent, and Tevin Coleman brought up the rear at 10 percent. Maybe this backfield isn't as messy as a lot of us predicted.

At wide receiver, just three players took snaps. Kendrick Bourne was the lead receiver, playing 92 percent of snaps. Dante Pettis was at 73 percent and Trent Taylor at 34 percent, but both of those could come down due to the signing of Mohamed Sanu.

Seattle Seahawks

At running back, Chris Carson is the lead at 45 percent, but this is a committee. Carlos Hyde was at 34 percent and Travis Homer was at 21 percent. Carson's the back to roster and play in redraft, but do so with some caution.

No surprises with the two receivers who were over 90 percent, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. David Moore was at 53 percent and Freddie Swain at 26 percent, but neither is a viable fantasy play.

Greg Olsen led the tight end room at 66 percent, then Will Dissly at 40 percent. I like Dissly, but would need to see a higher snap share to like him in fantasy right now.



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Week 1 Mirages Bound to Disappear

It’s easy to overreact to big performances in Week 1. We see a new set of breakout performers each fantasy season and all fantasy owners suffer from some extreme FOMO at the onset of the season, knowing that if they don’t act soon, they may miss out on one of those breakouts.

Below are eight players you shouldn’t be afraid to miss out on. A few of them may have had their best games of the season in Week 1, a “mirage” performance that doesn’t promise similar future production.

Others on the list will be too inconsistent to rely upon unless injuries on their teams open up more opportunities.

 

Sammy Watkins (WR, KC)

Week 1 Stats: 7 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD

The Week 1 extraordinaire, you may remember him from such previous Week 1 explosions as last season, when he went for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He would only top 50 receiving yards three more times over the entirety of the 2019 season and didn’t score another touchdown all year.

Watkins is in a great situation in one of the league’s best offenses, catching passes from one of the leagues best quarterbacks. However, inconsistency and injuries have continuously plagued him since first entering the league in 2014. Don’t be fooled by his productive Week 1 in the same way many of us were last year.

 

Adrian Peterson (RB, DET)

Week 1 Stats: 14 carries, 93 yards; 3 catches, 21 yards

There is no doubt that Peterson was the standout amongst the three Lions running backs in Week 1. Kerryon Johnson gained just 14 yards on seven carries and didn’t earn a target in the passing game. D’Andre Swift scored the team’s only rushing touchdown, but had just three carries in the game that went for a total of eight yards. Swift caught three of his five targets for 15 yards, but of course had the most costly drop of the game for the Lions.

Swift led all Detroit running backs in snaps in the game with 34. Peterson was next with 24, followed by Johnson with 20. Johnson was the team’s starter in their first drive, but his ineffectiveness is what led to Peterson’s increased usage.

Swift suffered a leg injury during training camp and the team is rightfully likely to be cautious with his workload to start off the season. The fact that he still easily led the team in snaps at running back shows that he’ll be the team’s primary running back this year with the two veterans playing second and third fiddle. Peterson was great in Week 1, but he likely won’t come close to reaching this past weekend’s production again this year unless one of the other backs miss time.

 

Keelan Cole (WR, JAX)

Week 1 Stats: 5 catches, 47 yards, 1 TD

Cole was Gardner Minshew’s top receiving target in Week 1, leading the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He earned five targets in the game, one more than rookie Laviska Shenault Jr. and two more than DJ Chark Jr. Cole had his first fantasy breakout in late 2017, posting two straight 100-yard games in December and closing the year with 748 receiving yards. Unfortunately for Cole, over the past two years, he’s suited up for all 32 of the team’s game and come away with just 852 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Cole took a backseat last year to Chark and Dede Westbrook, the latter of whom was a healthy inactive in Week 1. Chark will be the team’s No. 1 this year while Cole and Shenault battle for the No. 2 spot. Shenault is the more interesting of the two as he has more room for growth and the team also gave him two carries in Week 1, a sign of how involved he could be going forward.

 

Mitch Trubisky (QB, CHI)

Week 1 Stats: 20-for-36, 242 passing yards, 3 TD; 26 rushing yards

It was a tale of two halves for Trubisky in Week 1. In the first half, it seemed like only a matter of time before the team would bring in Nick Foles to relieve him. In the second half, he locked in and led the team to victory after trailing by 17. All three of his touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter.

It’s hard to say exactly how long or short Trubisky’s leash is with Foles looming, but a weak and shorthanded Lions Defense spared him at least one more week. He has another favorable matchup against the New York Giants in Week 2, so if you’re in a pinch in a Two-QB league, he’s a fine start, but otherwise, you should look elsewhere for long-term quarterback help.

