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Friday Walkthrough: Saquon Barkley is Back

Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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Welcome to the Friday Walkthrough. Every week I’ll be outlining critical fantasy football context for the upcoming slate of games.

At the end of the article I’ve included an extensive list of the stats used to write this article, what they are, why they’re useful, and where they came from.

Let’s get to the games!

Byes: None

Already Played: Jaguars, Bengals

Titans at Jets, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Titans Implied Team Total: 25.5

The last two weeks have produced some positive signs for the Titans passing attack. Ryan Tannehill was third in play action rate in Weeks 2-3 after finishing 31st in Week 1. That’s helped boost his efficiency; he’s finished eighth in EPA per play over the last two weeks. If A.J. Brown hadn’t not been knocked out very early in Week 3, Tannehill’s passing efficiency would likely be even higher.

The question for this offense is: did Todd Downing realize that he needs to keep a heavy play action attack in place after a disastrous Week 1, or is he play actioning because Derrick Henry has been steamrolling defenses? We’re not going to get the answer to that question this week.

The Jets rank 20th in EPA allowed per rush. Although they’re also very vulnerable to the pass, ranking 23rd, there’s essentially no universe in which Derrick Henry doesn’t get established early in this game. The Titans should have an effective run game, which Downing will happily play action off of at a high rate. [[ad:athena]]

Derrick Henry leads the league in rush attempts this season. Over the last two weeks, he has 63 attempts. The next closest running back over that span is Joe Mixon... with 38. Henry is going to be fed in this matchup and the Jets’ only real chance of limiting him is to slow the pace of the game.

The Titans may be willing to help in that regard. The 2021 Titans are taking 5+ additional seconds between plays compared to last year’s situation neutral pace. They finished third in situation neutral seconds per play last season. They’re down to 21st this season. The jury is out on whether Downing is going to embrace the play action attack that fueled the Titans passing efficiency under Arthur Smith, but Downing now seems very unlikely to run his offense as quickly as Smith did.

Derrick Henry continues to see targets, seeing three more in Week 3. Henry’s now seen 3+ targets in every game this season, something he only did four times in 16 games in 2020. If he sees just three targets again this week, Henry will already be over halfway to hitting his 2020 target total.

Henry’s receiving role will be the big story in the passing game this week, because all of the Titans wide receivers are hurt. Both Julio Jones and A.J. Brown are dealing with hamstring injuries. The Titans may get Jones this week, but Brown will miss the game.

Last week’s injuries left Nick Westbrook-Ikhine as the Titans top receiver. Westbrook-Ikhine went 4-for-53 with a TD, and a strong 2.12 YPRR. But that was driven by a 13.3 YPT, and he was only targeted on 16% of his routes. Derrick Henry could be close to the entire offense this week unless Julio Jones is a full-go.

Jets Implied Team Total: 19

The Jets continue to be an absolute disaster. As a reminder, all of the EPA stats I use in this article have garbage time filtered out. That doesn’t apply specifically to the Jets, but for some reason it felt relevant to mention that here.

Last week I gave the Jets’ coaching staff a hard time for their play selection, which has been very run heavy on 1st-and-10. Then in Week 3 they passed 12% over expected on 1st-and-10. So while I have the franchise’s ear... Zach Wilson is holding the ball too long.

Wilson ranks third in time to throw per attempt, behind only Jameis Winston and Lamar Jackson this season. You would expect that tendency to lead to a ton of pressure. Sure enough, only Carson Wentz has faced pressure on a higher percentage of his dropbacks this season. The Jets offensive line isn’t helping all that much; PFF grades them as the 23rd pass blocking unit. But the line isn’t fully to blame here. Wilson needs to do a better job of getting the ball out quickly, or the Jets are going to struggle yet again, even against the Titans’ 27th ranked pass rush.

If Wilson can speed things up a bit, or the Titans fail to rush him effectively, Wilson is at least willing to throw downfield. With an aDOT of 9.1, Wilson is attempting throws at the 11th highest average depth. His aDOT is only slightly lower than Patrick Mahomes'. He’s also attempting passes of 20+ yards at the 11th highest rate.

If Wilson can show signs of life in this matchup, Corey Davis would be the main beneficiary. Davis has a fairly deep aDOT of 11.9 and a 22% target share with a 29% air yard share. Davis has earned a target on 22% of his routes, and is playing well despite his surrounding situation.

Elijah Moore has earned a target on 21% of his routes with a 13.7 aDOT. His 3.7 YPT is horrendous, but it’s type of thing that can turn around quickly if Wilson picks up his game. Unfortunately Moore will miss this game with a concussion.

With Tevin Coleman inactive in Week 3, Michael Carter led the team in carries, nine to three. But Ty Johnson led in snaps 57% to 43%, and in targets, five to three. The two should form a committee this week. I’d take Carter if you made me pick one, but please don’t do that.

Lions at Bears, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Lions Implied Team Total: 19.25

The Lions offense has been far more fantasy friendly to this point than we expected. Whether that continues into Week 4 will be largely up to the Bears. The Lions are 31st in situation neutral pass rate, but they’ve trailed for an average of over 37 minutes per game this season, the seventh highest rate. To the Lions credit, they have a pass rate over expected of 1%. They have a clear philosophical preference for the run when in close games, but are willing to embracing the pass when trailing.

This week they could finally find themselves in enough neutral or even positive game script to fully establish it. That is, unless Justin Fields and Matt Nagy are far more capable this week than they were against the Browns. Even if the Bears’ offense rebounds slightly in a good matchup, they don’t seem likely to push the Lions as much as the 49ers, Packers and Ravens. This week, we could finally see the Lions playing their preferred style of football.

This is actually bad news for the Lions’ most fantasy relevant player: D’Andre Swift. Swift leads Jamaal Williams in snaps 63% to 40%, but his real advantage comes as a receiver, where he has is averaging three more targets per game than Williams. Things are much tighter on the ground, where Swift has seen just two more attempts per game. A run heavy environment may convert some of Swift’s valuable targets to less valuable carries, and he’s likely to lose more of his overall workload to Williams. Then again, Dan Campbell recently indicated that the Lions plan to increase Swift’s role. So Swift’s snaps could be on the rise regardless of game script. I’d still prefer more passing attempts than we’re likely to see this week.

The same goes for T.J. Hockenson, who is coming off his worst game this season against a Ravens defense that made taking him away their focal point. Hockenson is obviously a locked in starter for fantasy. But if the Lions’ passing volume declines, it could be back-to-back disappointing weeks for the young star.

Bears Implied Team Total: 22.75

Last week I was excited for Justin Fields’ starting debut. Part of that excitement stemmed from the idea that Matt Nagy would have a game plan built around his quarterback’s skillset. He did not. In my defense, I wasn’t not the only one shocked by that.

I spent the offseason in confusion as to why Nagy would insist that Fields sit behind Andy Dalton for an entire year. Dalton spent 2020 failing to generate offense in Dallas with some of the best weapons in football. Nagy then willingly chose Dalton as his play to keep an impatient fan base at bay. It seemed like a bold strategy, to say the least. After Week 3, his approach makes a lot more sense. Nagy clearly had no idea how to design an offense around Fields and he was rightfully worried about fans’ reactions when they found out.

Fields’ debut was a train wreck, to the point that conspiracy theories were floated on A Good Football Show. Fields took nine sacks on 30 dropbacks and spent 12 of his 35 plays in garbage time. Excluding garbage time he ranked 29th in EPA per play in Week 3, in between Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson.

This week we’ll see if Nagy is willing to learn from his mistakes—or at least let offensive coordinator, and hopefully new play caller, Bill Lazor learn from them. In either case, Bears pass catchers are now extremely difficult to trust. Darnell Mooney has a 0.97 yards per route run, worse than Kendrick Bourne. Allen Robinson has a 0.90 YPRR, worse than Zach Pascal. Cole Kmet has a 0.67 YPRR, worse than Jordan Akins. I try hard to keep this article evidence based and to avoid hyperbole, but Matt Nagy should be launched into the sun.

There’s one Bears player who might still be in Nagy’s corner: David Montgomery. Montgomery saw 82% of the Bears’ Week 3 snaps and after dealing with an injury in Week 1, now has 81% of the Bears snaps over the last two weeks. If Montgomery had played the same role in Week 1, his 81% snap share would be the second highest running back share in the NFL. The Lions are much weaker agains the pass than the run, ranking last in the NFL in EPA allowed per dropback and 14th in EPA allowed per rush. So Montgomery may not be the focus of the Bears attack if the offense comes back to life this week. But he should have a vise-grip on snaps, which makes him the most trustworthy Bears skill player in this matchup.

