I’ll just say I enjoyed Wild Card Weekend. I’m still processing the Cowboys’ and Cardinals’ decisions, but excited to see the Divisional games unfold this weekend. We’ve got some practice news to catch up on, but another playoff week means we’re getting closer to the offseason. Last week, I went through three team situations I’m looking forward to next season. Let’s dive a bit deeper and look at three players worth remembering in drafts once the lobbies open in a few weeks.
Role Players for 2022
Throughout the offseason, non-rookie draft talk will typically revolve around the big names. Don’t get me wrong. I think they’re healthy discussions to shape our strategies, but we need more than star power to take down leagues next season. Well, unless another season like Cooper Kupp’s or Jonathan Taylor’s happens again. So, I looked into three potential late-round options that should still see work after making splashes in 2021.
Josh Palmer – Chargers
Any post-mortem analysis on the Chargers feels disappointing after how their season ended. I’m still trying to process their season finale, but at least we can see how this offense can grow over the summer.
At worst, Josh Palmer solidified his spot in the receiver rotation after his productive rookie campaign. His boxscore (49-353-4) may point to mediocrity, but his usage hints at much more. Palmer earned a starting role from Weeks 13-17 with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen in and out of the lineup. Palmer tied Allen in targets and had the second-most targets inside the 20-yard line. At best, Palmer made his case to have a larger role in 2022.
Targets Per Route Run
I use Targets per Route Run (TPRR) to help measure quarterback intent. Earning a target has its own set of variables (e.g., route technique, creating separation), but TPRR tells us how much that matters to a quarterback. Palmer didn’t catch up to the primary players but clearly separated from Jalen Guyton, who’s in his third year.
Palmer’s shown to be capable in their roles outside of being a deep threat. Mike Williams (unrestricted), Jared Cook (unrestricted), and Jalen Guyton (restricted) will all be free agents this offseason. The uncertainty will keep Palmer’s ADP low, so I’ll be looking for him in drafts throughout the offseason.
Khalil Herbert – Bears
I have blinders for certain players. Like, my mouse hitches towards the “Draft Player” button whenever I see any Bengals player. I had blinders for Damien Williams. The “should-have-been” 2019 Super Bowl MVP on a team with an injured pass-catching back was too hard to pass up. Whew, I whiffed on that one.
Khalil Herbert never crossed my mind last summer. Sixth-round rookies rarely do. But, coincidentally, the 49ers drafted Elijah Mitchell a handful of picks earlier. So it seems worthwhile to understand their skill sets. It’s why I used Matt Waldman’s video versus a highlight clip. We only had Herbert as the primary ball carrier for three games, but the vision and power were there. His short span as a starter makes a quantitative comparison less actionable but still valuable when considering Herbert for next season.
MTF per Attempt
It may have been out of necessity, but Chicago deployed Herbert like they did David Montgomery. And Herbert performed similarly. He instantly earned a role in the passing game and was the only running back to reach 100 yards against Tampa Bay. There’s no doubt Herbert possesses the talent, but the uncertainty in his surroundings is a fair concern.
We should expect changes to the offense as ownership remakes the front office and coaching staff. Good changes, I hope, but changes nonetheless. A greater role for Herbert should be possible with Tarik Cohen as a potential cap casualty and the offense taking a step forward with Justin Fields. Regardless, I’d consider Herbert a top handcuff as a worst-case scenario with even greater value if we hear about any role change.
Zay Jones – Raiders
I have Zay Jones last because of his contract situation. Although, I’m assuming he stays based on the team’s needs and Jones’ contributions. He didn’t blow them away initially but showed up when needed the most.
Here’s a quick insight into my night last Saturday. I stopped sitting after this play. Jones removed any comfort I had throughout the first half, and I was pacing about the rest of the game. But credit where it’s due, as Jones stepped up in the Raiders’ first playoff game since 2016. And, his Wild Card performance wasn’t just a one-time deal.
Jones’ TPRR and share of the team’s air yards were on a steady climb to close out the season. He led the team in targets over their final four games. Granted, Darren Waller’s absence and Henry Ruggs’ dismissal created the void for Jones to fill. But it’s not like Bryan Edwards took the job. DeSean Jackson’s snap share crested 50% only twice over the final nine weeks of the season. After his time in Buffalo, I brushed off Jones as a fantasy option, but Las Vegas’ coaching staff would like us to reconsider.
The Raiders still need a true X receiver, but it shouldn’t diminish Jones’ role in the offense. He still has to improve his route technique, but he’d thrive with an alpha receiver opposite him. Again, uncertainty will be critical to his value. Hunter Renfrow and Waller will be the focus for most drafters. I won’t dismiss them, but I’ll be looking for Jones later if their prices are too high.
It’s mostly clear on the COVID-19 front to start the playoffs. No team has an active roster player out, but half of them have a practice squad or reserves player on the list. It’s a good sign we’ll have each team at full strength (whatever that means after nearly five months of playing), but how each team manages its injuries throughout the week will be critical.
These are just a few names that either missed the Wildcard round or were limited throughout the contest. We should have a good idea who’s in or out by Friday with all of the media focus, but it’s worth monitoring over the next couple of days.
- Leonard Fournette – Hamstring – Just a walkthrough yesterday, but he was in uniform for it and announced his return via social media.
- Ronald Jones – Ankle – Another DNP to start the week, but their first “real” practice later today will give us a better gauge on his status.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Shoulder – Labeled as a full participant yesterday, but today’s practice will be a bigger test for him.
- Darrel Williams – Toe – Played only 12% of the snaps last week and didn’t practice yesterday to let his toe rest another day.
And, just in time, we’ve got a couple of players returning to practice that will make lineups (real and fantasy) interesting for this weekend.
This was from Tuesday, but Derrick Henry got in his first padded practice yesterday. He acknowledged the big steel plate in his right foot but appears on track to play against Cincinnati. Green Bay’s also getting some help, but in a slightly lesser form than Henry.
Matt LaFleur just green-lighted Randall Cobb to play Saturday night vs. the 49ers and said David Bakhtiari will practice today and then they will see how he responds.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) January 19, 2022
Randall Cobb will return from his core muscle injury sustained in Week 12. We won’t know how much he’ll play, but his connection with Aaron Rodgers will be critical in third-down and red-zone situations as he had a 59% snap share in scoring position before getting injured.