 

Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR, GB)

Week 1 Stats: 4 catches, 96 yards, 1 TD

A trending sleeper going into 2019, Valdes-Scantling wound up to be a significant disappointment. Despite playing in each of the team’s 16 games, including four without the team’s No. 1 receive Davante Adams, Valdes-Scantling caught just 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns.

Aaron Rodgers looked more like his prime career-self than his past few years-self in Week 1, which is a great sign for all Packers receivers. However, we’re going to need to see a few more games like this from Valdes-Scantling to start buying in. Allen Lazard outperformed Valdes-Scantling in 2019, his first full NFL season, and he caught all four of his targets for 63 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. Overall, Lazard is a better bet to find some fantasy stability. Valdes-Scantling should remain on waivers as long as both Adams and Lazard are healthy.

 

Danny Amendola (WR, DET)

Week 1 Stats: 5 catches, 81 yards

For as long as Kenny Golladay (hamstring) remains out, Amendola is a fine flyer as a WR3 or flex in deep leagues. However, with Golladay in the lineup, he can’t be trusted. Even as the team was without their No. 1 receiver in Week 1, Amendola was still third in targets amongst wide receivers on the team. Rookie Quintez Cephus led the way with ten targets, followed by Marvin Jones Jr. with eight, then Amendola with seven.

 

John Brown (WR, BUF)

Week 1 Stats: 6 catches, 70 yards, 1 TD

This will probably be the most surprising name on the list for readers. Brown had a fantastic debut season in Buffalo last year, but with Stefon Diggs in town, it’s going to be extremely hard for Brown to find consistency. Brown led the Bills in targets in Week 1 with 10 but Diggs – who had nine targets – led the team in receptions (8) and receiving yards (86).

The Bills possessed the ball for 41 minutes in Week 1 and quarterback Josh Allen threw the ball 46 times in the game. He topped 40 passing attempts just once all of last year. The team also surprisingly only handed the ball off 18 times in the game. Brown will be a fantastic asset for the Bills as a No. 2 this year, but fantasy owners will find it hard to trust him for consistent production like he provided last year.

 

Willie Snead IV (WR, BAL)

Week 1 Stats: 4 catches, 64 yards, 1 TD

Snead is entering his third year with the Baltimore Ravens. Last year, he played all 16 games, but caught just 31 passes on 46 targets for 339 yards. He was a common red zone target for Lamar Jackson as he reeled in five touchdowns in 2019, but the rest of his stat-line left for a lot to be desired.

The Ravens’ receiving corps this year looks a lot like it did last year. Marquise Brown should lead the team in targets at receiver with Miles Boykin behind him. Rookie Devin Duvernay should also be part of the mix as well, while tight end Mark Andrews will regularly see a good amount of targets and be one of the team’s top red zone threats. Snead should be left on waivers in all leagues at this point.



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How NOT to Overreact to NFL Week 1

First thing’s first: take a deep breath. If you had a great Week 1, congratulations. If your team underpeformed, you’re not alone. Now is not the time to panic, and you have to be patient because your studs are studs for a reason. This is a one-game sample, so you need to maintain your patience with these guys. 

Those of you that are experienced in fantasy understand that Week 1 is always the craziest week of the season. You know that you’ll see guys like Kansas City Chiefs wideout Sammy Watkins explode for three touchdowns in one game then do nothing the rest of the season, or you’ll see a stud lay an egg to start the year for one reason or another. If it continues to Week 2 of Week 3, you might need to panic, but, for now, just relax. 

Today, we’ll be looking at the overreactions I’ve seen from around the Twitterverse over the last 24 hours. If I’m in a league with you, and you’re thinking about making one of these mistakes, please do it so I can reap the rewards. Now, on the other hand, let’s try to protect you from making one of these mistakes and putting yourself in a hole this early in the season.

 

Jared Goff Will Regress Upwards

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff had just 10.50 points in Week 1, and that number just isn’t indicative of his actual performance. He completed 20-of-31 passes for 275 yards. He wasn’t able to get any touchdowns on the night, and that gave him the sad final stat line. Throw in the interception he had when he threw the ball behind wideout Van Jefferson, and that night gets even worse. Goff did have four carries for 15 yards though, which was nice.

The Rams scored two touchdowns on Sunday, and they were from one and two yards out. One of them saw wide receiver Josh Reynolds get tackled at the two-yard line. Goff finished as QB13 last year, and he averaged 19 points per game. Goff is likely not your QB1 unless you completely punted on the position, but he’s still a solid option. Looking at Goff’s splits from last season, his 19 wasn’t indicative of his first-half performance. Nearly all of his metrics remained the same outside of an uptick in interceptions to drag his performance down.