Colts at Dolphins, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Colts Implied Team Total: 20.5

Carson Wentz is coming off a rough week where he finished 26th in EPA per play on two bum ankles. He now ranks 31st in EPA per play for the season, ahead of only Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson. The Colts have been aware of their predicament for all of 2021, hiding Wentz with the fifth slowest situation neutral pace. They’ve also been run heavy, ranking 21st in pass rate over expected. To Frank Reich‘s credit however, they’ve been pass heavy on 1st-and-10, ranking eighth in pass rate over expected. The Colts are trying to hide Wentz whenever possible, but they’re also giving themselves a chance for passing production by having Wentz dropback when the defense is forced to play both the run and the pass.

The Colts shouldn’t have too much trouble deploying a low volume passing game plan this week. The Dolphins rank 17th in EPA allowed per rush, and the Dolphins offense ranks 29th in offensive EPA per play over the last two weeks. In other words, the Dolphins don’t have a shutdown run defense and their Brissett-led offense won’t be able to push the Colts out of a run heavy game plan.

Marlon Mack was a healthy scratch in Week 3. With reports that the Colts are looking to trade him, he should be expected to miss Week 4 as well. But despite Mack’s absence against the Titans, Jonathan Taylor saw just 48% of snaps to 56% for Nyheim Hines. Taylor is now at 50% of snaps for the season with Hines at 46%. Even more troubling, Hines got both carries inside the 10 yard line, or green zone. There’s no need to panic, however. Those carries were Hines’ first two green zone opportunities this year, and Ben Gretch chalked the usage up to game script. Taylor had 10 green zone touches Weeks 1-2. In a non-blowout script, he should get back on track here.

Michael Pittman is the only interesting Colts pass catcher this week. He has a 27% target share this season and a 43% air yard share. With an aDOT of 11.5, he’s being used as a classic No. 1 option. Pittman has yet to score a TD and has a middling YPT of 8.1, but if Wentz’s play improves this week, Pittman could have a nice game.

Dolphins Implied Team Total: 22

Jacoby Brissett ranks 30th in EPA per play this season. The Dolphins may be able to raise his efficiency if they tweak their play selection.

Tua Tagovailoa has run play action on 37% of his dropbacks this season, the highest percentage in the league. Brissett currently ranks 29th in play action rate. Miami has smartly been passing at a high rate on 1st-and-10 with Brissett, finishing 4% over expected in Week 2 and 7% over expected in Week 3, so they’re largely playing their hand well. Why so little play action then, after utilizing it heavily in Week 1?

My guess is Miami stopped running play action because they haven’t been able to run the ball. They ranked 32nd in EPA per rush in Week 2 and 28th in Week 3. In Week 1, they were much stronger on the ground, ranking ninth in EPA per rush. Tagovailoa ran play action on 35% of his dropbacks that week.

Over the last two weeks, the Dolphins have faced a Bills defense that ranks fifth in EPA allowed per rush and a Raiders defense that ranks seventh. If they can get the run going against a Colts defense that ranks 15th—like they did against the Patriots 18th ranked rush defense—then we could see a much healthier play action rate from Brissett.

This would be welcome news for the Dolphins’ pass catchers, particularly Will Fuller. In his Dolphins debut, Fuller was back to his pre-2020 pure deep threat role. He had a 20 aDOT and racked up 120 air yards on six targets, but converted for just 3-for-20. Fuller ran a route on only 70% of dropbacks, so Week 4 offers upside for a bigger role. That role may come with a better deep passing game, built off play action. On the other hand, his high aDOT and Brissett’s poor play make him a very risky option.

Jaylen Waddle offers the best risk/reward profile of the Dolphins pass catchers this week. If the Dolphins offense operates as it has, he’ll be peppered with shallow targets. Waddle has an aDOT of just 3.7 this season, and has 20 targets over the last two weeks. But if the Dolphins operate more like they did in Week 1, when Waddle had a 10.2 aDOT, his connection with Brissett offers serious upside.

Assuming that the Dolphins won’t go to a play action heavy attack unless they get the run game going... a lot depends on Miami’s rushing attack this week. We saw some consolidation in the Dolphins backfield in Week 2, but not in a way that helped Myles Gaskin. He had a 58% snap share entering the game and actually dropped down to 52% in Week 3. The backup split shifted heavily to Malcolm Brown, however. Brown saw 41% of snaps to just 6% for Salvon Ahmed. Brown had led 23% to 21% prior to Week 3. Brown’s increased usage isn’t a great sign for Gaskin, because Brown has seen all three of the Dolphins carries inside the 10 this season. Gaskin should once again have a clear lead in snaps, but he’s a Chase Edmonds style player right now, in a much worse offense.

Browns at Vikings, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Browns Implied Team Total: 26.75

The Browns continue to be extremely run heavy this season, ranking 29th in pass rate over expected overall, and 31st on 1st-and-10. They also rank 26th in situation neutral pass rate. But the Browns played keep away from Patrick Mahomes in Week 1 and their last six quarters have been against Davis Mills and a pure pocket-passer version of Justin Fields. This week will tell us a lot about who the Browns actually are, because they can attack the Vikings through the air or on the ground. The Vikings rank 20th in EPA allowed per dropback, and have an offense capable of goading the Browns into a pass heavy script. They also rank 27th in EPA allowed per rush, and if the Browns really do prefer to run the ball when possible, Mike Zimmer will happily match them with a run heavy attack of his own.

Baker Mayfield has been good with his opportunities, ranking between Tom Brady and Justin Herbert in EPA perplay. Brady and Herbert’s moderate efficiency is going a lot further however, because those quarterbacks are in high volume attacks. Perhaps Mayfield’s efficiency wouldn’t sustain at that level of passing, but his accuracy suggests otherwise. Mayfield has been highly accurate this season, ranking sixth in CPOE. I’m optimistic on his upside if the Browns open up the passing game this week.

Odell Beckham had a solid return in Week 3, with five receptions for 77 yards. He could be in for a much bigger game against the Vikings. Beckham accounted for 32% of the Browns’ targets and 49% of the Browns’ air yards. That was while running a route on 85% of dropbacks. This week, Beckham could see his routes increase to around 95%, assuming that’s where he’ll ultimately settle. If the Browns finally lean on their passing game, he could be in for a big day.

With Jarvis Landry out, Rashard Higgins was the primary slot receiver for the Browns, with Donovan Peoples-Jones as the secondary outside wide receiver and Anthony Schwartz mixing in on the outside. Tight end routes were split three ways again, and the tight end targets continue to be a nightmare to predict.

Nick Chubb splits carries and has a very limited receiving role. We know this. He’s still a highly valuable fantasy player because of his rushing efficiency. Chubb finished first in NFL Next Gen’s rushing success rate last season, and he continues to be strong in that metric, ranking ninth this season. Chubb is also second in the NFL in PFF’s elusive rating, after finishing first last season. The problem for Chubb is that Kareem Hunt is playing even better right now. Hunt leads the NFL in both metrics. As a result, Chubb has little chance to see his role grow this week. But with both players running at an elite level, and the Brown potentially leaning heavily on the rush again this week, Chubb and Hunt each look like strong plays.

Vikings Implied Team Total: 24.75

Dalvin Cook looks likely to play this week, and his return is well-timed. The Vikings have been pass heavy this season, but Mike Zimmer has been fighting it every step of the way. The Vikings are 26th in pass rate over expected and 21st in situation neutral pass rate. They’ve been running when the game script has allowed, and have only been passing heavily because they’ve been forced to. The Vikings have also been trying to slow the game down to avoid the dreaded pass, ranking 25th in situation neutral pace. The Browns rank 26th in pace, which means this game could finally deliver the deliberate run heavy environment that Zimmer has been craving.

Unfortunately for Zimmer and Cook, the Browns defense ranks sixth in EPA allowed per rush, and 31st in EPA allowed per dropback. The Vikings will likely start the game attacking on the ground, but they may need to pivot quickly to the pass. If so, Kirk Cousins could find himself throwing 30+ times for the fourth straight time this season, after only hitting that mark 10 times in 16 games last season.

Cousins has played well, ranking 11th in EPA per play, and his receivers are benefiting. Justin Jefferson came through for us last week with a 9-118-1 receiving line and a 3.19 YPRR. Jefferson has a 2.1 YPRR this season and K.J. Osborn has an impressive 1.91 YPRR. Adam Thielen has actually been mediocre in YPRR with a mark of just 1.47. But Cousins looks to him constantly at the goal line, allowing him to rack up four TDs. Tyler Conklin emerged last week as well. And although the tight end has only run a route on 62% of dropbacks this year, he has been targeted on 20% of his routes. Cousins is looking for him when he’s out there. If the Browns offense, or strong run defense pushes the Vikings to throw in this game, Cousins is capable of putting up a lot of points, and which could cost me dinner.

Washington at Falcons, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Washington Implied Team Total: 24.5

Taylor Heinicke ranks 23rd in EPA/play, but he’s coming off of a very difficult matchup with the Bills. The Bills defense ranked third in EPA allowed per dropback heading into Week 3. They’re now the NFL’s best ranked pass defense. This week Heinicke faces a much easier test in the Falcons’ 16th ranked pass defense.

