Walkthrough Week 4: Redemption Song on CeeDee
Welcome to the Week 4 Walkthrough, outlining critical fantasy football context for this fourth, glorious week of football.
At the end of this article, I’ve included an extensive list of the stats used, what they are, why they’re useful, and where they came from. As a heads up, I use some terms interchangeably below:
- Routes per dropback = route rate = route % = route participation
- Targets per route run = target rate
Already Played: Dolphins, Bengals
Vikings at Saints, 9:30 AM Eastern, Sunday
Vikings Implied Team Total: 23.25
Against the Lions, the Vikings had a slight tilt to the run, but they still look like a pass-first team this season. Their philosophy resembles other offenses from the Sean McVay coaching with a similar PROE to the 2021 Packers, Chargers, and Rams.
They now get a Saints defense that, outside of a poor pass rush grade, has performed well this season. Although context is needed—the Saints have had a weak schedule, playing the Falcons, Buccaneers, and Panthers. The Vikings will arguably be their biggest test so far, given how discombobulated Tampa Bay’s passing offense was in Week 2.
But even if the Saints are fraudulent, They could hold Kirk Cousins in check if he continues to play like he has so far.
Cousins ranks 23rd in EPA per play and 25th in CPOE. Both his efficiency and accuracy have been concerning this season. The Vikings may also be less inclined to continue their pass-first approach if Cousins doesn’t improve.
The run may be especially tempting this week against a Saints defense that has been a run funnel and a Saints offense on the other side that has been run-based and slow. The Saints rank just 25th in PROE and 28th in situation-neutral pace. And they could be without Jameis Winston (back) this week.
Dalvin Cook would normally be an extremely appealing play in this context. The Vikings lead the league in rushing success rate and rank top five in PFF’s run grades and run blocking grades. So they should be able to move the ball on the ground... with a healthy Cook. And although Cook was a full practice participant on Thursday, his shoulder injury could cause the Vikings to limit his reps a bit. The upside looks to be well worth the risk, though.
One indicator for Cook will be whether Ty Chandler is active for the first time this season. Even with Cook exiting the game in the third quarter, Kene Nwangwu saw zero snaps against the Lions. So if Chandler remains inactive, it can be viewed as a positive indicator for Cook’s workload this week.
A struggling Saints offense creates upside for the Vikings’ rushing attack, but it also creates the risk that this game will turn into a slog, limiting passing volume for both offenses. That outcome would make efficiency in the receiving game absolutely critical.
Even after two down weeks, Justin Jefferson is having a highly efficient season with 1.98 yards per route run. That’s definitely a bit below where he was expected to be this year, but that’s because we have incredibly high expectations for the third-year superstar, not because he’s having a bad year. Jefferson’s sub-elite receiving efficiency looks to be a symptom of the Vikings’ overall passing offense. Adam Thielen (1.22 YPRR) has been far less efficient than Jefferson. In fact, the receiver closest to Jefferson in YPRR is Johnny Mundt. Jefferson has run a route on 99% of dropbacks this season and isn’t under threat from any other Vikings receiver. He simply needs better play from Kirk Cousins. That’s far from a guarantee against a strong Saints defense, but at the same time, we’re talking about Justin Jefferson. Even if Cousins struggles again, Jefferson’s talent puts a rebound in play.
Ancillary Vikings receivers look dangerous this week. Adam Thelen remains a TD-dependent play, as does K.J. Osborne. Irv Smith has come alive with 13 targets over the last two weeks, but he’s run a route on just 60% of dropbacks in each game, well below a desirable rate for a tight end. As a result, Smith continues to be a fade.
Saints Implied Team Total: 20.25
The Saints have only been a slightly run-first team this season, but they’re coming off their most run-heavy performance against the Panthers (-5% PROE). Given that the Saints were the third most run-heavy team last season in PROE and that Jameis Winston‘s health is uncertain, this could be a sign of things to come.
And this week, they face a Vikings run defense that looks susceptible to a consistent rushing attack. So we can expect the Saints to be run-first here... and they have potential to be genuinely run-heavy.
Even though the Saints aren’t a lock to have Winston this week, which would be a major downgrade for their passing game, they have to be excited about what they have in Chris Olave. Olave currently leads the team with a 26% target share and a 42% air yard share. His 2.39 YPRR is also significantly higher than both Jarvis Landry (1.96) and Michael Thomas (1.64). It’s premature to call Olave the Saints’ No. 1 receiver, but that’s certainly the way things are headed. His 19.3 aDOT will lead to more disappointing weeks like Week 2, but it also sets him up for exciting production when he can connect downfield like last week. Olave’s profile is boom/bust, but that archetype is more appealing in this low-volume passing offense, where target volume alone won’t always come with a ceiling.
In the backfield, Kamara played 70% of snaps against the Panthers in Week 2, which brings his 2022 snap share to 66%. Kamara also has a 15% target share, which ranks RB9. That would be pretty solid for a normal running back, but it’s hard to get excited about Kamara’s receiving role when he’s trailing J.D. McKissick, Breece Hall, and Rex Burkhead in target share. Things are moving in the right direction, with Kamara up to an 18% target share last week, but he is still well below the 22% target share he saw in 2020. Kamara saw a 20% target share last season, and one would logically expect his role in the passing game to continue trending up. If Andy Dalton plays this week, Kamara arguably has slightly more upside, with Dalton likely to check down frequently. However, Dalton would also create a much lower floor for Kamara because the offense could be terrible with the red rifle under center.
Commanders at Cowboys, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Commanders Implied Team Total: 19
The Cowboys’ pass rush is a force. They rank first in quick pressure rate and second in PFF’s pass rush grades. And for the Commanders, the prospect of facing this rush is, frankly, terrifying.
Washington’s offensive line has pass-protected decently, but Carson Wentz can be counted on to create issues for himself. Wentz has allowed the third most pressures among quarterbacks this season; he’ll likely be under near constant pressure in this game.
One issue for the Commanders is that they can’t really pivot to the run game effectively. The Cowboys only rank 27th in PFF’s run grades, but the Commanders have been an ineffective rushing offense this season.
This is unfortunate because the Cowboys have been a run funnel. If the Commanders had an effective ground game, it could help them avoid the Cowboys’ biggest defensive strength. Instead, the Commanders will likely play to their own strength on offense—the passing game. Carson Wentz ranks only 22nd in EPA per play, but a weak passing attack is still more effective than an inefficient run game. The Commanders have called plays accordingly. Only the Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins, and Chargers have a higher pass rate over expected this year.
This volume has sustained the Commanders’ wide receivers, given that they can’t count on passing efficiency from Wentz. Terry McLaurin is now the only Commanders receiver with a YPRR over 1.60. And McLaurin has gotten there with than unsustainable yards per target of 12.4. The overall target opportunity for Commanders receivers has been quite poor.
I warned about this last week, but there was still some value in the Commanders’ Week 3 passing game due to offensive volume. That is less likely this week, with Dallas unlikely to front-run Washington to the extent that Philadelphia did. If Wentz combines average volume with spread out and inefficient target opportunity, it could be a rough day for all Commanders pass catchers.
Brian Robinson won’t play this week, but he could be in the mix soon. That puts pressure on Antonio Gibson to show that he deserves a significant role once Robinson is healthy. He’ll need to step up his game.
Gibson ranks RB26 in NFL Next Gen’s rush yards over expected / attempt and has left 11.2 PPR points on the field this season, per PFF’s expected points model. But Gibson has also flashed talent. He ranks RB11 in rushing success rate and RB13 in YPRR. Gibson may continue to underperform his workload, but with the Commanders likely to lean on him a bit more this week to avoid the deadly Cowboys pass rush, he’s worth trusting in starting lineups.
Cowboys Implied Team Total: 22.5
Because of their elite pass rush, opponents have been shifting slightly to the run against the Cowboys. But Washington’s defense has had a more significant effect on their opposition. Teams have been pass-heavy against the Commanders and are shifting to the pass at a very high rate. The Lions had the biggest shift against Washington in Week 2, but the Jaguars and Eagles were also more pass-heavy against Washington than their season-long rates.
It’s not hard to understand why teams are attacking the Commanders through the air. They rank 25th in EPA allowed per dropback, 27th in PFF’s coverage grades, and 23rd in pass rush grade. Quarterbacks have had time to sit in the pocket, leading to big plays against a below-average secondary. Meanwhile, Washington has held up well against the run, but that only puts more pressure on their struggling pass defense as teams attack the path of least resistance.
The Cowboys are not likely to fully embrace this matchup. They rank 29th with a -6% PROE; only the Bears, 49ers, and Browns have been more run-heavy this year. But pass funnels still have an effect on run-heavy teams. We saw this with the 49ers last week against the Broncos, who are 2022’s biggest pass funnel so far. San Francisco wasn’t pass-heavy against Denver, but they did shift heavily toward the pass. In Week 1, the 49ers had a -19% PROE and a -16% PROE in Week 2. But they were slightly past-first against the Broncos with a 2% PROE in Week 3. We could see a similar shift to the pass from the Cowboys. The Commanders’ defense isn’t as big of a pass funnel as the Broncos’, but the Cowboys also aren’t as philosophically committed to the run as the 49ers. This sets up an unusually fantasy-rich environment for Cooper Rush pass catchers.
CeeDee Lamb has been frustrating this season. Actually, that understates it. It’s been this kind of year:
Unsurprisingly, Lamb is dramatically underperforming in YPT. His 6.0 YPT is nearly three yards lower than expected for his 10.7 aDOT. But while we would love for Lamb to have scored more points this season, his profile looks positive from a forward-looking perspective. Lamb has a 33% target share and a 42% air yard share. His 0.80 weighted opportunity rating (WOPR) trails only Amari Cooper (0.82), Cooper Kupp (0.85), and Mark Andrews (0.86). If the Cowboys increase their passing volume this week, Lamb could redeem himself in a big way.
Noah Brown has the opposite setup as Lamb. He’s had an impressive 2.17 YPRR but is overperforming in YPT. Brown’s 21% target share and 27% air yard share significantly trail Lamb’s. With Michael Gallup potentially returning to the lineup this week, Brown should be left on benches.
Dalton Schultz (knee) was a full participant in Thursday’s practice and looks likely to make his return this week. Schultz has struggled this season with a 1.13 YPRR. But he has an elite 89% route participation this year and remains a TE1, given the extremely low bar at tight end.
It’s status quo in the Dallas backfield. Ezekiel Elliott had a 62% snap share and 56% of team attempts in Weeks 1-2; he held steady last week at 64% and 50%. For the 2nd straight season, Tony Pollard has been far more effective than Elliott. Pollard ranks RB5 in RYOE / attempt and RB8 in NFL Next Gen’s success rate. Elliott ranks RB33 and RB19. Pollard has also been much more efficient as a receiver, ranking RB7 in YPRR, while Elliott ranks 53rd, dead last, with a literally negative -0.09 YPRR.