 

Kirk Cousins’ Stat Line is Lying to You

The Minnesota Vikings got smoked in Week 1. The final score makes it look like they only lost by nine, but they got beaten into the ground. If you’re scouting box scores, quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 19-of-25 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also had four carries for 34 yards. All of that is well and good, but Cousins put up no stats when it mattered. He scored 21.76 points in Week 1. At the end of the first half, he had zero points on the dot.

This Vikings’ offense does not want to air the ball out unless they have to. If they had it their way, they would hand the ball to their running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison every single play.If you own Cousins, I would be trying to get value for him right now before he craters in their next win where he has just four throws. Last year, in games where the Vikings lost, Cousins was six points below his scoring average in wins. When this team expects Kirk to throw them into a game, they get beat.

 

Nick Chubb is Still the RB1

The Cleveland Browns Defense did running back Nick Chubb dirty in Week 1. While the offense was struggling to put up points, they’re not going to lean on his talents to milk the clock when they’re down 18 points at the end of the first half. He was actually extremely efficient with his touches which is the unfortunate part. He had 10 carries for 60 yards to go with one catch for six yards. After the Sunday games, he was RB47 on the week with just 5.6 points because of a lost fumble.

After Kareem Hunt got on the field last season, Chubb’s production got cut by 34 percent, but that wasn’t because he was dramatically less effective. His touchdown production cut down by an average of 0.5 per game, and his receiving work dwindled. His rushing is still effective, and this team will have better games going forward where he will be more involved throughout the game rather than blown out in the first half.

 

Don’t Trust Malcolm Brown

This one applies to Week 1 this year and last year. Last season, he was outcarried by former teammate Todd Gurley, but he fell into the end zone twice. Fast forward a year, and he did it again. He had just three more carries than rookie running back Cam Akers, but he was able to get into the end zone for two touchdowns. The volume doesn’t match the final fantasy line. While he could be the lead running back every week, you can’t rely on the touchdowns.

Akers even got the first two carries from scrimmage. Brown was brought in when the Rams got down to the six-yard line, and he got the ball into the end zone. You just can’t on him to get into the end zone every week, and you shouldn’t be putting him into your lineups as a result. Unless one running back clearly separates in this backfield, I won’t be starting any of them any time soon.

 

Michael Thomas is Still Good

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas was nearly the unanimous WR1 entering this season, and, in Week 1, he had what would have been his worst game in 2019. He finished with just 4.7 PPR points after catching three of his five targets for 17 yards. The Saints’ offense just looked disjointed all afternoon, and Thomas fell victim to that. He will be better moving forward.

Quarterback Drew Brees was checking the ball down a lot, and 16 of his 30 targets went in the direction of the running backs or tight ends. Even when Brees was out last season, Thomas was putting up elite fantasy numbers with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in place. This week was an outlier for him.

The high-ankle sprain that will keep him out several weeks is an obvious blow to his fantasy value. Don't sell low on him now, though. You are better off keeping him benched until the second half of the year where he can re-emerge and help you when it matters.

 

If you Have Sammy Watkins, Don’t Get Fooled Again

In Week 1 of last season, he had nine catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He didn’t perform like that again for the rest of the year. Now, he had seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. He led the team in catches, yards and targets in Week 1, and it’s just highly unlikely that he’ll be doing that considering he was third on the team in targets per game last season. He had just one more target than teammate Tyreek Hill despite playing two more games.

Now is the time to get value for Watkins while you can. This Chiefs’ offense is a gold mine, but it’s also impossible to predict. Hill and tight end Travis Kelce will always be locked in players for fantasy, but the other pass catchers are impossible to predict. Teammate Demarcus Robinson was a drop away from having a 15-point game to open the season. Over one-fourth of Watkins’ fantasy production came in that crazy Week 1 game last season. He can’t be trusted on a consistent basis. Start the studs, and let other people have the headache of trying to figure out who’s week it is to explode.

 

George Kittle is Better Than This

Our final topic of the day is tight end George Kittle. Kittle is still the TE1 in fantasy football. He’s just the best player in the game at his position. His blocking ability keeps him on the field at all times, and he’s quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target. Kittle got paid a contract that reset the market for a reason, and he’s going to have better games moving forward.

The craziest thing about this split is when it takes place. Kittle was dealing with an injury down the back stretch of last season, but that didn’t stop him from averaging nearly five more points per game during the final seven games. Kittle is as good as they come, and, after wideout Deebo Samuel’s (foot) setback, his stock just rose even higher in the immediate future. His own injury suffered in Week 1 may have hampered him a bit but it doesn't sound like he will miss any games.



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Running Back Committees Worth Investing In

Running back committees are the worst. We can all agree on that, right? You go into the season drafting a guy that you’re expecting to get 300+ touches in a year, and it becomes evident early on that he will in fact be splitting touches with that fourth-round rookie. Rather than getting 25 touches in a game, he’s getting between 12-18. That’s an ok number, but it could be a whole lot better.

