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Walkthrough Week 6: Mike Evans, Man of Steel

Mike Evans

Mike Evans

Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week 6 Walkthrough, outlining critical fantasy football context for this fifth, 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

Byes: Lions, Texans, Raiders, Titans

Already Played: Commanders, Bears

Buccaneers at Steelers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 26.25

Three weeks ago, the Buccaneers rolled out a wide receiver corps of Russell Gage, Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman, Jaelon Darden, and Cole Beasley. Somehow, they still went with a pass-first game plan, with a 4% pass rate over expected against the Packers. When Mike Evans and Chris Godwin returned to the lineup in Week 4, they went extremely pass-heavy with a 16% PROE. They then proved that Week 4 was not a Chiefs-specific game plan; against the Falcons, the Buccaneers were even more pass-heavy. In fact, their 18% PROE against the Falcons trails only the Bills’ 20% PROE against the Steelers this season.

And so, despite starting the season with two run-first performances, the Buccaneers now have a 7% PROE. They are currently the third most pass-heavy team in the league.

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bucs_proe_6.png

Tampa Bay is now just 1% lower in PROE than in 2021. In other words, the Buccaneers really are playing like the Buccaneers again. Of course, they won’t always be as aggressive as they’ve been the last two weeks. But this offense has a ton of potential for passing volume, especially when Tom Brady isn’t likely to face pressure.

The Buccaneers offensive line hasn’t been great this season, but it’s held up well against weak pass rush units. And the ability to protect Brady appears to be having a significant effect. In Week 5, Tom Brady was pressured on just 21% of his dropbacks, the second-lowest rate of the week. And Brady was pressured on just 15% of his dropbacks against the Chiefs, the lowest rate of Week 4. Brady was comfortable in the pocket over the last games—and it’s no coincidence that he has dropped back nonstop.

This is a similar spot for Brady; the Steelers rank 23rd in pass rush grade, 28th in pressure rate, and 23rd in quick pressure rate. And in their four games without T.J. Watt, they rank 29th in quick pressure rate. And while the Steelers’ secondary is somewhat respectable, Tom Brady should be able to sit back and pick it apart.

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bucs_mu_6.png

Brady was in the MVP conversation last year but hasn’t played at an MVP level for the whole of 2022. However, Brady has been far more impressive over the last two weeks. Given that Brady’s improved play has coincided with the return of his top two receivers, better protection, and a recommitment by the coaching staff to aggressive pass-focused playcalling, this two-game split feels highly relevant to this week’s matchup.

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bucs_brady_4-5_6_6.png

Over the last two weeks, Brady ranks seventh in EPA per play (which measures efficiency) and ninth in CPOE (which measures accuracy). For comparison, Brady ranked seventh in EPA per play last season and 15th in CPOE. At some point, Brady will stop being a high-end NFL quarterback—but it hasn’t happened yet.

Last week, the biggest beneficiary of the Buccaneers’ restored commitment to the pass... was their running back. After averaging 15.5 expected points per game (per PFF) from Weeks 1-4, Leonard Fournette led the position with 26.7 expected points against the Falcons. Fournette is now RB3 in expected points per game, behind only Joe Mixon and Saquon Barkley.

Rachaad White is definitely lurking, though. White has seen a 39% snap share over the last two weeks, with Fournette falling from 85% from Weeks 1-3 to 62%.

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buccaneers_fournette_6.png

But, despite White’s mini-emergence, Fournette still has a massive ceiling if the Buccaneers continue to pass like maniacs. Fournette has seen his target total increase in every week this season, seeing a ridiculous 11 targets against the Falcons.

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bucs_fournette_targets_6.png

While White definitely adds some risk to Fournette’s profile, he just saw a 26.7-point workload with only 62% of the snaps. You cannot doubt Fournette’s ceiling.

Fournette’s success last week might be partly due to Chris Godwin‘s limited role. Godwin ran a route on only 51% of dropbacks, indicating he may still be working back to full health. Fortunately, Godwin was highly effective when on the field. He drew six targets on 27 routes (22%) and posted a 2.26 yards per route run. Godwin requires a bit of a leap of faith this week, as he could be in a part-time role once again. But there’s no doubt Brady will be looking for Godwin when he’s on the field.

With the Buccaneers regaining their passing mojo, Mike Evans remains a locked-in option. With a 14.1 average depth of target (aDOT), he’s Tom Brady‘s primary deep threat. Evans has run a bit hot in yards per target this year, but his impressive 2.26 YPRR is primarily supported by high-end target volume.

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bucs_yprr_6.png

We saw last week that the Steelers’ defense can be beaten deep. And with Godwin and Julio Jones still on the mend, downfield targets could funnel to Evans. If the Buccaneers continue passing like they have over the last two weeks, there could be plenty of targets on the way.

Steelers Implied Team Total: 18.25

Like the Buccaneers, the Steelers have had some major changes in the passing game, with Kenny Pickett getting his first start in Week 5.