But none of this is new. Pollard looks destined to go down as one of the biggest what-if stories at running back of this generation... but he profiles as a low-end RB2 this week.
Browns at Falcons, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Browns Implied Team Total: 24.5
Maybe things will change once Jacoby Brissett is no longer their starting quarterback, but the Browns are fully committed to the run. They have a -8% pass rate over expected and a -11% PROE on 1st-and-10, both of which rank 30th.
There’s no reason to expect this to change because the Browns have been awesome at running the ball. Not only that, but the Falcons are not good at defending the run. There is simply no doubt about what the Browns’ game plan will be this week.
Nick Chubb is coming off a season-high 63% snap share against the Steelers, but his involvement in the receiving game is still fairly minimal. Chubb had a 4% target share through the first six weeks of 2021, with Kareem Hunt healthy. He’s at 6% now, indicating that Chubb and Hunt are in roughly the same roles we’re accustomed to. Still, this has the potential to be a Chubb game in what profiles as a competitive, run-heavy game environment. The Browns, as small favorites, should be in position to run throughout the game. And the Falcons, who rank 28th with a -5% PROE, are unlikely to be aggressive enough to push the Browns off their game plan.
Although the Browns are sure to limit Brissett’s volume, it’s important to note that he has played well this season. Brissett ranks eighth in EPA per play and ninth in CPOE, impressing in both efficiency and accuracy.
Most of that success has run through Amari Cooper, who leads the team with an elite 2.31 YPRR. And Cooper has actually underperformed his volume so far. Only Mark Andrews (0.86) and Cooper Kupp (0.85) have a higher WOPR Cooper this season. So rather than Cooper’s production being unsustainable, he actually looks due for positive regression. Of course, Cooper’s 31% target share and 40% air yard share are probably too high to sustain. But it’s great to see that his production so far has been driven by elite target opportunity. He’s clicking with Brissett and should be viewed as a locked-in WR2 this week.
Donovan Peoples-Jones looks like he can be thrown back on the waiver wire. Peoples-Jones has a poor 0.78 YPRR, and he doesn’t even have a deep aDOT. With an aDOT of just 8.9, Peoples-Jones has been a shallow target earner who doesn’t earn targets at a high rate. That’s a big no thanks.
Instead, David Njoku looks like the No. 2 fantasy option in the passing game. Njoku has run a route on 77% of dropbacks this season and logged elite 82% route participation against the Steelers last week. On this low-volume offense, Njoku’s ultra-shallow 4.8 aDOT makes him somewhat TD-dependent. But the Browns have been an efficient offense this season, so their every route tight end profiles as a low-end TE1.
Falcons Implied Team Total: 23
The Browns create a gravitational pull to the running game. In addition to being the third most run-heavy team this season, the Browns are also the third biggest run funnel. Only the Bears and 49ers appear to be having a bigger effect on their opponents’ game plans.
And the Falcons don’t need any encouragement to run the ball. With a -5% PROE, only the Bears, 49ers, Browns, and Cowboys have been more philosophically committed to the run.
But still, the Falcons are going to love what they see when reviewing tape of Cleveland’s run defense. The Browns rank 27th in EPA allowed per rush, 22nd in rush success rate, and 28th in run defense grade. So Atlanta is a lock to roll out a run-heavy attack here.
Cordarrelle Patterson is well positioned to continue his impressive season. Patterson ranks RB7 in PPR points per game, RB7 in RYOE / attempt, and RB7 in NFL Next Gen’s success rate. He’s been an incredibly efficient running back this season. Unfortunately, though, Patterson looks like a shaky bet to continue producing as he has. He was middling in both RYOE / attempt and success rate last season, making it hard to buy his early-season efficiency. And Patterson has actually been far less efficient as a receiver this year.
Patterson’s YPRR is down from 2.24 to 0.64. Like his rushing overperformance, some of this underperformance is statistical noise. But Patterson’s reduced receiving efficiency could also signal that Marcus Mariota‘s rushing ability will create less receiving value in the backfield. Per PFF, Patterson has delivered 4.0 more fantasy points per game than expected, based on his workload. Patterson has been the fifth most efficient running back with at least 10 expected points per game. Even with a game plan that should favor the run, Patterson looks like a boom/bust RB2.
Although Falcons passing attempts are likely to be minimized, they have a good chance of being efficient when Mariota drops back. Mariota currently ranks seventh in EPA per play. Although he ranks just 14th in CPOE—Mariota’s efficiency is outpacing his accuracy, which is often a sign that regression is on the way. Still, Mariota’s accuracy has been above average; he doesn’t look in danger of seeing his efficiency crater based on his play so far.
Mariota’s play is powering an impressive breakout season from rookie Drake London. Among receivers with at least 70% route participation, London ranks eighth in YPRR. While it’s unlikely that London sustains his 2.74 YPRR, he can fall off considerably and still turn in an elite season. Moreover, London’s 8.9 YPT is precisely where you would expect for a player with his 11.5 aDOT. Again, London is unlikely to maintain a 32% target share and 35% air yard share, but he doesn’t need to keep all of that elite volume to be one of the best values in fantasy drafts this year.
Part of my excitement for London comes from the fact that he’s only run a route on 82% of dropbacks. London has room to grow. Given his play so far, we should expect that the rookie is regularly hitting 90% plus route participation by the end of the season. Those additional routes should help make up for his inevitable per-route regression. And to be clear, I don’t expect a ton of regression for London. He’s already shown that he can operate as the No. 1 wide receiver in this offense and has very little competition for targets at the wide receiver position.
Fortunately, we saw some tough competition for targets last week from Kyle Pitts, who turned in a 5-for-87 day after back-to-back 2-for-19 lines to start the season. But Pitts is still well below London in terms of expected YPRR.
More concerning, Pitts only ran a route on 65% of dropbacks last week. Pitts had a 91% route rate in Week 2; this made it easier to keep the faith after his poor start to the season. But a 65% route rate shouldn’t even be in the range of outcomes for a talent like Pitts. The fact that it is and that we still aren’t seeing a target share commensurate with an elite tight end is a real blow to Pitts’ hopes of living up to his preseason ADP. I don’t want to go overboard here, though. Pitts had 5.12 YPRR last week, and has an elite expected YPRR. If he runs a full slate of routes - and seriously, how is he not doing that? - he still has elite upside for a tight end. But after a week that was generally spun as bullish for the tight end, it’s worth noting that London’s outlook is much rosier for this week and beyond.
Bills at Ravens, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Bills Implied Team Total: 27
The Bills are coming off a grueling loss to the Dolphins in brutal Miami heat. The high temperatures caused cramping issues for the Bills throughout the game, impacting their offensive line and wide receivers, particularly Stefon Diggs. But the Bills still remained very much on brand. Buffalo leads the league with a 14% PROE. The Bills also lead the league with a 17% PROE on 1st-and-10 this season. Their approach didn’t waiver in Week 3.
The Bills aren’t just passing because they like the concept. They’re extremely dangerous through the air, ranking third in EPA per dropback and second in dropback success rate. In Week 4, they face a Ravens defense that isn’t terrible against the pass but is certainly at risk of giving up big plays.
The Patriots went slightly run-heavy against the Ravens in Week 3, which was a shift to the run for New England. As a result, the Ravens don’t look like an impactful pass funnel at the moment. But teams have still been pass-first against Baltimore and have shifted to the pass against them overall. A team like the Bills will look at this matchup as a get-right spot for their passing game, even if the Patriots weren’t interested in passing against the same defense. We should see the Bills drop back frequently here.
As good as Josh Allen has been in EPA per play—he ranks fourth—the stat understates just how much upside he brings to the table every week. Allen leads the NFL in EPA per game. The entire Buffalo offense runs through him—and it runs through him at high volume. The Bills are pushing their edge at quarterback purposefully and effectively.
As you can see below, the Ravens can be run on, which allowed the Patriots to justify their ball-control approach last week.
But we know which path the Bills prefer. In a game that won’t be afflicted by extreme heat, this looks like an excellent environment for Bills pass catchers.
Stefon Diggs is having a monster season, but his production so far overstates his target volume a bit. His 10.4 YPT is likely unsustainable for a player with a 10.0 aDOT; he’ll likely suffer some negative regression soon. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a strong target profile. Based on his expected YPRR, Diggs can still have an elite season by simply delivering on the opportunity in front of him.
Gabe Davis, meanwhile, is starting to look a little shaky in the numbers. On the bright side, he’s run a route on 97% of dropbacks. It’s pretty bullish that he was on the field for nearly every snap in his first game back from injury. And it’s reasonable to expect that Davis’s target earning ability was hampered by his ankle. Still, Davis has just a 10% target rate this season. He now trails both Isaiah McKenzie (19%) and Jameson Crowder (13%) in target rate. But Davis still has much more upside on a per-route basis because he sees targets deep downfield. Davis’s 13.5 aDOT leads the Bills. And, of course, Davis leads the Bills in route rate. The combination alone makes him worth sticking with. But it would be really nice to see him earn targets at an impressive rate this week to confirm that his 9% target rate in Week 3 was health-related. McKenzie and Crowder, by the way, had route rates of 56% and 48% last week, and are both desperation FLEX options, at best.
In the backfield, Devin Singletary is coming off a very strong Week 3, driven by his involvement in the passing game. This is an unexpected development for Singletary, given that he has been highly inefficient as a pass catcher throughout his career and that the Bills brought in James Cook specifically to play a pass-catching role.
Singletary was essentially in the right place at the right time. James Cook is not yet trusted in pass protection and has just one pass-blocking snap this season. But Singletary isn’t exactly a pass-blocking specialist; he ranks 26th of 47 running backs in PFF’s pass-blocking grades this year. Still, Cook doesn’t seem poised for a larger role any time soon. Instead, Singletary is the one who saw his snap share spike last week.
There’s some risk that Singletary’s snaps decline below 50%, where he was in Weeks 1-2. But coming off a game with a high-end snap share that included the receiving role the Bills have repeatedly tried (and failed) to give to someone else... Singletary looks like a very solid RB2 play.
Ravens Implied Team Total: 24
Lamar Jackson is having an amazing season. He now ranks second in EPA per play behind only Patrick Mahomes. And the Ravens aren’t shying away from their advantage in the passing game.
After injuries decimated their backfield in 2021, the Ravens were surprisingly balanced, finishing with a -1% PROE. Entering the season, it was assumed that the Ravens would shift back toward the run. Instead, they’re passing even more than they did last season. In fact, they currently profile as a legitimately pass-first team. To be honest... they’re bordering on pass-heavy. Only the Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins, Chargers, and Commanders have a higher pass rate over expected this year.