Now, if you draft a guy out of a committee, you can still get value from him as long as you have your expectations set appropriately. That’s what we’re going to try and target today. These are the guys who are in committees that you can still put in your starting lineups with confidence and expect they'll put up a safe amount of points every week. They aren’t likely to get you RB1 numbers, but they can get you RB2 numbers without much trouble. 

A committee that still presents value isn’t the most common, but you can still find them if you go looking for them. I wouldn’t advocate for you to make any of these guys your top running backs because there will be weeks where they get scripted out of the game because of score or the other back getting hot. However, having them as your second or third guy is a great option.

 

San Francisco 49ers

I think we all knew this one was coming. Last year, the 49ers were the second-best running offense in the NFL, and they had three running backs who could have been the lead guy on any given week. That doesn’t factor in running back Jerick McKinnon, who has seen his first two seasons in San Francisco cut short before they ever got started. Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Raheem Mostert each shouldered workloads as the lead backs last season.

Breida is gone, but McKinnon is expected to be healthy. The value that is presented in this backfield is immense. Mostert will likely be the lead guy from the outset, especially after he was given a restructured contract this offseason. He still makes less than the other two guys, but he’s coming off a postseason that saw him put up some healthy totals. I’ve got him ranked in my top-24 running backs as a result.

When the 49ers chose to give one of their running backs at least 10 carries, those guys were producing. This scheme hasn’t changed, and they added Trent Williams this offseason to man the left tackle spot that was vacated by longtime starter Joe Staley. Because they’re in a committee, you can get each of Mostert, Coleman, and McKinnon at severely discounted ADPs. This is a backfield with a lot of value to be had.

 

Indianapolis Colts

This backfield is one that I expect to evolve throughout the season. Incumbents Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines figure to have well-defined roles early on, but rookie Jonathan Taylor appears poised to be the late-season guy that you’ll be wanting to own. Mack was at his best when the team let him get rolling early in the game. Now, with an improved defense, he should have more late-game opportunities to put up points.

With quarterback Philip Rivers under center, this offense will have a much different feel from last year. With that, you can expect a much better season from running back Nyheim Hines. Hines has registered 107 receptions through two years, which is just 30 fewer catches than he has carries. He’s not going to be Austin Ekeler 2.0, but he does have the ability to put in an RB3 season through the volume of his receptions. 

The final piece of this puzzle is Taylor. Right now, Taylor is coming off the board as RB20 compared to RB38 for Mack. I love Taylor as much as the next guy, but I can’t be really be drafting the guy that’s going to be the backup to start the year that early. If you are ok with him failing to return on investment for the first month or so of the season, grab him because he will bring that value later in the year and could help you possibly win your league.

 

Baltimore Ravens

The NFL’s best rushing offense from last season should be the top unit again in 2020. Quarterback Lamar Jackson makes it impossible to defend him in traditional ways, and that’s why they’re so successful. Behind Jackson, Mark Ingram had a great year en route to an RB11 finish. They added rookie running back J.K. Dobbins in the draft and this stable is absolutely terrifying for opponents.

With Ingram, you’re getting a guy that has seen a career resurgence in the last four years. Excluding the 2018 season where he dealt with some injuries and a suspension, he’s gone over 1000 yards in each season, and he’s scored 44 touchdowns in that time span. The threat of Lamar’s running ability forces teams to dedicate fewer resources to him, and that’s going to remain this year. However, if you’re drafting Ingram to be an RB1 again, you’re a little high on him. I will say that one thing I love about Ingram is his efficiency. From the first half of the season to the second half, his scoring line was nearly identical. You just can’t argue with that. His ceiling isn’t the highest, but his floor is damn good.

Who should you be rostering after Ingram? It’s Dobbins. The second-round pick was arguably the best running back in the draft this year, and he’s already been hyped up this offseason by coaches and players. Dobbins brings the aspect of receiving to this team, but he’s also a great runner, which is how he’s able to take over the Justice Hill role. Dobbins averaged 6.2 yards per carry during his time at Ohio State, and he can show that efficiency again. 

If you’re looking for a third running back to roster in this backfield, I would go with Gus Edwards. Edwards doesn’t bring much in the running game, but he’s extremely efficient at running the ball. He’s averaging 5.3 yards per carry, which is an extremely impressive mark. If either Dobbins or Ingram goes down with an injury, he would instantly move up the depth chart. 

Committees can reap havoc on your fantasy team if you’re expecting to draft an elite talent that sees his value diminished due to an insurance back. However, if you plan for it, you can build your roster with this committee member as your third running back with upside if he’s able to emerge. Don’t be afraid of committees. Just know how to manage them appropriately.



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