That said, Heinicke may not be called on to pass very much in this game. The Falcons are highly vulnerable on the ground ranking 26th in EPA allowed per rush. This could be a game where the Football Team leans on its rushing attack. This would be great news for Antonio Gibson given his utilization this season. Per Dwain McFarland, Gibson saw zero long down and distance snaps in Week 3 and zero 2-minute snaps. He’s seen just 7% and 3% of those snaps this season. There’s also the slight concern that J.D. McKissic started the game in Week 3 and saw Washington’s first carry, on a 1st-and-10. Gibson still out carried McKissic, 12-to-3, and in a poor game script for his early down role, Gibson still played 57% of snaps to 46% for McKissic. It’s definitely possible that even a run heavy game script includes a fair amount of McKissic. But given Gibson’s big play ability, he has an intriguing ceiling this week.

Terry McLaurin is the only player in the league to run a route on 100% of his team’s dropbacks this season. McLaurin also has a target on 23% of his routes for a very strong 29% target share and 33% air yard share. Despite Washington’s struggling offense, McLaurin has a 2.16 YPRR. If Washington pushes the pace as a favorite, he could be in for a big week.

To that point, pace guru Pat Thorman has hopes for a “beautifully ugly” up-tempo game environment here. With both teams somewhat up-tempo and with defenses that can be passed on, we could see quite a bit of play volume here. If so, Logan Thomas is pretty interesting this week. Thomas’ production continues to be driven by his high route percentage. No tight end has run a route on a higher percentage of dropbacks than Thomas’ 93% this season. But Thomas has been targeted on just 14% of his routes. Thomas has Darren Waller route opportunity, but is earning targets at the same rate as Kyle Pitts and Zach Ertz. Earning targets was an issue for Thomas in 2020 as well, so I don’t expect that to change. But he’ll be out there for nearly every route this week, and there could be quite a few of those.

At least Thomas is earning targets at a higher rate than Dyami Brown. Brown has earned a target on just 13% of his routes and that inefficiency may already be affecting his playing time. Brown ran route on over 90% of dropbacks in Weeks 1-2. In Week 3 his routes dropped to 68% and Cam Sims played ahead of him to close the game, running a route on 32% of dropbacks. With Curtis Samuel slated to return soon, Brown can return to your deep league waiver wire watchlist. He hasn’t clicked with Heinicke at all so far and has just a 0.36 YPRR this season.

Falcons Implied Team Total: 23

Matt Ryan ranks 27th in EPA per play this season, and the loss of Julio Jones appears to have turned him into Andy Dalton. Dalton is the only quarterback in the NFL with a lower aDOT than Ryan this season. Ryan’s 4.9 aDOT is lower than Alex Smith’s 2020 aDOT of 5.4, which was the lowest in the league last year. It’s also worse than Teddy Bridgewater‘s league low 2019 aDOT of 6.1. It should be no surprise then, that Ryan ranks dead last in deep passing rate, with just three attempts of 20+ yards all season, good for 2.6% of his attempts. For comparison, Lamar Jackson leads the league with a deep ball on 22% of his attempts. Ryan also hasn’t been particularly accurate. He ranks 21st in CPOE, just ahead of Jackson. Imagine if Lamar Jackson couldn’t run or throw deep, and you’re looking at Matt Ryan this season.

Ryan’s combination of poor play and shallow throws has been a disaster for the Falcons’ passing game, although there were some tiny signs of life in Week 3. Olamide Zaccheaus replaced an injured Russell Gage in the slot, and had an aDOT of 11, compared to Gage’s 3.4. Kyle Pitts also had an aDOT of 11.7, the highest aDOT of any Falcons player this season. In this environment Calvin Ridley managed his highest YPRR of the season (1.61) on a massive 31% target share and 35% air yard share. Washington has PFF’s 29th graded coverage this season. If anyone can take advantage this week, it’s Ridley.

Washington does not look like a good matchup for Ryan, however. One of the advantages of throwing short is that it allows you to get the ball out quickly. Andy Dalton may have an aDOT of 4.6, but at least he’s averaged the shortest time to throw per attempt in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger just targeted a rookie running back 19 times in one game, but at least he has the second quickest time to throw per attempt. Ryan is the 18th quickest quarterback in time to throw, and is closer to 33rd ranked Zach Wilson than he is to Andy Dalton. Washington’s defense hasn’t lived up to its 2021 billing, but that’s been due to their poor secondary, not PFF’s fourth graded pass rush. Week 4 is setting Ryan up to face a lot of pressure. When he gets the ball out, it’s unlikely to be for big chunk gains like Josh Allen delivered last week. Instead it’s more likely to be slow developing check downs.

Many of those check downs will go to Mike Davis, who clearly remains the Falcons lead running back. He has 67% of snaps to just 36% for Cordarrelle Patterson. Davis also has a strong 15% target share. His struggles this season have primarily been efficiency related. By PFF’s expected points metric, Davis has left 15.7 points on the field this year. He’s had more fantasy opportunity than Austin Ekeler and Joe Mixon through three weeks, but he’s been outscored by Nyheim Hines. Davis could get going here with a strong setup for check down work and facing Washington’s 23rd ranked defense in EPA allowed per rush.

Patterson will likely remain heavily involved, however. He has a 14% target share this season and has been Atlanta’s only efficient playmaker. Among players with at least 30 routes, Patterson leads the NFL in YPRR with 3.92. That efficiency has been driven primarily by extreme target volume. Seeing a target on 38% of his routes, Patterson also leads the NFL in targets per route run (Davante Adams in second). This is a similar setup to Tony Pollard‘s situation entering Week 3. When a part time player is getting the ball on a huge percentage of their snaps and playing well, it’s a good bet that they’ll see more snaps. Pollard saw his snaps jump by nearly 10% in Week 3, and we could see a similar dynamic here if the Falcons go pass heavy.

Texans at Bills, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Texans Implied Team Total: 15

This matchup is frankly unfair. The betting market agrees, giving the Texans the lowest implied team total on the week. It’s not hard to see why. Davis Mills ranks 25th in EPA per play and 27th in CPOE. He faces a Bills defense this week that ranks first in the NFL in EPA allowed per dropback.



The Bills defense is slightly more susceptible to the run, but they’re quite good there too. More importantly, the Bills offense is going to score points. The Texans can run to protect Mills for a while, but eventually he’s going to have to dropback against the Bills’ buzzsaw pass defense.

When he does, he’s going to be looking for Brandin Cooks... a lot. Cooks leads the league in WOPR, with a 37% target share and a 57% air yard share. Despite carrying a Tyrod Taylor / Davis Mills pass game on his back, he’s also been highly efficient. His 3.35 YPRR is seventh in the NFL among players with 20+ targets. This sets up as a tough week for Cooks, but we assumed it would be a tough season for him, and so far that has proven incorrect.

The Texans backfield is an absurd mess. Mark Ingram leads with a 38% snap share and David Johnson is second with 36%. But Phillip Lindsay (22%) and Rex Burkhead (15%) are also seeing meaningful snaps.

Bills Implied Team Total: 32

Josh Allen struggled badly to open the season, ranking 25th in EPA per play and 28th in CPOE through two weeks. Against Washington he was back to his 2020 form, ranking 11th in EPA per play and third in CPOE. Now he faces a Texans defense that has faced the Jaguars, Browns and Panthers, and has come away ranked 29th in EPA allowed per dropback. The Texans are much better against the run, ranking 13th, but that will do them no good here.

The Bills rank ninth in pass rate over expected this season, and first in situation neutral pass rate, and no team throws on 1st-and-10 more often than the Bills. Allen should have plenty of opportunities to pick on Houston’s 23rd graded coverage unit. It’s possible that PFF’s 13th graded pass rush make him uncomfortable, but he just handled Washington’s fourth graded pass rush with ease, so I don’t expect Houston to give him much trouble.

The bigger concern for his fantasy output is that the Texans offense won’t be able to push the Bills to keep scoring. But the Texans offense may not even need to push them, because the Bills are highly self-motivated. Buffalo ranks second in situation neutral pace this season, and could rack up points even in a one-sided blowout.

While Allen regained his 2020 form in Week 3, Stefon Diggs did not. Diggs has a strong 26% target share and 35% air yard share, and has been targeted on a very strong 24% of his routes. In Week 1 he ran a route on 98% of dropbacks, but he’s been at 89% and 79% in the Bills following blowout wins. Those missing routes have hurt him a little bit, but his 6.4 YPT has had a bigger impact, taking his YPRR down from last year’s elite 2.49 to a mediocre 1.53. Diggs is a very safe bet to rebound from poor per target efficiency. While this week may again see him on the sideline to close out a big win, it could also see him connect on a much higher percentage of his air yards. At 396 air yards this season, Diggs trails only Brandin Cooks and Davante Adams.

Emmanuel Sanders has clearly secured the secondary outside role for the Bills, and is coming off a two TD day. With an aDOT of 18.5, he’s only a few plays away from a big another big week. Cole Beasley is more under the radar, but his 25% TPRR is outstanding, and he could also be in for some positive YPT regression. Beasley has a 6.7 YPT this season after averaging 9.3 last year.