However, we could see a shift to the run this week. The Bills have been a run funnel. The Rams, Titans, and Dolphins all shifted to the run against them. Even with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens are probably not super excited about getting into a shootout with the Bills. Any hesitation would have nothing to do with Jackson and everything to do with the Ravens’ secondary.
But that doesn’t mean the Ravens will either shy away from a shootout script either. They may need the Bills to push them to embrace the pass this week, but if the Bills play from ahead, Baltimore will not roll over.
If forced to pass frequently, Jackson will need to be at his best to evade a formidable Bills pass rush. Even after a down week against the Dolphins, the Bills rank second in quick pressure rate and have the highest graded pass rush in the NFL.
Any issues with pressure could impact Rashod Bateman, who has a true deep threat aDOT of 17.6. I can’t say I expected Bateman to have this kind of role, but it actually makes quite a bit of sense for Bateman to operate as a deep threat with Marquise Brown now in Arizona. And you can’t argue with the results.
Bateman has 3.05 YPRR; among players with 70%+ route participation, Bateman trails only Jaylen Waddle (3.98), Tyreek Hill (3.48), and Julio Jones (3.14). Bateman also had a season-high 79% route rate in week three. Bateman’s route participation has been oddly low this season, so it’s nice to see him moving in the right direction there. This matchup isn’t the best setup for a downfield threat, but Bateman has repeatedly flashed elite YAC ability this year. His arrow is pointing up now that his route participation is approaching a true full-time role.
Bateman is a highly efficient deep threat, but he’s not the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver. That title belongs to Mark Andrews. Andrews has played 66% of his snaps in the slot and has run a route on 90% of dropbacks. Andrews has a true No. 1 receiver aDOT of 11.7 to go with a 39% target share and a 40% air yard share. That combination of target and air yard share is crazy good; Andrews leads the NFL with a 0.86 WOPR (which combines target and air yard share). To be clear, Andrews does not lead all tight ends in WOPR; he leads all players. So far this year, Andrews is answering the question: what if Cooper Kupp had tight end eligibility?
I noted last week that Andrews is underperforming his target opportunity. That continues to be the case. His 7.7 YPT is significantly lower than what we normally see from a player with an 11.7 aDOT. This is likely going to resolve in Andrew’s favor. A player of his talent with strong quarterback play can be expected to regress positively towards his target volume. Given Andrews’ stratospheric target volume, it’s also likely that his opportunity will fall off a bit. But Andrews can counteract that effect by showing some positive regression in YPT.
As talented as the Bills are on offense, it’s likely that the Ravens will eventually air it out. But until things get nutty, we could see the Ravens lean a bit more on the run game with J.K. Dobbins finally back on the field.
It was great to see Dobbins playing, but his fantasy value is still hard to trust. He logged a 44% snap share last week, which trailed Justice Hill‘s 47%. Although, Dobbins led the backfield with 27% of team rushing attempts and got the only 2 backfield targets. Still, the Ravens have been very complimentary of Hill, making it harder to believe that things will shift in a big way toward Dobbins this week.
John Harbaugh: "I thought Justice Hill really stepped up. He was kinda the bell cow today. He made some exceptional runs. He and I have been talking about that for a couple weeks - he was gonna break out and run like a star running back, and he did."— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) September 25, 2022
With that in mind, Dobbins looks like a desperation RB2. Hopefully, he continues getting used in the passing game, which will be crucial if this game hits its 51-point total, the highest of the week.
Seahawks at Lions, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Seahawks Implied Team Total: 22
After the Vikings shifted to the run against them in Week 3, the Lions defense looks like a bit of a run funnel. Teams haven’t been run-heavy against them, but they’ve consistently shifted to the run. And the shifts from the Commanders and Vikings were fairly significant as well. And it’s not hard to see why; the Lions rank 26th in EPA allowed per rush, 32nd in rushing success rate, and 30th in PFF’s run grades. Detroit isn’t great against the pass either, but if you want to run against the Lions, you’re going to be able to.
The Seahawks want to run against the Lions. Technically, Seattle is a pass-first team, but their 3% PROE has been driven by a very pass-heavy Week 1 against the Broncos. They’ve since had a -1% PROE against the 49ers and a 0% PROE against the Falcons.
And even when Geno Smith drops back, he will pass quickly. That should help Seattle move the ball against a defense that ranks ninth in quick pressure rate.
I noted last week that Smith had the lowest aDOT in the league at just 5.2. But the Seahawks actually opened things up a bit against the Falcons, with Smith posting a 9.8 aDOT. Still, Smith ranks 25th in aDOT this season. So we should see plenty of short passes against the Lions, whose pass rush is the only dangerous element of their defense.
Smith’s targets will be heavily concentrated to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. So far, Lockett has been much more productive than Metcalf this season, with 21 receptions for 211 yards, while Metcalf has been held to 16 receptions for 135 yards and a TD. But both players have had 25 targets and very similar aDOTs—Metcalf is at 10.1, and Lockett is at 10.4. This means that the yardage difference between the two has been entirely based on YPT.
Lockett is producing as expected, with an 8.4 YPT. Metcalf has been far below expectations with just 5.4 YPT. Given their preseason ADPs, it’s definitely notable that Lockett and Metcalf are seeing the exact same yardage volume. But although they look like co-WR1s right now, Lockett does not appear to have passed Metcalf as the No. 1.
In fact, as Kyle Dvorchak noted on the Rotoworld Football show, Metcalf has been targeted much more heavily near the goal line and in the end zone, which has led to Metcalf seeing 16.2 expected points per game (WR19) to Lockett’s 14.0 (WR26). Metcalf’s inefficiency has been frustrating, but he remains the higher upside play.
Behind Lockett and Metcalf, it’s simple—don’t play anyone. No other Seahawks player has a 55%+ route rate. So not only are targets heavily concentrated to Metcalf and Lockett, they are the only ones consistently on the field.
The don’t play anybody ethos usually applies to the backfield as well. But Rashaad Penny looks like a viable RB2 after playing 69% of snaps last week. His receiving ceiling is thoroughly capped; after Travis Homer was injured last week, DeeJay Dallas saw a 21% snap share. And Penny’s rushing floor is not assured; as long as he’s healthy, Kenneth Walker will remain a threat to Penny’s workload. But the Seahawks are guaranteed to at least attempt to establish their ground game this week. Penny isn’t a super comfortable play, but if he’s going to recapture his late 2021 form, this might be his best chance to do it.
Lions Implied Team Total: 26
The Lions had some questionable 4th down decisions against the Vikings, but I still like the way they’re running their offense. Overall, they are a balanced team with a 0% pass rate over expected. But they are decidedly pass-heavy on first down with a 7% PROE. This continues a trend that I’ve written about previously. While the Lions aren’t keen on putting the entire offense on Jared Goff‘s shoulders, they still set him up for success by passing heavily on 1st down—a down where the defense must respect the threat of the run.
This play-calling approach helps explain why Jared Goff ranks 13th in EPA per play while ranking just 29th in CPOE. Goff has not been accurate this year, but he has still produced strong efficiency. Some of that can be credited to a well-designed offense. However, some of it is likely just variance. If Goff continues to be this inaccurate, his efficiency will eventually decline.
Goff could also be in trouble if his top target Amon-Ra St. Brown isn’t fully healthy for this game. After suffering an ankle injury on Sunday and missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday, St. Brown looks uncertain for this game. If St. Brown cannot play, his absence could greatly affect the offense. St. Brown leads the Lions with a 31% target share. With just a 5.8 aDOT, he’s the clear safety blanket for Goff. And even if St. Brown does play, he’s unlikely to be 100%. That could lead to more targets for T.J. Hockenson, who shares an underneath role with St. Brown— Hockenson has a 5.6 aDOT. The tight end is tied for second on the team in target share, at 17%. But D. J. Chark is the higher upside way to bet on a spread-out target distribution this week.
Chark leads the Lions with a 35% air yard share. His 5.4 YPT has absolutely crushed his value this season; at his 18.4 aDOT, his YPT should be over twice as high. Goff’s deep threat will always be a bit inefficient, but Chark has upside for far more production than he’s delivered so far. If his target opportunity increases this week, he could be a fun FLEX play. Although, his health also needs to be monitored after he missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury.
With Swift dealing with a shoulder injury and an ankle injury that hampered him to begin the year, Jamaal Williams looks like a solid play. But Williams is unlikely to be a workhorse. When Swift was injured in Week 12 last season, Williams played 63% of the snaps. But in his two subsequent games without Swift, Williams had snap shares of just 47% and 41%. In other words, with time to prepare without Swift, the Lions used a committee backfield. That dynamic could play out again with Craig Reynolds and perhaps Justin Jackson getting meaningful snaps this week. But Williams is still a solid play because of his short-yardage role. Williams has played ahead of Swift all season at the goal line and in short yardage situations and is very likely to maintain that role over Reynolds and Jackson. This role has allowEd Williams to rank RB14 in expected points per game—and that was while Swift was active. While Williams was a disappointment in relief of Swift last year, investing in the Lions’ offense this year has been much more profitable than in 2021. Williams looks like a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside, assuming Swift misses this game.
Chargers at Texans, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Chargers Implied Team Total: 24.75
With Justin Herbert dealing with a ribs injury over the last two weeks, it would have been understandable if the Chargers went run-heavy; they did not. The Chargers had an 11% PROE against the Chiefs and an 8% PROE against the Jaguars last week.
Justin Herbert is still having a solid season despite his injury. Herbert ranks 12th in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE. But the Chargers now get a Texans team that is unlikely to push them the way the Jaguars did last week.
The Texans’ offense ranks 29th in EPA per play. So unless the Texans surprise here, the Chargers will have the option to take their foot off the gas and preserve Herbert’s health. A more conservative game plan could be especially alluring after losing LT Rashawn Slater for the season. His replacement in that game, Storm Norton, has not played well this season, especially in pass protection.
This isn’t lost on the Chargers, who have opted to go with sixth-round rookie Jamaree Salyer as their starter at left tackle this week. Protecting Herbert could be a major issue.
But Herbert could play the same brand of football. Last week I speculated that Herbert could lean on shallow throws because of his ribs injury; he did the exact opposite. Against the Jaguars, Herbert had his highest aDOT of the year, at 9.2, tied for QB12 last week.
So Herbert’s style of play doesn’t seem like it’s going to change in a big way. And his quality of play should improve as he gets healthier, provided his line can keep him upright.
Herbert could see a slight boost if Keenan Allen can return this week. Allen has been limited to 13 routes this season… but he was excellent in that sample. Unfortunately, he appears genuinely questionable for his game.
Mike Williams feasted on volume in Week 2 with Allen out, but he has not been efficient this season, posting a poor 1.13 YPRR. His best bet for production is if Allen misses the game, given that passing volume could be down in this game environment.
Because this would also be a logical spot for the Chargers to lean on their run game. The Texans have been pretty decent against the pass while more susceptible on the ground.
Running the ball isn’t really the Chargers’ thing, but a weak Texans run defense should allow them to run the ball more effectively. They could also run the ball at a higher rate than they have this season if playing from ahead.
But as you can see above, the Chargers have simply not been effective on the ground. Austin Ekeler ranks RB37 in RYOE / attempt; only Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, James Connor, Najee Harris, and Chase Edmonds have been less efficient. Ekeler also ranks RB38 in success rate; only James Robinson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Joe Mixon, and Najee Harris rank lower. It’s been a disappointing start to the season for Ekeler, who ranked RB21 and RB24 in the same metrics last season. And frankly, if the Chargers are more committed to the run this week, it’s not clear they will even rely on Ekeler.
Last week, Sony Michel carried the ball five times to Ekeler’s four. Increased rushing volume could actually be bad news for the talented receiving back. He’ll be much better off if the Chargers continue passing at a high rate. If they do, his elite 1.99 YPRR indicates his PPR ceiling remains fully intact. A high-volume passing day looks unlikely for Los Angeles, but Ekeler is too talented to leave out of starting lineups. He profiles as a low-end RB1 this week.
Texans Implied Team Total: 19.75
The Texans are taking a different approach this season than they did in 2021. Last year they were a run-first team, but this season they have pivoted to what looks to be a genuinely pass-first approach. The Texans rank eighth in pass rate over expected; they rank second in PROE on 1st-and-10.
The Texans are also playing a Chargers defense that is producing very different results from last year. After finishing 2021 as the biggest run funnel in the league, the Chargers are currently the second-biggest passing funnel in the NFL. This dynamic will likely continue with star pass rusher Joey Bosa out for this game because the Chargers’ pass rush is the only thing keeping this defense from being genuinely bad.
Meanwhile, the Texans’ pass blocking is about the only thing they do well in the passing game. So even if the Chargers’ pass rush doesn’t collapse without Bosa, Houston should be able to hold up in pass protection. This sets up Davis Mills for… I don’t want to say a spike week… but whatever version of a spike week Davis Mills is capable of.
I have to be honest; it makes me a little uneasy to project passing efficiency or volume from Mills, who has been quite bad this year. Mills ranks 31st in EPA per play; only Justin Fields and Matt Ryan have been worse. And only Trey Lance, Baker Mayfield, and Justin Fields have been less accurate than Mills.
So what are we even talking about here? Well, we’re probably talking about a good game from Brandin Cooks. Cooks leads the Texans with a 27% target share and a 34% air yard share. He’s also run a route on 95% of dropbacks. Even on the Texans, this profile provides a strong base for fantasy scoring. But Cooks has struggled badly on a per-target basis. His 5.9 YPT is well below expected for his 10.3 aDOT. With Mills set up for a decent game this week, Cooks looks like a good bet to get back on track.
Behind Cooks, Nico Collins is second on the team with a 75% route rate. That’s below ideal for a wide receiver, but Collins does at least have a deep 13.1 aDOT. If he’s ever going to deliver on his preseason hype, this would be a good week to flash some upside.
This is also a decent game to play Dameon Pierce, assuming the Texans haven’t soured on him after his two fumbles last week. Pierce is facing a middling Chargers defense, and while the Texans are 7-point underdogs, that’s less than we would generally expect against Justin Herbert. Pierce is in play as an RB2.
Titans at Colts, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Titans Implied Team Total: 19.75
The Titans got their first win of the season against the Raiders, and they did it in a surprising way: passing. Technically, the Titans were balanced in Week 3 with a 0% PROE. But for the Titans, being balanced is pass-heavy. But even with last week’s results included, the Titans rank 27th in PROE.
The Titans can be expected to return to their preferred style this week because the Colts are a run funnel. All three of their opponents this season, the Texans, Jaguars, and Chiefs, have shifted to the run against them. Given what we know about Mike Vrabel and the Titans, it seems unlikely that they will turn their noses up at a run funnel.
The Colts are a bit of an odd run funnel, however. Based purely on matchups, you would expect teams to be passing heavily on the Colts. They are highly susceptible through the air, and actually quite strong in run defense.
But the Colts’ offense has been so ineffective that it appears to be affecting opposing offenses’ play-calling. With an offense that is both underperforming on the ground and appallingly bad through the air, opponents have been comfortable pounding the rock against them.
As you can see above, the Titans are also underperforming as a rushing offense. But they have at least been efficient through the air.
Unless the Colts unexpectedly push the Titans, we can expect a low-volume day for Ryan Tannehill. But Tannehill, who ranks ninth in EPA per play, should still be able to facilitate passing production even on limited dropbacks.
And while Tannehill’s dropbacks might be limited, the Titans are no longer restricting Treylon Burks’ routes. The rookie ran a route on 96% of dropbacks last week, an elite mark for any wide receiver, let alone a rookie. Unfortunately, Burks was mostly invisible. He was targeted just twice for a very poor 7% target rate. But in his previous two games, Burks flashed an elite target rate. As a result, he still has an impressive target rate for the season of 23%. His 2.02 YPRR is also an elite mark for a rookie.
We’re working with small samples here, but if Burks continues to run routes at an elite rate and can earn targets anywhere near his Weeks 1-2 rate, he can deliver a true breakout season. With offensive coordinator Todd Downing saying this week that he wants to get Burks more opportunities because of his YAC ability, I’m willing to take the leap on Burks as the Titans’ No. 1 receiver. Robert Woods is the other way to play this passing game. He’s run a route on 78% of dropbacks this year but was up to 89% last week. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was at just 64%. If Woods is going to be clearly ahead of Westbrook-Ikhine in terms of playing time, then he’s an interesting way to bet against Burks this week.
On the ground, this matchup looks likely to create some additional volume. But it does not set Derek Henry up for a particularly efficient day. That is not a good sign for Henry, who ranks just RB38 of 42 in NFL Next Gen’s RYOE / attempt. Henry also ranks RB24 in breakaway percentage and RB32 in elusive rating; he has not been good this season. But I hesitate to write off a player who has repeatedly buried the analytically minded. And so it’s worth noting that Henry currently ranks RB8 in YPRR. Henry only has two targets per game this year, but with 9.6 YPT, he is showing a bit of explosion in the receiving game. Henry will probably be inefficient this week, but with enough volume, he still has potential to rip off a few big plays. Henry ranks RB13 in PFF’s expected points model this season, and he shapes up as a low-end RB1 here.
Colts Implied Team Total: 23.25
As covered above, the Colts have been very inefficient on offense this season, particularly in the passing game. And the Colts appear to be hiding Matt Ryan; they rank 26th with a -3% PROE. But if Matt Ryan was your quarterback, you would try to hide him too. Only Justin Fields has been less efficient than Ryan this season.
But while Ryan is mostly dust, he might not be completely done. Ryan ranks 23rd in CPOE; his accuracy hasn’t been good, but it also hasn’t been a disaster. In CPOE, he ranks ahead of Kirk Cousins, Kyler Murray, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jared Goff. It’s at least possible that his accuracy leads to somewhat improved efficiency this week. Whether Ryan can achieve that will likely come down to whether the Colts can protect him against a solid Titans pass rush. If they can, he could take advantage of a beatable Titans secondary.
We’ve been waiting to see what a healthy Parris Campbell could do since 2019. It turns out he’s a cardio instructor. Campbell has run a route on 85% of dropbacks and has played in all three games, while Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce have only played two. But Campbell has earned just seven targets on 112 routes, for an abysmal 6% target rate. That would be bad regardless of what type of receiver Campbell was, but it’s especially egregious, given that Campbell is an underneath receiver. With just a 5.9 aDOT, Campbell can only be fantasy relevant if he racks up targets at a high rate. He looks like someone you can move on from even in deep leagues.
Alec Pierce is also probably a wind sprinter. But at least he gets downfield on his sprints. With a 13.9 aDOT, Pierce can help stretch the defense even if he doesn’t earn targets at a high rate. Because, for fantasy purposes, the only relevant receiver here is Michael Pittman. Pittman currently has a very strong 2.03 YPRR— all the more impressive given how badly Matt Ryan has played this year. But Pittman is running a bit hot in YPT; his per-route volume is well below elite levels this season.
While Pittman’s per-route volume is not elite, his route participation is. Pittman has run a route on 98% of dropbacks, slightly above his 2021 rate. Because of Ryan, Pittman is unlikely to have elite per-route efficiency, but he still looks like a solid WR2, given his locked-in role in the offense.
Pittman’s biggest risk is if the Colts decide that they’re not hiding Ryan enough. If Ryan stumbles out of the gate this week, they could shift heavily to the ground game. After all, the Titans are unlikely to push them off script with a deliberate and run-heavy attack of their own.
While the Colts’ rushing game has disappointed, their run blocking has not, ranking fifth in PFF’s run blocking grades.
And you don’t need me to tell you that Jonathan Taylor is an elite running back. With the potential for increased volume, Taylor will look to recapture his 2021 form this week behind a strong line.
Bears at Giants, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Bears Implied Team Total: 18.25
The Bears are literally playing football from a different era.
The Bears (yes, I know they are 2-1) have 23 completed passes through three games.— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) September 25, 2022
The last time a team had fewer completions after three games played was in 1982.
And look, I know they played in a monsoon in Week 1, but the -18% PROE they posted in that game is not even an outlier for Chicago. In Week 2, the Bears had a -25% PROE and they had a -17% PROE against the Texans last week. In fact, excluding penalties, the Bears had their highest PROE in Week 1.
Chicago's Week 1 rain game against the Niners was actually their "highest" PROE of the year.— Michael Leone (@2Hats1Mike) September 27, 2022
With a -19% PROE this season, Chicago has been over twice as committed to the run as the 2021 Titans (-8%), last year’s most run-heavy team. But hey, the Bears are 2-1. And while I feel compelled to go full, “he can’t keep getting away with this!” on Matt Eberflus... the Bears play the Giants this week, so he probably can.
The Giants’ defense is not very good at anything, and it can definitely be run on.
The Giants’ offense is also not great, ranking 21st in EPA per play. As a result, they are unlikely to be efficient enough to push the Bears off of their preferred script—and the Bears’ game plan is a lock to be a run-based one.
And it’s actually hard to blame the Bears for their anachronistic play-calling. Justin Fields has been dreadful this season. He ranks 33-of-33 qualifying quarterbacks in EPA per play and 31st in CPOE.