Dawson Knox has run routes on 75%+ of dropbacks for consecutive weeks, and has a 13% TPRR. He’s still mostly a TD or bust dart throw, but his role appears to have expanded in one of the most valuable offenses in football.

Over the last two weeks, Devin Singletary has seen 53% of the Bills’ snaps to 43% for Zack Moss. Moss’ role has been heavily inflated by garbage time drives in both Weeks 2 and 3, however. Per Hayden Winks, he’s seen 50% of his opportunities in garbage time this season. Singletary and Moss are definitely in a committee, but I view Singletary as the clear 1A back when the game is in doubt. Of course, with the Bills as 17 point favorites... this could be a game where Moss ends up out-snapping Singletary, like he did against Washington.

Giants at Saints, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Giants Implied Team Total: 17.25

Daniel Jones had a lot of things go wrong in Week 3. He lost Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard to first half hamstring injuries. He only had Kenny Golladay and Evan Engram for 71% of dropbacks, and neither player was at full health when on the field. As a result Saquon Barkley led the team in routes, and Kadarius Toney was second.

Considering the context, Jones’ QB17 finish in EPA per play isn’t bad. And Jones also continued to be involved as a rusher, scrambling five times and adding three designed runs. It’s great to see that the Giants are continuing to utilize Jones’ rushing ability, and they’re also setting him up well as a passer. The Giants are tied with the Eagles for second in pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10, and they rank 11th in situation neutral pass rate.

Unfortunately, Jones now faces a Saints defense that ranks third in EPA allowed per dropback—only the Bills and Panthers have been better. The Saints have only PFF’s 31st graded pass rush, but grade seventh in coverage. This looks like a bad matchup for Jones. Jones hasn’t faced much pressure this season, ranking QB14 in pressure rate, so a weak Saints pass rush won’t be anything new. Instead, Jones’ issue has been a hesitancy to throw deep. Only Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Matt Ryan have a lower deep ball rate than Jones this season. Facing a top 10 coverage unit is unlikely to generate a higher rate of deep throws.

For Jones to have any chance of challenging the Saints’ secondary, he’ll need better health from his receivers. It doesn’t look like he’ll get it. Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard look likely to miss Week 4 and Kenny Golladay is likely to remain limited. Thankfully, Saquon Barkley‘s health is no longer in question. Over the last two weeks, Barkley is averaging 85% of the Giants’ snaps. Najee Harris (96%) is the only running back with more than 85% of his team’s snaps this season. Barkley’s snap share is once again elite.

Barkley has also regained an elite receiving role. Barkley ran a route on 79% of dropbacks in Week 3. On the season, only Harris (86%) has run a route on more than 79% of dropbacks. Barkley was targeted on 21% of his routes and earned a 21% target share. His role was undoubtedly inflated by the Giants’ injury woes, but with Slayton and Shepard now both likely to miss the entirety of Week 4, there could be even more available targets this week. Week 4’s matchup sets up Daniel Jones for plenty of time to throw, but nowhere to go downfield. Sunday could be a check down bonanza for Barkley.

Saints Implied Team Total: 25.5

Jameis Winston had a quietly strong Week 3, finishing seventh in EPA per play. He finished first in a highly impressive Week 1, but then 33rd in a disastrous Week 2. Winston’s play has been all over the place, but there’s been more good than bad. Although in Winston’s case sometime the good is the bad. Like when Winston was being tackled backward and chucked the ball up to Marquez Callaway in the back of the end zone last week. NFL Next Gen Stats gave Winston a 23.3% chance of completing that pass. Shawn Payton’s internal calculation was... lower.

Given how risky Winston’s play is, it’s tough to get a handle on how his efficiency stats will translate into actual production this week. It’s also difficult because the Saints have been extremely low volume this season. The Saints have played slow this year, ranking 23rd in situation neutral pace. New Orleans has also limited passing by leaning on the run. The Saints rank 27th in situation neutral pass rate, and 30th in pass rate over expected. The end result has been the lowest volume stretch of passing in a decade.

This plan of attack has left the Saints with exactly one fantasy relevant option: Alvin Kamara. Kamara continues to be a true workhorse running back this year. After playing on 65% of the Saints snaps in 2020, he’s up to 80% this season. Fewer passing attempts for the offense has caused Kamara’s targets per game to drop from 7.1 in 2020 to 5.0 this season. But his target share is actually up from 22% to 26%. His workload in PFF’s expected points has declined this season, but not by as much as you’d think. After averaging 20.4 expected points per game in 2020, he’s at a very strong 18.3 this season. His workload has been slightly more valuable than Aaron Jones'. Kamara just hasn’t played efficiently this season. That could change in a big way against a Giants defense ranked 22nd in EPA allowed per rush and 25th in EPA allowed per play.

Chiefs at Eagles, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Chiefs Implied Team Total: 30.5

The Chiefs are coming off a loss to the Chargers and are in last place in the NFC West. But Patrick Mahomes is playing great football. Mahomes ranks fourth in EPA per play and eighth in CPOE. And the Chiefs are letting Mahomes do his thing, ranking sixth in situation neutral pass rate and seventh in pass rate over expected. Even against the run funnel Chargers defense, the Chiefs passed the ball 2% over expected.

This week they get an Eagles defense that I did not expect to fare well against the Cowboys, and did not, finishing 22nd in EPA allowed per dropback in Week 3. But their run defense was even worse, finishing 25th. With a big lead, the Cowboys were happy to attack on the ground and their running backs combined for 31 rushing attempts. The Chiefs are more likely to stick with the pass, even with a lead. The Chiefs have a 6% pass rate over expected to Dallas’ 4%, and their rates aren’t inflated by opening the season against the pass funnel Buccaneers defense.

Tyreek Hill has had two quiet games since his electric Week 1 opener, but he still has an elite 2.41 YPRR this season. His weekly upside remains unmatched. Travis Kelce has an even better 2.73 YPRR. Both players could be in for huge weeks if the Chiefs take a pass heavy approach.

Mecole Hardman took a step back after a Week 2 mini-breakout, seeing his routes drop from 78% of dropbacks to 62% last week, and seeing his targets per route drop from 32% to 10%. On the season he has a poor YPRR of 1.19. As primarily a slot receiver this season, he may actually benefit from Josh Gordon‘s presence, once Gordon is active. Demarcus Robinson has run a route on 67% of dropbacks this season, and that’s not good for anyone.

Last week the Chargers dared the Chiefs to run, and they half-accepted. Clyde Edwards-Helaire finished with 100 rushing yards on 17 carries. He also scored a TD on a 10 yard reception. Things could break right for another nice game here. But Edwards-Helaire needs the Chiefs to commit to the run with a lead for that to happen, because he’s not heavily involved in the receiving game. Edwards-Helaire has just a 6% target share this season, which is down significantly from last year’s 11%.

The good news is that despite losing fumbles in back-to-back weeks, Edwards-Helaire continues to operate as the clear lead running back, with 66% of the Chiefs snaps. And he’s running routes on a healthy 55% of dropbacks. So he could easily see some positive regression as a receiver this week. But drafters were looking for CEH to build on last year’s disappointing receiving usage, not hope to match it. He may eventually get back to his 2020 levels but he doesn’t look likely to breakout as a receiving weapon this week.

Eagles Implied Team Total: 24

Jalen Hurts was terrible in Week 3, finishing 31st in EPA per play, ahead of only Mac Jones. He was worse than Justin Fields and Zach Wilson. But even including last week’s stinker, Hurts is 22nd in EPA per play this season. He’s not been great, but he’s shown significantly more promise than last week’s primetime melt down would lead you to believe.

Nothing really changed for Hurts last week in terms of his utilization. He led the NFL in screen passes per dropback, which has been a big part of the Eagles’ game plan this season. He also finished 15th in deep ball rate, which matches his ranks for the season. Hurts mainly struggled with accuracy, finishing 30th in CPOE. This week he moves from a Cowboys defense that was ranked 14th in EPA allowed per dropback before Hurts faced them, to a Chiefs defense ranked 28th in EPA allowed per dropback. He should have an easier time completing passes this week.

If Hurts can get things going, it should mean big things for DeVonta Smith. Smith has a very poor YPT of 5.8 this season, but with a deep aDOT of 15.1 we should expect his per target efficiency to be volatile. Smith has been targeted on 18% of his routes, which is a strong mark for his downfield usage. This has allowed him to account for 42% of the Eagles’ air yards. Running a route on 94% of dropbacks, Smith is unlikely to completely disappoint in this matchup, and offers legitimate upside if he can haul in a few deep balls.

Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins are thinner bets, but for different reasons. Reagor has run a route on 79% of dropbacks, and he’s been targeted on a healthy 20% of his routes. Like Smith, he’s simply struggling with per target efficiency with a poor YPT of 5.6. With an aDOT of 9.7 he’ll likely need more than a few big plays to hit value this week, but has interesting upside if this game shoot out. Watkins leads the team with a 2.82 YPRR but has only run a route on 56% of dropbacks and has a frothy YPT of 26.6. He’s seen a target on just 11% of his routes this year and looks primed to disappoint here, unless his playing time increases significantly.

Speaking of increased playing time, Dallas Goedert has a case to make. Goedert has earned a target in 17% of his routes and is second on the team with a 2.0 YPRR. But he’s run fewer routes than Zach Ertz. The catch-and-fall specialist has shockingly racked up some YAC this season, but he’s only seen a target on 14% of his routes. Neither player looks particularly viable with both tight ends running a route on less than 60% of dropbacks this season.

The Chiefs defense is poor against the pass, but it’s even worse against the run, ranking dead last in EPA allowed per rush. That makes Philadelphia a very safe bet to run more than last week, when they set a franchise record for the fewest rushing attempts from their running backs. The Eagles are likely to give their running backs more than three combined carries this week, but they’re still not especially likely to run the ball. Philadelphia is third in pass rate over expected overall, and on 1st-and-10. This hasn’t been ideal for Miles Sanders.

As a proponent of passing on first down however, I’d actually point Miles Sanders’ angry fantasy managers to his snap share. Sanders saw 71% of the Eagles snaps in 2020. That’s down to 60% this season. That’ll happen when the secondary running back is upgraded from Boston Scott (24% snap share in games with Sanders) to Kenny Gainwell (31%). Gainwell has just one fewer target than Sanders, so he’s stealing significant opportunity. If Sanders were the true lead back in this offense, he could be looking at the type of target share we’re seeing from Najee Harris or D’Andre Swift. Instead, he has just three more opportunities than Kenyan Drake.

Panthers at Cowboys, 1PM eastern, Sunday

Panthers Implied Team Total: 23.75

Sam Darnold is playing stunningly good football. He ranks fifth in EPA per play, in between Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. And he ranks 10th in CPOE, behind Patrick Mahomes but ahead of Justin Herbert. One of the key elements here appears to be the use of play action. Darnold ranks ninth in play action rate this season after finishing 34th in play action rate in 2020. This has allowed him to get away with the sixth longest time to throw per attempt this season. Carolina has also helped out Darnold by being pass heavy in neutral game script, ranking fourth in situation neutral pass rate.

Darnold has a tough matchup this week however, against a Dallas defense ranked sixth in EPA allowed per dropback. He’s also going against a Cowboys offense that may force Darnold to throw in suboptimal situations. Darnold will also be without one of his best passing game weapons.

Christian McCaffrey‘s isn’t just a high volume receiving back, he gets used in ways that we rarely see from the running back position. The usage that I pointed out after Week 1, continued into Week 2.



In Week 3, McCaffrey was used more behind the line of scrimmage, but he has a positive aDOT on the season. This helps explains why McCaffrey has the second most YAC among running backs this season, trailing only D’Andre Swift.

With McCaffrey set to miss this game, the Panthers will lean on Chuba Hubbard and Royce Freeman. Hubbard saw 55% of snaps in Week 3, well ahead of Freeman’s 15%. If the Panthers continue that type of split in Week 4, it would work out to 78% of snaps for Hubbard and 22% for Freeman. Considering McCaffrey was playing 79% of snaps in Weeks 1-2, this opens up some serious upside for Hubbard, especially if he’s used in the late-releasing slot receiver role that McCaffrey was operating in. This will be a true test of “running backs don’t matter”, since I tend to think that McCaffrey’s route running was making a positive impact on the offense.

Of course, no skill player is having a bigger real-life impact on this offense than D.J. Moore. Moore has a solid 9.2 YPT on a classic No. 1 receiver aDOT of 10.5. The place where he stands out is target volume, earning a target on 29% of his routes. Among players with 80+ routes this season, that trails only Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Deebo Samuel. Darnold may struggle in a tough matchup and without his underneath playmaker, but at this point Moore looks matchup proof.

Cowboys Implied Team Total: 27.75

Dak Prescott hasn’t been very efficient this season. He ranks 20th in EPA per play in between Lamar Jackson and Andy Dalton. He has been highly accurate however, ranking seventh in CPOE in between Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Prescott’s mediocre efficiency has stemmed from some key mistakes. He’s thrown two interceptions, taken seven sacks and fumbled the ball four times, including a fumble in the end zone that the Eagles recovered for a TD.

In Week 4, Prescott will need to sustain his highly accurate passing and cut out mistakes, because he’s facing the best defense in the NFL. The Panthers rank first in EPA allowed per play this season, second in EPA allowed per dropback and third in EPA allowed per rush. PFF grades them as the best overall defense this season, second in coverage, fifth in pass rush and fifth in run defense.

The betting market isn’t afraid of the Panthers here though, giving Dallas the fifth highest implied team total this week. And for fantasy purposes... so what if Dak makes mistakes? Mistakes might actually be good if they help speed up the game. For as unexpectedly efficient as the Panthers have been on offense, they’ve also been brutally slow. Carolina ranks 27th in situation neutral seconds per play. Given that they finished 29th last season, these seems philosophical. The Cowboys finished second in situation neutral pace last season and are eighth this season, so they’ll do their part to keep this from becoming a slog. But it honestly wouldn’t be the worst thing if Prescott replaced a slow Carolina possession with a quick Panthers defensive score.

Prescott is likely to be at his best when throwing to emerging superstar CeeDee Lamb. Lamb has a 2.39 YPRR this season, with a target on 26% of his routes. Like Moore he’s operating with a classic No. 1 receiver aDOT of 10.5 and his YPT of 9.3 is highly sustainable. Even better, after running a route on 76% of dropbacks in Week 1, Lamb has hit 93% and 94% the last two weeks. Lamb just needs strong passing volume to hit elite upside. It’s a similar story for Amari Cooper who trails Lamb by just 1% in target share and 5% in air yard share.

Dallas shifted toward 2TE sets in Week 3. Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz each ran routes on 63% of dropbacks, after being at 53% and 50% in Week 2. This creates a bit of risk for Schultz this week who, despite having an incredible 6-80-2 showing against the Eagles, may not be on the field nearly as often if Dallas isn’t playing with a huge lead.

More neutral game script could go either way for Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott only out-carried Tony Pollard 17 to 11 in Week 3, and leads him just 44 to 27 this season. He’s dominated goal line work however, seeing seven touches inside the 10 to just 1 for Pollard. Elliott’s most reliable path to value is as a goal line back in a high scoring game where Dallas leads. But despite trailing Pollard in targets 7 to 8, Elliott also has some untapped value as a receiver. He has run a route on 74% of Dallas’ dropbacks this season, which is second to only Najee Harris among running backs. I think he’d actually be better off in a true shootout where Dallas has the slight upper hand, rather than a blowout script like he saw against the Eagles.

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Seahawks at 49ers, 4:05 PM eastern, Sunday

Seahawks Implied Team Total: 24.5

The narrative on the Seahawks offense has somehow become that they’re too good, and scoring too quickly, as I discussed last week. But the problem isn’t that the Seahawks are scoring too quickly, it’s that they’re only scoring quickly. More specifically, their passing game is hitting big plays, but having trouble sustaining success. Russell Wilson ranks 12th in EPA per play, but he ranks 27th in success rate. The goal here should be to find ways for Wilson to more consistently deliver value in addition to delivering big plays. That would lead to more overall scoring, which, you know, is how you win games.

Instead the Seahawks appear to be slowing down their games. As Pat Thorman explains, the Seahawks appear to be abandoning no-huddle, and have steadily slowed down in pace. On the other hand, Seattle in trending unexpectedly toward the pass. After finishing with a pass rate over expected of 1% in Week 1 and 3% in Week 2, the Seahawks passed 8% over expected in Week 3, which was the sixth highest on the week. They rank 10th in pass rate over expected this season.

This week the Seahawks face a 49ers defense that is ranked 12th in EPA allowed per rush and 15th in EPA allowed per dropback. But the 49ers pass defense is likely overstated by EPA. They opened the season against the Lions and Eagles, sporting the fifth ranked defense in EPA allowed per dropback through two weeks. That crated to 25th in Week 3 against Green Bay. The Seahawks are unlikely to fully press their passing game advantage here, but Wilson should be good for some big plays at the very least.

DK Metcalf again looks like a stronger bet than Tyler Lockett. Although both are strong plays as long as Lockett (hip) isn’t expected to be limited. Lockett leads Metcalf in YPRR 3.22 to 2.32, but this is driven by a 15.5 YPT for Lockett, compared to 8.8 for Metcalf. Metcalf meanwhile has earned targets at a higher rate per route, 26% to 21% while running just one less route. As a result he has a 32% target share to Lockett’s 25% and a 42% air yard share to Lockett’s 39%. Metcalf is now tied with Deebo Samuel in WOPR, trailing only Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams, Odell Beckham and Cooper Kupp. Lockett’s 0.65 WOPR is also very strong and is higher than top options like Stefon Diggs, Ja’Marr Chase, Keenan Allen and CeeDee Lamb. Health would be the only reason not to trust Lockett in this spot.