You can find him in the chart above in the Baker Mayfield zone of sadness. With just 6.6 yards per attempt this season, Fields has been less efficient per passing attempt than Khalil Herbert (7.3 YPC) has been as a ball carrier. Herbert’s rushing efficiency is indisputably unsustainable, but it’s not hard to understand why the Bears have been pounding the rock. Lead back David Montgomery has also been decently efficient this year with 4.5 YPC. The Bears run at a hilariously high rate, but at least they do it well.
If Montgomery is out of the lineup, Herbert looks like a locked-in RB2. He won’t maintain his current efficiency, but he’s a talented back who should have solid volume.
Bears receivers are extremely difficult to trust, though. Even after recording his first two receptions of the year last week, Cole Kmet does not look fantasy relevant. His 78% route rate is strong for a tight end. But he’s running 78% of routes on the Chicago Bears; he ranks just TE31 in routes run. And Kmet has only earned a target on 10% of his routes. He’s a defensible cut even in tight end premium leagues.
And so, Darnell Mooney is the only Bears receiver who should be anywhere near your starting lineup. Mooney has run a route on 95% of dropbacks this season and offers big play upside with a 14.2 aDOT. His 23% target share and 34% air yard share are actually somewhat impressive. The only issue is that he has a pathetic 2.7 YPT. Mooney will be inefficient for as long as Fields is playing like the worst quarterback in the league. But even if Fields stinks, Mooney is unlikely to be this inefficient. He’s in the FLEX conversation as a bet that his production matches his target volume this week.
Giants Implied Team Total: 21.25
New York has been a balanced team, operating with a 0% PROE. But the Giants have not been balanced in any individual game. They opened the season with a -14% PROE; they’ve since recorded back-to-back games at 6%. After Week 1, my initial read of the situation was that the Giants were working hard to hide Daniel Jones. But it now looks more likely that their Week 1 game plan was matchup related.
Even still, it seems very likely the Giants will return to a ground-based attack this week. Bears opponents are averaging a -9% PROE against them and shifting 6% to the run; both marks are the highest in the league.
Daniel Jones has been highly inefficient this season, ranking just 28th in EPA per play. But there are some reasons to think he could be more efficient this week, even on low volume. First, Jones has been decently accurate, ranking 17th in CPOE. And second, the Bears may not be able to take advantage of Jones’ biggest weakness: inviting pressure.
The Bears rank just 29th in pass rush grade and 27th in quick pressure rate. Jones has been pressured on 52% of his dropbacks, the highest rate in the NFL, and he’s second to Joe Flacco in allowed pressures. Jones will make the Bears’ pass rush look better than it is, but he should also have more time to throw than usual. With the pressure dialed back, Jones could be impressively mediocre this week. That is... if he gets anything from his wide receivers.
After making a stunningly impressive return from his torn Achilles, Sterling Shepard suffered a torn ACL against the Cowboys. Shepard is a big loss for the Giants. He led the team with a 26% target share and a 42% air yard share. Shepard was primarily playing outside, so his routes will presumably be taken by Kenny Golladay. Although having already been passed by David Sills, Golladay cannot be relied on, even in 32-team leagues with deep rosters. Somehow, Richie James looks like the most reliable option here. He has a decent 1.70 YPRR and is holding down slot duties, for the time being, playing 84% of his snaps there. Gamblers may be enticed by Kadarius Toney, if active. But Toney has just three targets on 18 routes this season. It’s best to take a wait-and-see approach with the second-year receiver, even if healthy.
Fortunately, the Giants have Saquon Barkley. Barkley ranks fourth in RYOE / attempt behind Khalil Herbert, D’Andre Swift, and Aaron Jones. If he gets additional volume this week, Barkley has elite potential against a weak Bears run defense.
Jaguars at Eagles, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Jaguars Implied Team Total: 19.5
While the Jaguars have been a balanced team, it is very clear what is driving the success of their offense. Trevor Lawrence ranks fifth in EPA per play this season and second in CPOE. The Jaguars haven’t been bad on the ground, but their seventh ranking in EPA per play is primarily the result of Lawrence’s excellent play.
This matchup should tell us a lot about how good the Jaguars actually are. Jacksonville is going against an Eagles’ defense that is strong in the same areas that they are.
The weakness of the Eagles’ defense is the run, but the Jaguars aren’t likely to fully establish it here. This is because the Jaguars do not have a strong rushing attack and because the Eagles’ offense hasn’t been letting opposing teams get away with run-heavy game plans. The Eagles run defense is weak enough that, eventually, a team is likely to find success with a ground-and-pound attack. It’s just that the Jaguars seem unlikely to be that team.
Instead, the Jaguars may try to go toe to toe with the Eagles, creating upside for a high-scoring game. Whether the Jaguars actually put up a lot of points primarily depends on how Trevor Lawrence handles the pass rush this week.
Lawrence ranks QB26 in PFF’s quarterback grades under pressure. Fortunately for the Jaguars, he has only been pressured at the 20th highest rate. That could change this week against an Eagles defense that ranks ninth in pass rush grade and ninth in pressure rate.
As I covered last week, Lawrence is spreading the ball around. That was on full display against the Chargers, with Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, and Marvin Jones all getting in the end zone. Zay Jones led the team with a 30% target share, and Marvin Jones led the team with a 48% air yard share. Kirk finished second in both metrics. Kirk’s efficiency has continued to outpace his volume this season, but he still looks like the best bet against the Eagles. Playing 77% of his snaps in the slot with a fairly shallow 9.7 aDOT, Kirk could rack up volume if Lawrence needs to get the ball out quickly. Evan Engram could also see additional targets this week. He has a weak 16% target rate this year, but because he’s run a route on 80% of dropbacks, he’s in the low-end TE1 mix as a bet on this game shooting out.
"Billy, this is Evan Engram. He led the 2016 Ole Miss team that had Van Jefferson, AJ Brown & DK Metcalf in receiving yards+TDs, plays with an ascending young QB, & runs most of his snaps from the slot.— Davis Mattek (@DavisMattek) September 29, 2022
The only problem is: he never scores any fantasy points" pic.twitter.com/YXBPot8sQp
James Robinson continues to dunk on his doubters, currently RB3 in PPR points per game. I believe I was one of those doubters, but who remembers. Robinson has definitely run hot this year, though, ranking RB9 in fantasy points over expected per game. But Robinson has also been trusted with an extremely valuable workload. Per PFF, his opportunities have been worth 15.5 PPR points per game—that ranks RB9, tied with Nick Chubb and Christian McCaffrey. So while Robinson’s efficiency is going to cool off as the season moves along, I have to admit his workload is still far more extensive than I thought it would be to begin the year. Actually, to be completely honest, I didn’t think Robinson would ever see this level of workload while sharing a backfield with a healthy Travis Etienne.
And Robinson’s receiving workload looks to be trending up. He had a 33% route rate in Week 1, which jumped to 52% in Week 2. And he maintained that increase with a 53% route rate last week. Meanwhile, Etienne has seen his route participation decline from 49% to 45% to 35%. Etienne still leads 10% to 7% in target share this year, but Robinson is the clear lead back at the moment. Even in the receiving game, Etienne isn’t guaranteed to get more opportunities this week. Admitting this hurts a bit since I missed the boat this summer, but Robinson looks like a rock solid RB2 with Etienne as more of a fill-in RB2.
Eagles Implied Team Total: 26
The Eagles have been extremely fun this season. Not only have they shifted away from the run-heavy approach that they used for much of 2021, but they’re actually a pass-first team. The Eagles have been consistently pass-first as well. They opened with a 3% PROE against the Lions, then posted a 4% PROE against the Vikings, and are coming off a season-high 5% PROE in their blowout of the Commanders. The Eagles currently rank ninth in pass rate over expected and eighth in PROE on 1st-and-10.
The Eagles have no reason to back away from this approach; Jalen Hurts is playing incredible football. Hurts ranks sixth in EPA per play and eighth in CPOE. That level of accuracy is absolutely deadly when combined with a true dual-threat quarterback like Hurts.
Although Hurts doesn’t have the speed of Michael Vick, his season so far is a bit reminiscent of Vick’s 2010 with the Eagles. Vick led all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game that year.
With Hurts having an exceptional year, the Eagles don’t necessarily need encouragement to pass aggressively. But the Jaguars’ defense has seen opponents shift to the pass against them. Opponents are also averaging a 5% PROE against Jacksonville.
Jacksonville isn’t actually bad at defending the pass, but they’re not great at it, either. And they’ve been good at defending the run and effective on offense. That combination has incentivized teams to pass against them. And so, with a good-not-great pass defense, the Jaguars have become a pass funnel this year.
This is great news for A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Smith is coming off an 8-169-1 breakout game, leading the Eagles with a 36% target share and a 53% air yard share. But Smith still looks like the No. 2 option in the passing game, behind A.J. Brown. Brown leads the team with a 32% target share and a 43% air yard share. With a 0.78 WOPR, only Mark Andrews (0.86), Cooper Kupp (0.85), Amari Cooper (0.82), and CeeDee Lamb (0.80) have accounted for a larger share of their passing offenses. Brown hasn’t had a big game since Week 1, but the Eagles haven’t been pushed since Week 1 either. If Lawrence can handle Philadelphia’s pass rush and put up points, Brown is well-positioned for another spike week.
As you can see above, Dallas Goedert has done well to put up an 11-168-1 receiving line this year. Now dealing with a shin injury that knocked him out against the Commanders, he looks like a TD-dependent bet. For now, Brown and Smith look like the best way to play this passing game.
At running back, Miles Sanders ranks just RB29 in expected points per game. And he’s performed exactly as expected this season. His low-value workload shouldn’t be surprising. Over the summer, Sanders himself warned us, “that’s just how our offense is, man.”
But it’s worth noting that Sanders has run 51 routes to Kenneth Gainwell‘s 38, with both players having seen six targets so far. In other words, if this game turns into a true shootout, Sanders should be able to benefit as a pass catcher. Given the potential for points in this game, Sanders has upside for one of his best games of the entire season.
Jets at Steelers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Jets Implied Team Total: 19.25
Zach Wilson is set to make his 2022 debut this week, having sufficiently recovered from his knee injury. Joe Flacco hasn’t been a disaster while filling in for Wilson, but he hasn’t been great either, ranking 27th in EPA per play and 24th in CPOE. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Wilson will be any better after playing extremely poorly as a rookie.
But we don’t need highly efficient quarterback play in New York because the weapons here are wildly talented. This passing game can support at least one weapon as long as Wilson doesn’t crater the offense.
Right now, that weapon looks most likely to be Garrett Wilson. Wilson played through a ribs injury against the Bengals, resulting in a 66% route rate. But Wilson led the team with a 19% target rate and has a team-leading 27% target rate this season.
As you can see above, Wilson’s per-route target opportunity has far outpaced the other Jets receivers. That is critical because we don’t expect strong play from Zach Wilson. Wilson has not actually been all that dialed in with Flacco. His 7.4 YPT is below expectations for his 10.5 aDOT, and Wilson’s YPRR is significantly lower than expected based on his target opportunity.
A quarterback change could still shake things up, of course. But it would have to shake things up in a big way. Despite only running a route on 65% of dropbacks this season, compared to 92% for Elijah Moore, Wilson leads the team in target share (21%), is tied with Moore in air yard share (27%), and leads the team in WOPR (0.51). If anything, injury and inefficiency are causing the numbers to understate how quickly Wilson has established himself as the No. 1 option on the Jets.
Tyler Conklin is starting to get a bit of buzz due to his 37.8 PPR points this season, the third highest at the position. Be careful with Conklin, though. He leads all tight ends with 133 routes. Zach Ertz (129), Hayden Hurst (110), Travis Kelce (104), and Darren Waller (102) are the only other tight ends with 100+ routes this year. Meanwhile, among tight ends with 50+ routes, Conklin ranks 13th in YPRR, with an inefficient 1.05 mark. If you’re not convinced that Conklin has been a pure volume play, consider that he has a 3.9 aDOT. Breece Hall (4.3) is seeing deeper targets on average.
Efficiency, not volume, is how to play the Jets this week. This game sets up as a low-volume affair . The Steelers are unlikely to push the Jets to the air like the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals have. And it would make sense for the Jets to try and limit Zach Wilson‘s volume in his first game back from injury.
Lower passing volume is also a concern for the Jets running backs, who have feasted on check downs. Hall is currently fourth on the team in target share with an elite 15%. To put that in perspective, the part-time rookie running back has a higher target share than Corey Davis (13%). Normally, with one running back seeing this much passing volume, there wouldn’t be room for another pass-catching option. But Michael Carter also has an 11% target share.
Still, things are trending in Hall’s direction. Last week, the rookie led the backfield with a 51% snap share to Carter’s 49% and a 48% route rate to Carter’s 34%. It’s too soon to say that Hall is emerging as the clear 1A back here. And in a more competitive environment, we could find that Carter is still firmly ahead of him. But there is a chance that Week 3 was Hall’s first game as the Jets’ lead back—a role that feels inevitable for the talented rookie.
Steelers Implied Team Total: 22.25
The Steelers had 10 days to transition from Mitch Trubisky to Kenny Pickett and just… didn’t. As someone who enjoys high-quality football, I can’t say I’m a fan of Mitch Trubisky. Had he been named the starter, it’s not like we’d be rushing to start Pickett in our fantasy lineups. But it seems clear that Trubisky is holding this offense back.
We know the Steelers receivers are excellent, but the offensive line has also been a pleasant surprise this season. They rank fifth in pass blocking grade and 14th in run blocking grade. Trubisky has no one to blame for his struggles but himself.
It’s especially unfortunate that we didn’t get a quarterback switch this week because the Jets’ defense is a pass funnel. Of course, it’s early in the season, so some defenses that look like pass funnels right now won’t seem that way once we get more data. Over a given season, only a few defenses seem to have a major effect on opposing game plans.
But the Jets are a strong bet to be pass funnel this year. The Ravens, Browns, and Bengals all shifted to the pass against them and averaged a pass-heavy 5% PROE. The Steelers have been balanced this season but were pass-heavy in Week 1 and could roll out a similar game plan this week. If they do, Trubisky could earn himself another start against a Jets secondary that has been very vulnerable this season. Frankly, if Trubisky can’t light up this secondary, then the Steelers really should move to Pickett, regardless of how quickly he would have to get up to speed.
In fairness to Trubisky, he’s probably been better than Ben Roethlisberger would have been this year... so that’s something. And he’s helping to highlight just how good Diontae Johnson is. Entering 2022, Johnson had never had an aDOT above 9.5. With Trubisky at quarterback, his aDOT is up to 11.5. And Johnson is earning targets at an elite 30% rate. Sometimes knocked as an underneath volume receiver, Johnson is proving that he is an elite target earner, regardless of depth. Johnson has a 33% target share and a 40% air yard share this season. We’d probably consider him one of the best wide receivers in the NFL with good quarterback play. As you can see below, if he was producing as expected on a per-target basis, Johnson would have an elite YPRR this season.
Although his quarterback will still be Trubisky this week, the Jets secondary sets up Johnson for a strong outing. Behind Johnson, Pat Freiermuth looks like the No. 2 option in the passing game. He’s second on the team with a 20% target share and third on the team, behind George Pickens (25%), with an 18% air yard share. Having run a route on 73% of dropbacks this year, Freiermuth looks like an interesting option in a game where the Steelers could be somewhat productive through the air.
In the backfield, things should be looking up, with the Steelers’ offensive line playing better than expected. In fact, now that he has solid line play... it would be fair to expect Najee Harris to start producing efficiently; he is not. Harris ranks RB41 in RYOE / attempt, ahead of only Chase Edmonds. It hasn’t been a great season when Rex Burkhead has been a more efficient rusher than you.
Harris has also struggled as a receiver, ranking just RB33 in YPRR. But his opportunity isn’t going anywhere. Harris has a 70% snap share and is coming off an 80% outing against the Browns, his highest of the season. Harris looks a true longshot to play efficiently, but he’ll rack up volume, at least.
Cardinals at Panthers, 4:05 Eastern, Sunday
Cardinals Implied Team Total: 21
Kyler Murray has been embarrassingly bad as a passer this season. He ranks 24th in EPA per play and 26th in CPOE. Murray’s name should be nowhere near names like Carson Wentz, Mitch Trubisky, and Joe Flacco, yet here we are.
As he showed against the Raiders, Murray is such a dynamic rusher that he can continue to deliver fantasy value even as he struggles as a passer. But we need the Cardinals’ offense to rebound to generate reliable fantasy production from Murray’s weapons. So far, those weapons have delivered some value, but it’s required a lot of volume to materialize. On a per-route basis, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity.
This week that volume could be diminished. The Panthers’ offense is also down bad; they are not likely to push the Cardinals into an up-tempo script. Instead, if the Cardinals want to play more conservatively this week and hide their struggling passing game, they will be able to do so. That might look appealing to Kliff Kingsbury, given that the Panthers’ pass defense is pretty solid. Carolina’s run defense isn’t bad, but with Murray and a healthier James Conner than last week, the Cardinals should have an advantage on the ground.
Conner was back in the lineup last week but was down significantly from his Week 1 role. Conner played 75% snaps against the Chiefs and just 60% snaps against the Rams. But I don’t think we have much to worry about here. Conner actually logged three more attempts than he did in Week 1 and saw just one less target. In addition, Darrel Williams saw a 17% snap share, meaning that Eno Benjamin actually saw a lower snap share than in Week 1. Williams will likely be phased out once Conner is fully healthy, creating a bit of upside for Conner this week relative to his role last week. With the Cardinals potentially establishing it against the Panthers, Conner looks like a sneaky strong play.
A shift to the run and the potential return of Rondale Moore could signal that Dortch szn is finally over. But Dortch’s role is worth looking at because of what it portends for Moore.
The role that Moore is stepping into has only been valuable because of the Cardinals’ overall passing volume. The fill-in slot receiver has been a product of overall offensive volume. Dortch only has a 17% target rate, which is not good in general and especially poor considering Dortch’s ultra-shallow 5.0 aDOT. Dortch has been getting there because the Cardinals are passing a ton. They rank second to the Jets in passing attempts and second to the Bengals in plays run. Moore could eventually be valuable in this role, but probably not this week, with offensive volume likely to be down. And, of course, with Kingsbury coaching this team... we might see Moore in a split role with Dortch.
One reason I’m so focused on Arizona’s overall passing volume is that the Cardinals have had this high-volume approach forced upon them—it doesn’t seem like a desired feature of their offense. Arizona lost one-sided games to the Chiefs and Rams and had to storm back against the Raiders, who they beat in overtime. The Cardinals rank 20th with a 0% PROE and 20th in situation-neutral pace. They would probably prefer to be much more conservative than the high-volume team we’ve seen this season. They should get the chance to take the air out of the ball here.
Even Marquise Brown, who leads the team with a 42% air yard share, isn’t a slam-dunk option. Don’t get me wrong, Brown definitely has a ceiling this week. He’s the Cardinals’ No. 1 receiver and primary downfield threat. But with a potentially conservative game plan, he looks like a boom/bust option.
Zach Ertz, who has just a 1.04 YPRR, could see his value collapse if the Cardinals pass less. He remains in the low-end TE1 mix because he’s run a route on 82% of dropbacks this year. But I’m not buying him as a high-end TE1 this week.
Panthers Implied Team Total: 22.5
Having already called Kyler Murray‘s passing efficiency embarrassing, I’m a little at a loss as to how to describe what Baker Mayfield has done this season. Mayfield has been absolutely, horrifically, borderline indescribably abysmal through three weeks.
And it’s not just that Baker has been bad in general; he’s torching the value of his best players. D.J. Moore has spent his entire career being quarterback-proof, but he hasn’t been Baker-Mayfield-proof.
Likewise, Mayfield has been terrible for Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey averaged 24 expected points per game in 2020 and 18 expected points per game in 2021. He’s down to just 15.5 this year.
Last week, I was also highly critical of Mayfield but perhaps not critical enough of the Panthers. I noted that they were doing some sharp things, like prioritizing the pass on 1st-and-10 and running play action at a high rate. But there are clearly also doing some suboptimal things like tipping their plays.
We do love the play design here, though:
If we’re ever going to get anything from Baker Mayfield this year… this would be the week. The Cardinals are an awful pass defense. Are they awful enough for Mayfield to have a good week? Probably not. But they’re awful enough to give him a chance at one.
The Cardinals have also been a pass funnel this season. However, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers embracing a pass-first script. It’s also hard to imagine the Cardinals pushing the Panthers in a major way, given how bad they’ve been on offense to start the year. For that reason, it’s hard to project the Panthers for a big spike in passing volume. We could, at least, get passing efficiency that isn’t disastrous.
This season really has been awful for D.J. Moore. He has just 88 yards through three games while running a route on 100% of Panthers’ dropbacks. That has yielded a depressing 0.90 YPRR. Moore has had a very poor 5.9 YPT, but it’s not like he’s been racking up targets. His 15% target rate is well below the 22% rate he entered 2022 with.
But I have to imagine that if Mayfield plays better this week, the improvement will be at least partly because it dawned on Mayfield that Moore is his best wide receiver. It will not be fun to put Moore back in your lineup, but he remains a viable FLEX play purely as a bet on talent.
This also isn’t a crazy week to play Robbie Anderson if you’re into that sort of thing. Anderson leads Moore with a 23% target share and a 38% air yard share. He may remain the top option in the passing game. Perhaps he and Mayfield have bonded over their shared ability to keep getting NFL starts despite awful play—in ESPN’s newly debuted metrics, Anderson is the lowest ranked receiver (including tight ends).