Gerald Everett was placed on the COVID list this week, and could miss Week 4. Even if he does, Will Dissly is still a thin dart throw. He’s seen a target on just 11% of his routes.

If Pete Carroll puts his foot down and forces the Seahawks to go run heavy here, Chris Carson could have a solid week. But his workload hasn’t been there so far this season. With 34.3 expected points, Carson has had a smaller workload Devin Singletary, Kenyan Drake and Myles Gaskin. His usage in Week 3 was especially concerning, as his routes per dropback dropped from 54% through Weeks 1-2 to just 24% in Week 3. Carson’s 6% target share makes him a TD or bust weekly option.

49ers Implied Team Total: 27.5

It’s always important to apply context when analyzing NFL stats. This is a highly complex game, and no one metric will ever perfectly capture a player’s level of performance. Whenever I needed to remind myself of that this week, I took a look Jimmy Garoppolo‘s 10th ranked EPA per play. No player has a greater discrepancy between his advanced stats and how hard it is to actually watch him play. EPA isn’t completely off base here though. Garoppolo was legitimately solid while playing from ahead against the Lions and Eagles. He was seventh in EPA per play after Week 2. He dropped to 16th when forced to play in a competitive environment for four quarters.

Kyle Shanahan must see the same things we do, and he’ll likely try to limit Garoppolo’s volume as much as possible this week. The Seahawks have been solid against the pass, ranking 18th in EPA allowed per dropback. Teams have attacked them on the ground instead. But despite surrendering 182 rushing yards to Derrick Henry in Week 2 and 112 yards to Alexander Mattison in Week 3, the Seahawks haven’t actually been that bad in rush defense. They rank 11th in EPA allowed per rush and they’re 10th in PFF’s rush defense grades. The 49ers will undoubtedly follow the same script as the Colts, Titans, Vikings, but they’ll likely need a healthy and effective Elijah Mitchell to pull off the plan. That looks very much up in the air.

When the 49ers do pass, they’re still likely to be running things through Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. Brandon Aiyuk appears does appear to be out of Shanahan’s doghouse enough to get on the field for his usual snaps again. But I’m worried that he’s either not fully healthy, or still hasn’t earned Shanahan’s trust to the point that he’s calling plays to get him involved. Even in a Week 3 performance where he went 4-37 with a TD, Aiyuk was still targeted on just 15% of his routes. He’s been targeted on just 11% of his routes this season. Aiyuk is in play as a FLEX starter week, but I’ll be breaking ties against him. I’m more interested in him as a DFS tournament play, where the payoff is bigger if this ends up being the first week he’s fully back to his 2020 usage.

For as long as Aiyuk isn’t fully incorporated into the target tree, Deebo Samuel has an elite ceiling. Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp are the only wide receivers who have earned a target on a higher percentage of their routes. Only Adams, Kupp and Brandin Cooks have a higher target share. And Samuel is tied with DK Metcalf for fifth in WOPR.

George Kittle finally came alive in Week 3, going 7-92 on nine targets. The situation remains the same with Kittle... we just need passing attempts. He has an elite 2.31 YPRR and is being targeted on 22% of his routes, an elite mark for a tight end. If Seattle plays with a lead it could be back-to-back big weeks for Kittle, assuming he is a full-go with his calf injury.

Cardinals at Rams, 4:05 PM eastern, Sunday

Cardinals Implied Team Total: 25.25

Kyler Murray entered the season as an elite fantasy quarterback. He now looks like an elite real life quarterback as well. Murray is eighth in EPA per play this season and leads the league in CPOE. For a quarterback with Murray’s mobility to also be leading the league in accuracy is astounding. The fly in the ointment here is that Murray has faced the Titans, Vikings and Jaguars this season. Those defenses rank 28th, 22nd and 29th in EPA allowed per play and 22nd, 20th and 25th in EPA allowed per dropback. This week he faces a Rams defense that ranks 11th in EPA allowed per play and eighth in EPA allowed per dropback. The Rams defense is ranked just 24th in EPA allowed per rush, so they’re technically a run funnel—but they score too many points to run on.

Perhaps the Cardinals increase their pace to allow them to take advantage of the Rams’ defensive weakness. The Cardinals rank just 14th in situation neutral plays per second, but we know they’re capable of more. The Cardinals led the league in situation neutral pace last year, and if there was ever a spot to strategically increase play volume, this is it.

James Conner showed signs of life in Week 3 with two rushing TDs, and he ranks 12th in elusive rating while Chase Edmonds is just 43rd. However, per Hayden Winks, Conner has seen 33% of his work in garbage time. While a strong rushing matchup could drive increased volume for Conner, Edmonds remains the lead back here, seeing 62% of snaps to a garbage time inflated 42% for Conner.

No matter how fast they play, the Cardinals will need to throw a lot to keep up with Rams this week. The question will be, which wide receivers are on the field? In Week 1 while beating up on the Titans, the Cardinals called 58% of their passes out of 3WR and 4WR sets. Then in Week 2 that jumped to 85% in a shootout with the Vikings, which allowed Rondale Moore‘s routes per dropback to jump from 39% to 59%. When I saw that him drop down to 38% in Week 3, I assumed that the Cardinals ran less 3WR and 4WR sets in their win over the Jaguars. But the Cardinals called 79% of their passes out of 3WR and 4WR sets last week, far higher than Week 1. Moore just wasn’t on the field as much as he should have been. Leave it to Kliff.

Moore could see some additional work, but I agree with Ben Gretch that it’s a leap of faith to expect it to happen this week, even if it seems inevitable for Moore to get there at some point. Christian Kirk looks far more locked into routes, as does A.J. Green. But Kirk has the advantage of not being bad. Kirk run a route on 73% of dropbacks for consecutive weeks and his 3.03 YPRR is second only to Moore’s 3.54. He’s running very hot with a 14.1 YPT, but because he’s seeing a target on 22% of his routes with an aDOT of 15.9, he can cool off on per target efficiency and still have a great week.

In fairness to A.J. Green, he hasn’t been bad this season. It’s just that my eyes are still sore from having watched him last year. He’s seen a target on 18% of his routes, which is fine for his 12.3 aDOT. And his 10.1 YPT is good. He’s run a route on 87% of Murray’s dropbacks and is playing competently, which is really all you need in this offense.

DeAndre Hopkins is actually the one struggling this season, battling through a ribs injury last week after getting off to a slow start. Hopkins has run a route on 96% of dropbacks, but he’s seen a target on just 15% of his routes. His 17% target share trails Chase Edmonds'. This isn’t an ideal bounce-back spot, but Hopkins was targeted on 24% of his routes last season, and is running every route with Kyler Murray playing lights out. There’s only so long this slump can continue.

Rams Implied Team Total: 29.25

Matthew Stafford is one of the few quarterbacks playing even more efficiently than Murray. Stafford hasn’t been nearly as accurate as Murray, ranking 26th in CPOE, but Stafford leads the league in EPA per play. The Rams have set Stafford up well, ranking fifth in pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10. And they’ve pressed the advantage Stafford has given them, ranking fifth overall in pass rate over expected.

The Cardinals offense is ranked seventh in EPA allowed per dropback. But considering they’ve faced the Titans, Vikings, and Jaguars, they’re not likely to be a huge impediment to a formidable Rams passing attack. At best, they’re likely to limit Stafford’s production to just one fantasy relevant receiver this week. There’s a good chance that receiver would be Cooper Kupp.

Stafford’s connection with Kupp has been incredible. Kupp has been targeted on 34% of his routes with an aDOT of 8.8. Davante Adams is the only wide receiver this season with a stronger connection with his quarterback. Sean McVay must have taken notice of Stafford and Kupp’s chemistry, because Kupp is on the field significantly more than he used to be. He’s still primarily a slot receiver, seeing 75% of his snaps there. But he’s now running a route on 97% of dropbacks, kicking outside when not in the slot. Kupp is running hot with a 11.5 YPT, but his per target efficiency isn’t that outrageous. His production has been driven primarily by underlying volume. His 36% target share and 36% air yard share set him up for another big week.

While Kupp has been running more routes that expected, Robert Woods has been running less. He’s not truly a part time player. For example at 84%, he’s run a route on a higher percentage of dropbacks that Mike Williams and is just behind CeeDee Lamb‘s 85%. But Woods used to be nearly an every snap player, and the lost routes have hurt.

DeSean Jackson appears to be part of the reason for Woods’ lost routes. In Week 1 Jackson ran a route on 37% of dropbacks, while Woods was at just 67%. In Week 2 Jackson didn’t play and Woods was back up to 97%. Last week Jackson was up to 41%, and Woods dropped to a route on 85% of dropbacks. The good news is that despite running fewer routes than Van Jefferson this season, Woods ran five more routes than Jefferson last week. Woods should be close to a full time player this week and is still earning a target on 22% of his routes with a 9.4 aDOT. He could have a big game this week if he rebounds from his poor 6.9 YPT. Still, he’s definitely not in the same tier of opportunity as Kupp right now.