While Carolina’s passing game has been horrendous this season, they’ve actually been pretty decent on the ground. Here’s the issue, though... CMC is hurt again. Dealing with a quad injury, he appears to be highly questionable for Week 4. If he misses the game, we’re likely looking at a split role between D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard. With neither player the talent that McCaffrey is, both are unlikely to have much fantasy value. At the same time, it’s always possible that one of them gets in the end zone, putting both in play as dart throw RB2s.
Patriots at Packers, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday
Patriots Implied Team Total: 15.5
The Patriots have been a balanced offense this season, but their strength appears to be the running game. They rank eighth in EPA per rush and just 22nd in EPA per dropback. They are one of only seven teams with positive EPA per rush and negative EPA per dropback. This is generally not a great list to be a part of; the other six teams are the Panthers, Cardinals, Steelers, Bears, Giants, and Cowboys.
But for a team like the Patriots, the Packers are a pretty good matchup. Green Bay has a formidable pass defense but has been quite vulnerable on the ground. With Brian Hoyer at quarterback, the Patriots will have a tough time getting anything going through the air, but their strength in the rushing game matches up well against the Packers’ weakness on defense.
The Patriots are more likely to continue rushing the ball well because they have the luxury of two very good NFL running backs with different skill sets. Harris has traditionally been a strong breakaway runner. He’s yet to hit many big plays this season but has consistently churned out yards, ranking third in NFL Next Gen’s success rate. Stevenson has been less impressive as a rusher, ranking 28th in RYOE / attempt and 30th in success rate. And while Stevenson has the better receiving profile, he hasn’t been impressive this year, with a poor YPRR of just 0.64. But Stevenson pulled away last week with a 63% snap share to Harris’ 38%. And Stevenson now leads 51% to 39% for the season. But I wouldn’t count Harris out just yet. He’s had a strong role at the goal line and leads Stevenson in PFF’s expected points per game, 12.3 to 10.7. So both backs look to be in play this week as bets that the Patriots run frequently and effectively.
It will be tough to justify playing any Patriots receivers with Hoyer at quarterback, but if you’re going to go there, it should be with Jakobi Meyers. Even after DeVante Parker‘s breakout last week, Meyers leads the team with a 31% target share and 37% air yard share. Playing 62% of his snaps in the slot this season, he should be a reliable option for Hoyer, as he was for Mac Jones.
Packers Implied Team Total: 25
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their issues at wide receiver, the Packers have been a run-first team this year. This week they face a Patriots defense that has technically been a pass funnel. But while teams are averaging an 8% PROE against the Patriots, opponents haven’t actually shifted much against them. Instead, it looks like the Patriots are probably not a pass-funnel but have just played a couple pass-first teams.
In fact, it’s more likely that teams will begin scheming to run the ball heavily against the Patriots going forward. That has been the path of least resistance, and with Hoyer at quarterback, the Packers should feel confident that they’ll be able to execute a run-first game plan.
The betting markets certainly expect this to be the case, given that the total for this game is barely higher than for the Bears/Giants. And it’s understandably tempting for the Packers to build their game plan around the run at home against Hoyer.
That’s especially true because Aaron Jones looks as good as ever. Jones ranks third in RYOE / attempt and first in NFL Next Gen’s success rate.
AJ Dillon has disappointed in rushing efficiency, ranking just 32nd in RYOE / attempt. But he’s been a consistent producer, ranking 14th in success rate. And both backs should see plenty of work this week.
Jones leads with a 61% snap share to Dillon’s 54% and a 63% route rate to Dillon’s 42%. But Dillon leads 40-32 in rushing attempts and has seen just one fewer target. He looks like a solid RB2, with Jones profiling as a solid RB1.
The Packers haven’t featured Aaron Rodgers as much this year for a reason. Rodgers hasn’t been nearly as good as he’s been in the last two seasons, ranking 18th in EPA per play.
Although Rogers ranks fifth in CPOE. He’s not having a disastrous season by any means. And as he develops more chemistry with his receivers, he should start trending in the right direction. But the lack of passing attempts isn’t ideal for an offense that ranks 31st in situation-neutral pace. Because of their slow pace, it is especially clock-draining when the Packers run the ball. Therefore, this week, efficiency is likely to be key for the receivers, as they operate in a low-volume environment.
If we’re betting on efficiency, the bet is Romeo Doubs. With Sammy Watkins injured, Doubs has the highest YPRR among active Packers receivers this week, at 1.90. More importantly, Doubs ran a route on 94% of dropbacks last week. That led all Packers receivers, with Allen Lazard at 89% and Robert Tonyan and Aaron Jones tying for third at 61%. Of course, Doubs could easily see his routes dip if Christian Watson returns to the lineup this week. But the fact that a 94% route rate is even in Doubs’ range of outcomes this early into his rookie season is extremely bullish.
Broncos at Raiders, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday
Broncos Implied Team Total: 21.5
I would very much like Russell Wilson to start playing better. Currently, the reaction to his 2022 is a bit hyperbolic, which puts me in a position to defend Wilson. Meanwhile, Wilson is putting out videos like this, making the idea of defending him in any way extremely unappealing.
Wilson currently leads all quarterbacks in cringe. But Wilson is not having a terrible season on-field efficiency, ranking 11th in EPA per play.
Don’t get me wrong, Wilson has not been what Broncos fans were hoping for so far. But he’s only been slightly worse than Derek Carr and has actually been more efficient than Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Tom Brady. He now gets a Raiders pass defense that looks like a borderline liability.
But it’s hard to believe that the Broncos’ passing offense will get right in this matchup. That’s partly because the Broncos have yet to embrace the passing game under Nathaniel Hackett. Denver ranks 17th with a 0% PROE this year and is coming off a season-low -4% against the 49ers. Still... it’s possible the Broncos are a pass-first team that only looks balanced because of their schedule. The Seahawks, Texans, and 49ers currently look like run funnels. It’s definitely more likely that the Broncos are a balanced team by design, but there’s a little upside here for the Broncos to open things up against an exploitable secondary.
Courtland Sutton should be the biggest beneficiary if the Broncos can get something going through the air. Sutton has quietly produced in elite YPRR while also recording an elite 97% route rate. Among receivers with 90%+ route participation, Sutton’s 2.51 YPRR is second only to A.J. Brown‘s 2.73. Sutton is running all the routes and producing efficiently. What he needs now is more passing volume from the Broncos; he might get it here.
Jerry Jeudy‘s route participation is a bit skewed by his Week 2 injury. In Week 1, he ran a route on 91% of dropbacks but was at just 75% last week. He’ll likely get back to a full-time role now two weeks removed from injury. Jeudy hasn’t had as much target opportunity as Sutton this year, trailing Sutton in target rate, 24% to 21%. But Jeudy’s 1.71 YPRR understates his target opportunity to date.
With all other Broncos receivers below 65% route participation this season, Sutton and Jeudy are the only Denver pass catchers who should be in starting consideration.
The Broncos backfield operated as a clear 1A/1B split for the first two games of the season. But against the 49ers, Mike Boone saw his snaps jump from 7% to 19%. Melvin Gordon actually saw his snaps slightly increase as well, from 36% to 38%. Javonte Williams—an explosive young talent who the Broncos should be trying to get involved as much as possible—saw his snaps decline from 62% to 45%.
The Broncos coaching staff seems to be slowly dripping out a new terrible idea each week. But this one was bad even for them. As Ben Gretch notes in Stealing Signals, this could be a one-game blip. But he’s doing a better job keeping his emotions in check than I am with this coaching staff.
Williams should still be in lineups, obviously. I just can’t muster a ton of enthusiasm for a back who saw less than 50% of snaps in a competitive game environment last week.
Raiders Implied Team Total: 24
The Raiders took the bait against the Titans, who have a run funnel defense and a run-heavy mentality on offense. Las Vegas posted a season-low 1% PROE and proceeded to hand Tennessee their first win of the season.
The Raiders could pivot hard to the pass this week, facing a Broncos defense that is the biggest pass funnel in the league. Broncos’ opponents are averaging a 7% PROE and are shifting 9% to the pass—by far the biggest shift in the league.
Although, it is also possible that the Raiders skip this pass funnel. Because the Broncos have actually been pretty sound in pass defense.
While teams have decided this season that attacking the Broncos through the air is optimal, two of those teams were the Seahawks and Texans. It’s entirely possible… one might even say likely… that these teams did not nail their game plans against Denver. So while the Raiders will probably be playing with a slight lean to the pass here, I’m actually skeptical that we see a big uptick in passing volume.
After posting a 10-141-1 receiving line on 15 Week 1 targets, Davante Adams looked poised for a monster season. Two weeks later, the memes have started.
But Adams will be fine. He leads the team with a very strong 28% target share and 36% air yard share. The big issue so far has been a poor 6.3 YPT. That could indicate that Adams doesn’t have the same connection with Carr as he did with Rodgers. But that’s to be expected; the Rodgers-Adams connection was off the charts good. Adams won’t have that with Carr, but he should also be able to produce much closer to expected on his target volume.
Notice above how much stronger Adams is in expected YPRR than Mack Hollins. Hollins exploded last week, but he’s run a route on 97% of dropbacks this season and has seen just a 16% target share with a weak 14% target rate. With Hunter Renfrow potentially out again this week, Adams continues to have an elite ceiling.
With just a 73% snap share in Week 3, I was concerned that Darren Waller might have had a reduced role in the passing game. But he actually had an elite 88% route rate against the Titans. Josh McDaniels doesn’t seem very interested in using him as a blocker, which is fine by us. Waller might not be an every snap player this week, but he should be close to an every route player, which is what we care about for fantasy. Still, Waller’s 18% target share and 19% target rate are minor red flags. He’s firmly a TE1, but Waller might have a slightly lower ceiling than we’re used to in the McDaniels offense.
I think I should say something... as someone who generally gets more excited about wide receivers than running backs and who prefers an efficient passing game to a strong rushing attack, I’ve probably been a little hard on Josh Jacobs in the past. He’s a good running back. He ranks 11th in RYOE / attempt and 4th in success rate. Because he’s not a breakaway runner, his rushing efficiency will probably drop off a bit. But even last season he was a consistent producer, finishing 11th in success rate. This off-season, the Raiders could hardly have seemed less committed to Jacobs, a concerning development given McDaniels’ propensity for using committee backfields. But McDaniels has shown a surprising commitment to Jacobs. With 67% of the Raiders snaps, Jacobs ranks RB8 in snap share. And Jacobs isn’t strictly a two-down running back. He’s run a route on 47% of dropbacks and has a 7% target share. That’s a higher route rate than Cordarrelle Patterson and a higher target share than Jerick McKinnon... and, more importantly, Brandon Bolden. Jacobs is a home favorite against a Broncos team that looks lost, and he’s running well; you can feel good about putting him in your lineup.