Tyler Higbee is running a ton of routes for a tight end, but he’s out there almost exclusively with three wide receivers. This helps explain why he has a target on just 15% of his routes. Higbee has had a nice start to the season, but he’s a riskier bet this week than it may appear. Given the state of tight end right now, you’re still probably starting him without a second thought.

Darrell Henderson looks likely to play this week. So the key question on the Ram backfield is this: is this a one back system, or do the Rams like what they’ve seen from Sony Michel?

Michel has an abysmal 0.41 YPRR this season, and while he’s been good after contact as a rusher he’s still averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. Henderson has been nearly as good after contact, and has a much better 1.1 YPRR. Michel has likely done enough to turn this into a committee for at least this week. But hopefully Michel’s Week 3 usage indicates that this is a one back system... with Henderson as that back.

Steelers at Packers, 4:25 PM eastern, Sunday

Steelers Implied Team Total: 19.5

Last week I detailed Ben Roethlisberger‘s unwillingness and inability to throw deep. All of those problems remain in place, which you can see simply by looking at his Week 3 passing chart.

As I suspected, Roethlisberger’s inability to throw downfield produced a ton of volume for Najee Harris with Diontae Johnson sidelined in Week 3. Although, I never thought he’d see that much receiving volume.

Harris’ opportunity this season has exceeded the hopes of even his most wildly optimistic supporters. He has a 96% snap share this season. Darrell Henderson and Alvin Kamara are second in running back snap rate, at just 80%. He has run a route on 86% of dropbacks, which is second on the team behind only Diontae Johnson. 86% of routes is a rate normally reserved for full time wide receivers. Harris also leads the league PFF’s expected fantasy points with 72.1. If he was hitting value, he’d be averaging a 24 points per game.

Harris though, is not hitting value, he’s left 18.9 fantasy points on the field, which is second worst to only Mark Ingram. Harris is a talented rookie who will have more efficient games than what he’s shown thus far. But given Roethlisberger’s level of play, and a Steelers offensive line that ranks last in adjusted line yards, he’s an underdog this week to produce efficiently on his workload.

Diontae Johnson is expected back this week, and should keep Harris’ volume to at least non-record-setting levels. Johnson picked up right where he left off last season as a target earner, seeing a target on 31% of his routes this season. His 8.8 aDOT is higher than I would expect, given his target rate. Facing a Packers defense that ranks just 27th in EPA allowed per dropback he could be in for a lot of volume this week, especially if JuJu Smith-Schuster (ribs) or Chase Claypool (hamstring) end up being limited.

Packers Implied Team Total: 26

Aaron Rodgers has rebounded strongly from his horrible Week 1. He now ranks sixth in EPA per play after a get-right spot against the Lion and a back and forth tilt with the 49ers. This week he faces a Steelers defense that ranks 19th in EPA allowed per dropback, and which held the Bills to 23 points in Week 1.

I don’t expect Rodgers to revert to his Week 1 form by any means, but this could be a disappointing outing for the Packers. I say that partly because the Packers’ pace of play leaves them with little margin for error. After finishing last in situation neutral seconds per play in 2020, the Packers are once again dead last in situation neutral pace. Clearly this is a strategy by Aaron Rodgers to draw the maximum amount of praise from television broadcasters for the way he occasionally changes his inflection while saying “green-18". It’s worked like a charm. But Rodgers’ snap count virtuosity is also limiting the play volume of Packers’ contests. They’re not likely to get a ton of play volume help from the Steelers. Pittsburgh ranks 19th in situation neutral pace, and will need a very poor performance from the Packers defense to push the Packers offense in any meaningful way.

Even if the Packers don’t end up running a ton of plays this week, Davante Adams can have a huge day. Adams has been targeted on an absurd 38% of his routes, with an 11.8 aDOT that should make that kind of target rate impossible. As a result he has a 38% target share and a 46% air yard share. Adams has only run a route on 87% of dropbacks, and he has a solid but not spectacular 9.1 YPT. So somehow... and I can’t believe I’m writing this... Adams’ 3.43 YPRR is the third highest in the league and yet comes with untapped potential.

Low play volume will have a bigger effect on the Packers’ ancillary receivers. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has the highest YPRR of the full time options at a very poor 1.03. Randall Cobb has a strong 1.93 YPRR but has run a route on just 29% of dropbacks. Robert Tonyan has seen a target on just 12% of his routes and is a true TD or bust option here.

In the two weeks since the snap-skewing Saints debacle, Aaron Jones has seen 71% of the Packers’ snaps to just 29% for A.J. Dillon. In 2020, Jones played 60% of Packers’ snaps, so the shift from Jamaal Williams to Dillon seems to be making a big difference in his deployment. Over the last two weeks Jones has run routes on 61% and 59% of dropbacks as well. After years of #freeAaronJones, we finally got there.

Ravens at Broncos, 4:25 PM eastern, Sunday

Ravens Implied Team Total: 23

Lamar Jackson came away from a strong matchup with the Lions by moving down a spot in EPA per play. Of course, Marquise Brown‘s repeated drops didn’t help matters. Still, he now gets a Broncos defense that ranks fifth in EPA allowed per dropback. It’s not ideal.

The good news is that the Broncos are untested, having faced the Giants, Jaguars and Jets. The Ravens also continue to show an unexpected openness to passing the ball. The Ravens were 10th in pass rate over expected in Week 3, and seventh in pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10. Their pass rate over expected for the season is just 27th, but they’re as close to the 19th ranked Broncos as they are to the last ranked Bengals.

With the Ravens passing more, Brown should have a chance to redeem himself this week. He’s actually been tremendous this season in terms of earning targets. Despite a true deep threat aDOT of 15.8 he’s seen a target on an elite 27% of his routes.

I kept the faith with Mark Andrews last week, and he came through. Andrews earned a target on 23% of his routes in Week 3 and ran super hot with a 15.6 YPT. He’s unlikely to go over 100 yards again this week, but I won’t be surprised if the has another 20%+ target rate.

Part of the reason the Ravens may be open to passing is that (this is what they pay me for) they lost all of their running backs to injury. Ty’Son Williams was supposed to be intriguing depth. Instead he’s the Ravens lead back in its new committee. Williams played 50% of snaps in Week 3, and has 50% of snaps on the season. Williams has actually been pretty strong as a rusher this season. He ranks second in NFL Next Gen’s success rate and has 6.1 yards per carry. His role isn’t big enough to make him a reliable starter, but he can pay off a start in the FLEX with a TD this week.

I don’t normally cover kickers, but when setting your fantasy lineups, you can write Justin Tucker‘s name in ink.

Broncos Implied Team Total: 22

Teddy Bridgewater continues to surprise the season, holding steady at QB3 in EPA/play. He also continues to not to look anything like the Bridgewater we’re used to seeing—holding the ball (QB4 in time to throw per attempt) and challenging defenses deep (QB2 in deep pass percentage). Bridgewater has faced the Giants, Jaguars and Jets so far, so I’m not ready to fully buy in, but Bridgewater has clearly benefitted from the Broncos’ play action heavy scheme.

Among quarterbacks who have started all three games, Bridgewater now leads the league in play action percentage. If you look at his passing chart you can almost see the rollouts.



Bridgewater now faces a Ravens defense ranked 26th in EPA allowed per dropback and graded 27th by PFF in coverage. With the Ravens potentially pushing the Broncos in this game as slight favorites, Bridgewater could be in for his highest volume passing day of the season. That’s a fairly low bar considering that Bridgewater is 21st in pass attempts this season, but it would be great news for his receivers.

Great news would be a welcome change for a wide receiver corps that has lost Jerry Jeudy for much of the season and now K.J. Hamler for all of it. Fortunately, Courtland Sutton looks to be all the way back, running a route on 97% of dropbacks in Week 3. Sutton has earned a target on 22% of his routes this season and has a 2.28 YPRR. He’s been stunningly efficient coming off his ACL tear, and appears quite capable of handling No. 1 receiver duties.

Tim Patrick is probably a better No. 3 option, but he’s also played very well this year with a 2.15 YPRR. He’s only seen a target on 16% of his routes however, so his YPRR looks less trustworthy than Sutton’s.

Noah Fant continues to simmer as a potential breakout. He has just a 1.49 YPRR, but is earning a target on 22% of his routes. If Hamler’s injury opens up slot snaps and brings Fant’s route rate up from 69% to closer to 80%, Fant is a strong YPT showing away from a breakout week.

Melvin Gordon continues to hold a lead over Javonte Williams, with 54% of the Broncos’ snaps to 44% for Williams. Melvin Gordon has been very strong in NFL Next Gen’s success rate, ranking RB7. Williams is down at RB24. Gordon is likely to maintain a lead on Williams for as long as he holds a big lead on the rookie in delivering what is expected.