Chiefs at Buccaneers, 8:20 Eastern, Sunday
Chiefs Implied Team Total: 23
The Chiefs are coming off a brutal loss to the Colts and now face a Buccaneers defense that is formidable against the pass while also being stout against the run. Of course, the Chiefs’ offense will be by far the Buccaneers’ biggest test of the season.
The Chiefs have not forgotten that Mahomes drives their offensive success. Their 12% PROE is up from last year’s NFL-leading 10% and trails only the Bills (14%) this year. And while a lot has changed on the Chiefs offense, we can count on Mahomes to find Travis Kelce.
After posting a YPRR below 2.0 for the 1st time since 2015 last season, Kelce’s back up to 2.21 YPRR this year. He also has a 10.3 aDOT; if he maintains it, 2022 will be the first season of Kelce’s career with a 10+ aDOT. Last year I thought the numbers were showing some decline for Kelce, who turns 33 next month. However, this year he appears to be defying age. And with inefficient play so far from Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman, Kelce has been the Chiefs’ primary downfield threat. He leads the team with a 31% air yard share. Kudos to Kelce for proving the doubters wrong.
Behind Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster looks like the only safe bet for volume. Smith-Schuster has a 19% target rate this season. That isn’t all that strong but is still significantly better than Valdes-Scantling and Hardman, who are both at 15%. Smith-Schuster looks like a solid FLEX option, but other Chiefs wide receivers should probably remain on your bench.
In his 3rd season, Clyde Edwards-Helaire finally looks to be delivering on the receiving profile that got him drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Edwards-Helaire ranks third in YPRR this season and is first among running backs with 10+ targets. But the Chiefs don’t fully trust Edwards-Helaire as the receiving back. He trails Jerick McKinnon 43% to 37% in route rate. And McKinnon has logged over twice as many pass-blocking snaps.
The fact that Edwards-Helaire isn’t the primary receiving back is unfortunate because he’s been extremely inefficient as a rusher. Edwards-Helaire ranks RB31 in RYOE / attempt and RB40 in success rate. Only Joe Mixon and Najee Harris have a lower success rate this season. Edwards-Helaire has a path to a league-winning season this year, but he might need a McKinnon injury to get there. And for as long as he’s locked out of a full-time receiving role, his fantasy production will likely come crashing down to earth.
Edwards-Helaire ranks RB4 in PPR points per game, but per PFF, his workload ranks just RB25. CEH has had a less valuable workload than Dameon Pierce, Jeff Wilson, and Michael Carter. He’s a solid RB2 but is not a good bet to continue producing like he has so far.
Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 22.5
While the Chiefs have kept playing Chiefs football amidst their struggles, the Buccaneers are playing quite differently this year. In 2021, they had an 8% PROE and a 6% PROE on 1st-and-10. That put them at second and third in the NFL last season. This year, they rank 23rd in PROE (-1%) and 27th in PROE on 1st-and-10 (-6%). With missed games piling up on the offensive line and at receiver, it’s not hard to understand why the Bucs have pivoted. But the new-look Buccaneers have not been a good look for Tom Brady, who is having a very poor season by his standards, ranking 21st in EPA per play and 18th in CPOE.
With the Chiefs likely pushing on the other side, we could see Brady get back to his 2021 form here—provided his receivers can step up. And the receiving corps could come to life here with Mike Evans back in the lineup and Julio Jones likely to return. Russell Gage was impressive last week with a 12-88-1 receiving line on 13 targets. But Gage is a limited player, as evidenced by his 4.0 aDOT this season. He can help Brady keep the chains moving, but there’s a reason why his big day was part of a 14-12 loss to the Packers.
Evans and Jones can actually draw targets downfield. Evans has 2.87 YPRR this season, with a 14.0 aDOT. With Chris Godwin likely out again this week, Evans can be expected to operate as the clear No. 1 option. Jones’ contribution will depend more on how healthy he is as he works through a partially torn PCL. Jones was excellent in Week 1, delivering 3.14 YPRR with an aDOT of 19.8. He won’t be that efficient again this week, but his ability to stretch the field should still be a major boost for the Buccaneers’ offense. Breshad Perriman had been filling a similar role with an 18.2 aDOT. Replacing his 1.33 YPRR with improved efficiency from Jones should help the offense considerably. Evans profiles as a rock-solid WR2, with Gage and Jones both in the FLEX conversation. An improved Buccaneers passing game would also be great news for Leonard Fournette.
Fournette ranks RB6 in expected points per game, but his workload has shifted towards the run as compared to last season. Fournette ranks RB4 in expected rushing yards this year but just RB13 in expected receptions and RB16 in expected receiving yards. Fournette has not excelled in this role, delivering only 12.4 points per game on a 16.4 points per game workload. But Fournette is very well positioned for fantasy success if the Buccaneers get back to their 2021-style passing game. His 85% snap share trails only Saquon Barkley. Fournette looks like a strong RB1 play, as a bet that the Buccaneers start playing Buccaneers football again.
Rams at 49ers, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday
Rams Implied Team Total: 20.5
The Rams’ passing game has underperformed expectations this year, and they haven’t been great on the ground either. As a result, the defending Super Bowl champs rank just 19th in EPA per play.
But while Matthew Stafford has struggled, ranking 19th in EPA per play, his accuracy provides a reason for optimism. Stafford ranks seventh in CPOE ahead of Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson, and he’s just behind Patrick Mahomes.
And Stafford’s inefficiency really boils down to the fact that he flopped against an extremely talented Bills defense in Week 1. Over the last two weeks, Stafford ranks fourth in EPA per play. But Stafford faces another difficult test this week going against a defense that ranks fifth in EPA allowed per dropback, first in dropback success rate, and first in PFF’s coverage grades. The 49ers are also stout against the run, which could put Stafford in some difficult situations if the Rams’ subpar rushing attack puts the offense behind schedule.
So while I do expect to see better days ahead for Stafford, I don’t have a ton of optimism for him in this matchup. But, of course, we can at least have confidence that Stafford will be heavily targeting Cooper Kupp when he drops back.
Cooper Kupp leads all wide receivers with a 0.85 WOPR and trails only Mark Andrews in the metric. In other words, he’s picked up exactly where he left off last season with an elite 36% route share and 45% air yard share. Allen Robinson (12% target share; 17% air yard share) and Ben Skowronek (13%; 17%) aren’t even in the same ZIP Code.
Kupp’s 2.46 YPRR is entirely sustainable based on his target volume. If this were the first season of Kupp seeing this kind of target volume, we might view it as unsustainable. But I think we’re all willing to bet on Kupp to continue being a dominant alpha wide receiver for the Rams.
That will not leave much volume for other Rams receivers, especially if Tyler Higbee continues to get targeted on 22% of his routes. Higbee has actually played efficiently this season, at least from the perspective of YPRR. Among tight ends with 50+ routes, Higbee ranks fourth with 1.73 YPRR; he trails only Mark Andrews (2.75), Travis Kelce (2.21), and Dallas Goedert (1.79). So at this point, if you’re willing to continue betting on Allen Robinson to find the end zone, you should also be willing to bet on Tyler Higbee to score a TD as well. Odds are, he’ll also see a few more targets than Robinson.
In the backfield, we could be seeing a changing of the guard. Over the last two weeks, Cam Akers trails Darrell Henderson in snap share 53% to 46%. But Akers has handled 59% of the Rams rushing attempts to just 30% for Henderson; he’s also seen two targets to Henderson’s one. Akers probably won’t see a big snap increase this week, but I do think he’ll get a chance to play around a 65% snap share at some point this season. In the meantime, he’s a good bet to maintain a lead over Henderson in rushing attempts and will likely have more targets than we would normally expect for a player with a sub-20 % route share.
49ers Implied Team Total: 22
Jimmy Garoppolo had a rough Week 3 against the Broncos. It was a performance best summed up by the fact that he saved himself from a pick-six only because he’d already stepped out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
The 49ers are now in the unenviable position of relying on Garoppolo. The Rams run defense ranks first in EPA allowed per rush and first in PFF’s run grades. The 49ers’ typical run-heavy approach is not likely to be all that efficient this week.
That doesn’t mean that the 49ers won’t run the ball a lot; it just might not work very well. If that case, San Francisco could be balanced for the second straight week. Hopefully, Garoppolo will play better.
And hopefully, Deebo Samuel can get back to being hyper-efficient. Samuel has a career YPRR of 2.43, and his career-low is from his excellent rookie season when he posted a 2.06 YPRR. Through 3 games this year, Samuel has just 1.56 YPRR and a 12-131-0 receiving line. Samuel’s per target efficiency hasn’t been ideal, which should improve a bit over the course of the season. But Samuel also hasn’t seen as much target volume as were used to. Samuel leads the 49ers with a 27% target share but has just 16% of air yards. Brandon Aiyuk, who leads the team with a 35% air yards share, also leads the team in WOPR.
If we weren’t talking about Deebo Samuel, this dynamic might be concerning. But Samuel also has at least 8 backfield snaps in each of the 49ers’ first 3 games and has 17% of the team’s rushing attempts. That’s only a slightly lower share than Samuel’s 20% from Week 10 on last season. Somehow, Samuel has averaged 6.5 YPC in both seasons; Deebo certainly still looks like Deebo as a rusher. In a game where the 49ers could be balanced, Samuel could easily get back to producing elite fantasy value this week.
Brandon Aiyuk has a 12.7 aDOT, and only had two targets in his one full game with Trey Lance. But the potential connection between the two was exciting nonetheless. His role as the 49ers’ deep threat just isn’t as exciting with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. Still, Aiyuk can turn in a strong fantasy performance on just a few plays. And Jimmy has been looking for him so far.
brandon aiyuk was targeted on 7% of his routes with trey lance. it's 31% with jimmy. let's go, things of that nature.— Denny Carter (@CDCarter13) September 29, 2022
George Kittle finally made his 2022 debut last week but it was a little disappointing. Kittle saw four targets going 4-for-28. Kittle had only 1.04 YPRR, but he’s a bit like Samuel in this regard. Kittle has a career YPRR of 2.40 and hasn’t been below 2.0 since his rookie season in 2017. Kittle may take another game or two to get going, but he’s worth trusting here because he ran a full slate of routes (82% route participation) in his first game back from injury.
Jeff Wilson, the last man standing in the 49ers backfield, is starting to look like a workhorse. Wilson logged 73% of the 49ers snaps against the Broncos with 63% of team attempts and a 10% target share. He ranked RB12 in share of total team opportunities in Week 3. Hopefully, the only major change this week is that the Rams will push the 49ers into a higher-scoring game environment. Wilson looks locked in as an RB2.