Buccaneers at Patriots, 8:20 PM eastern, Sunday

Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 28

Here’s a wild stat: Tom Brady has the shortest time to throw per dropback in the NFL, yet he’s attempted more 20+ yard passes than Jalen Hurts and Matthew Stafford this season. If a quarterback is challenging defenses deep, but also getting the ball out lighting quick, how do you stop that? Apparently, you don’t. Even in the Buccaneers first loss this season, Brady still went for 432 yards. Brady now ranks 13th in EPA per play, combining strong efficiency with the second most passing attempts in the league.

Brady will now face his former franchise, and there’s little doubt both sides of the greatest coach and quarterback combo in history will psych themselves into thinking of this as a revenge game. More importantly, Brady will be facing the fourth best defense by EPA allowed per dropback. But given that the Patriots have faced the Dolphins, Jets and Saints, that ranking seems as flimsy as the revenge game narratives.

With Antonio Brown expected back in this game, the Buccaneers receivers go back to being a weekly guessing game. Despite his Week 1 no-show Mike Evans now has the highest target share and air yard share on the team. Although given Brown’s deep threat deployment, he’s likely to eat more into Evans’ targets than Godwin’s. I still trust Godwin the most here.

Rob Gronkowski looks like a good play here as long as he’s expected to be a full-go. He’s seen a target on 24% of his routes on an aDOT of 11.8, which is deeper than we usually see from a tight end.

Giovani Bernard emerged in Week 3 with 45% of the snaps and 10 targets. But his usage occurred in a desperation mode game script that is highly unlikely to repeat against the Patriots this week. It still wasn’t a great sign for Leonard Fournette, who also trailed Ronald Jones in rushing attempts, five to four. This backfield should theoretically have value with the Buccaneers as seven point favorites, but betting on any running back to come through here is liable to get you burned.

Patriots Implied Team Total: 21

Last week I held up the Patriots as a positive example of a franchise working with a rookie quarterback. Then Mac Jones proceeded to have a terrible game, finishing dead last on the week in EPA per play. That’ll happen with rookies, but the Patriots stuck with a pass heavy 1st-and-10 approach, and passed more than expected overall. The Patriots won’t pass as much this week as other offenses have against the Buccaneers pass funnel defense, but they won’t be afraid to let Jones throw in optimal situations.

Of the Patriots’ pass catchers I’m most optimistic on Jakobi Meyers taking advantage of extra passing volume. Meyers has been targeted on 23% of his routes. The next highest Patriots wide receiver, Nelson Agholor, is at just 14%. Meyer’s aDOT of 9.8 gives him upside when targeted heavily, and he could be in for a nice game here.

When James White was knocked out of the game on Sunday, the Patriots turned to Brandon Bolden... just like we all predicted. Bolden played 46% of the snaps, to 31% for Damien Harris and 14% for J.J. Taylor. With White now likely out for the season, the question this week will be how much of his role goes to Rhamondre Stevenson vs. Taylor vs. Bolden. Stevenson has been a healthy scratch since fumbling in Week 1, but he may be too talented to keep off the field with White out of the picture. Stevenson had the second highest career elusive rating in the 2021 running back class behind only Javonte Williams, and he was second in career YPRR behind only Kenny Gainwell. At 6 feet, 231 pounds he doesn’t seem like an obvious fit for the White role, but he moves like a much smaller back—something preseason viewers are well aware of. If Stevenson isn’t as good as the numbers suggest he could be, or if he’s simply not ready, the Patriots may turn to the reliable but fantasy irrelevant Bolden once again.

Raiders at Chargers, 8:15 PM eastern, Monday

Raiders Implied Team Total: 24.25

This is my first season as a full-time fantasy analyst and Sundays can be head-spinning. And I felt that way before John Daigle compared Peyton Barber‘s patience to peak Le’Veon Bell. A man can only handle so much.

John Gruden must be just as enticed, because he gave Barber 56% of the Raiders’ snaps compared to 43% for Kenyan Drake in Week 3. Drake’s usage isn’t shocking after his Week 2 performance, but it is pretty stunning given the commitment that the team made to him this offseason.

I actually think Gruden’s actions are internally consistent if you assume that he strongly prefers a committee approach at the running back position. It was important to him to have Drake in a 1B role with Jacobs, and it was also important to him not to hand the backfield over to Drake when Jacobs was hurt. Plus, Barber is good now, somehow, or so I’m told.

The Chargers will be looking to test the Raiders commitment to the pass, daring Gruden to reconnect with his inner grinder and pound Barber and/or Josh Jacobs between the tackles for pyrrhic chunk gains. The Raiders surprisingly rank fifth in situation neutral pass rate this season, but just last season they were 19th. If Gruden walks into Brandon Staley‘s trap, it could lead to another nice day on the ground, but is likely to make the Raiders’ offense less productive overall.

Then again, maybe the Raiders will keep leaning on Derek Carr. He is, after all, 10th in EPA per play. If the Raiders forgo establishing it against the 26th ranked defense in EPA allowed per rush, it would obviously be great for the Raiders’ catchers. But even so, Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards look like risky plays. Edwards has run a route on 76% of dropbacks, but has seen a target on just 12% of his routes. He has a true deep threat aDOT of 15.3, so this isn’t necessarily a pure reflection of Edwards’ skill level. But he has just a 10% target share this season and is a very thin play in any format. Henry Ruggs has been much stronger in target rate, earning a target on 19% of his routes despite an even deeper aDOT of 16.6. Unfortunately, Ruggs ran a route on just 63% of dropbacks in Week 3 and is at just 64% this season. Ruggs is also running very hot with a 13.2 YPT. Ruggs is showing promise for a true second year breakout, but this week his production is more likely to decline as a result of per target efficiency regression. That is, unless he unexpectedly morphs into a full time player this week.

Chargers Implied Team Total: 27.25

The Raiders offense has been surprisingly good this season. Their defense has as well. The Raiders rank ninth in EPA allowed per play, ninth in EPA allowed per dropback and fifth in EPA allowed per rush. Those numbers are a bit inflated by facing the Steelers and Dolphins, but they played the Ravens in Week 1. PFF grades the Raiders’ pass rush as the best in the NFL, and their coverage as fourth. They’ve definitely benefitted from the schedule but they don’t look like total frauds.

Justin Herbert ranks 16th in EPA per play this season and 14th in CPOE. He’s playing well, but not off the charts. The Chargers are willing to call games like he is a superstar, however. They rank second in pass rate over expected and third in situation neutral pass rate. This should be an interesting matchup where the Chargers attempt to do what they do best, pass, against a Raiders defense that excels at stopping the passing game.

Even if the Chargers passing game isn’t at its best, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both look like strong options. Allen has been targeted on an elite 26% of his routes with an aDOT of 9.1. He’s being used at a depth that should make it easier to sustain high target volume, but that is deep enough to provide elite upside as well. The underlying numbers are even better for Mike Williams. Williams has been targeted on 28% of his routes with an aDOT of 9.8. He’s only run a route on 82% of dropbacks, and has yet to top 85% in a game this year, so he actually has some additional upside if the Chargers bump him up to a true full-time player.

Austin Ekeler‘s snaps have trended up for three straight weeks. He opened the season at 58%, climbed to 63% in Week 2, and jumped to 74% in Week 3. My guess is that he settles in the 65-70% range this week, as a clear-cut lead back. After playing on 58% of snaps in 2020, Ekeler has seen a meaningful boost in snaps so far this year. He’s also run a route on 59% of dropbacks and is being targeted on a strong 19% of his routes. Given his usage around the goal line this season, Ekeler again has elite upside this week as the rare receiving running back with a goal line role.


To write this article I relied on the following stats, metrics and grades.

  • Implied Team Totals are calculated using the lines at PointsBet.
  • Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).
    • Efficiency metric based how much a play improved a team’s likelihood of scoring.
    • I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency, but also for defensive efficiency.
  • Completion Percentage Over Expected
    • QB accuracy metric
      • Data from
        • All CPOE referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.
          • I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.
  • Pass Rate over Expected
    • Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.
  • Situation Neutral Pass Rate
    • Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.
  • Situation Neutral Seconds per Play
    • Seconds between plays in neutral game script.
    • Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.
  • Adjusted Line Yards
  • Snaps and Snap Share
    • Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.
      • Teams check in and out of runs with only one back on the field. Being on the field is critical.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz
  • Target Share and Air Yard share
    • The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz
  • Routes run per dropback
    • Snap share for receivers... since I’m not concerned with who is playing run blocking snaps.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus
  • Yards Per Route Run
    • A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good.
    • This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.
    • It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.
    • It filters out in-game injury and blowouts much better than target share does.
      • Data from PFF
  • Target per Route Run
    • TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR.
    • TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.
      • Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.
      • Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.
    • TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I’d rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.
  • Expected Fantasy Points.
    • Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metric’s that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
      • I am referencing PFF’s metric unless otherwise stated.
  • A number of other PFF status including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.