The Bills’ defense was a brutal way to welcome the rookie to the NFL, but he held up okay. Pickett ranked 21st in EPA per play, but his accuracy was solid, ranking 15th in CPOE. In his one-and-a-half game sample, Pickett remains 21st in EPA per play but jumps to an impressive sixth in CPOE over the last two weeks.

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steelers_kenny_pickett_6.png

Pickett faces another tough test this week against a Buccaneers defense that ranks top five in both EPA allowed per dropback and dropback success rate. And for as long as this game is close, we can expect the Steelers to try and incorporate the running game against a defense that hasn’t been great on the ground.

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But I doubt we see the Steelers go as aggressively run-heavy against the Buccaneers as the Falcons did last week. In Pickett’s first start, the Steelers posted a 7% PROE, which matches their highest of the season, and is only the second time all year that they have been pass-first. The Steelers also posted a season-high 12% PROE on 1st-and-10.

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steelers_proe_6.png

If Brady has a down game, I doubt the Steelers will willingly feature Pickett. But we can be fairly certain that the Buccaneers will pass aggressively this week, and the matchup sets up well for them. A successful Buccaneers passing attack should force the Steelers to the air.

And keep in mind that Mike Tomlin attempted (and missed) a field goal last week while down 21 to a far superior opponent. It’s not like he had a particularly aggressive mindset against the Bills... yet the team still posted a 76% pass rate in Pickett’s first start— only the Rams had a higher pass rate last week.

Again, this was not the plan for the Steelers; the Bills forced them to the air. But we’ve seen teams like the Bears run through it while getting blown out. The Steelers, on the other hand, seem to have more faith in Pickett or at least a bit more optimistic curiosity about what he can do in a difficult situation.

If the 8-point Buccaneers live up to expectations, and the Steelers are willing to let Pickett dropback frequently again, there could be some helpful production in this passing game.

After Pickett locked in on George Pickens in his Week 4 debut, there was some handwringing about Diontae Johnson. That seems unwarranted after Johnson saw 12 targets in Pickett’s first start. Johnson’s target earning ability clearly hasn’t gone anywhere; Johnson now has a 25% target rate this season. The issue... is that he also has the worst YPT of his career at 5.6.

Johnson has never had a high yards per target. In fact, the 7.9 YPT he posted as a rookie remains the highest of his career. And Johnson saw most of his targets from Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges that year. In 2020 and 2021, Johnson had very poor YPTs of 6.7 and 6.8. But the dude gets open. He had a target rate of 20% as a rookie and was at 27% in 2020 and 2021. But his per-target efficiency is so poor this year that he has a YPRR of just 1.39, which is lower than Goerge Pickens. However, Johnson’s per-route volume remains far more valuable than the rookie’s.

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steelers_yprr_6.png

In situations like this, I want to bet on the targets and against an unsustainably low YPT... because per-target efficiency is far more volatile than target volume. With that in mind, Johnson looks like one of the premier positive regression candidates in the NFL. With the Buccaneers very likely to push the Steelers to the air this week, he looks like a strong play.

Pickens looks like the second most interesting option on the Steelers this week. He’s likely to run fewer routes than Chase Claypool but has a 17% target rate to Claypool’s 15% while earning targets deeper downfield with a 16.7 aDOT to Claypool’s 10.9. Pickens won’t live up to the excitement his Week 4 performance generated, but he still looks like the No. 2 receiver in Pittsburgh.

Najee Harris has been one of the biggest disappointments in fantasy football. And to be honest, it’s hard to see things getting better. Harris has a 9% target share after he posted a 14% target share as a rookie. That’s a significant decrease and would greatly impact any running back. But workload is especially critical for players who cannot be counted on to perform efficiently. Harris is very much that type of player. He ranks RB48 with a 0.80 YPRR, down from last season’s unimpressive 0.97

And it’s not just Harris’ targets that are down. As a rookie, Harris ran a route on 64% of dropbacks; only Alvin Kamara and D’Andre Swift had higher route participation. This year, he’s down to just 40%, which ranks RB30.

The one silver lining is that Jaylen Warren has also been inefficient as a receiver. He ranks just behind Harris with a 0.74 YPRR. Still, Harris has just a 5% target share in his last two games, which is not a great sign for his receiving usage in the Pickett era. With the Steelers likely trailing in this game as 8-point underdogs, Harris profiles as a TD-dependent option unless his receiving role miraculously recovers.

49ers at Falcons, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

49ers Implied Team Total: 25

In Jimmy Garoppolo‘s three starts this year, the 49ers have been much more balanced than in Weeks 1-2. Honestly, it’s fair to question if they’re totally committed to the ground game at this point.

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The 49ers aren’t pass-first by any means, but they have been mixing in the pass at a decent rate, giving themselves access to explosive plays. And those explosive plays are turning Jimmy Garoppolo into a massive outlier at the quarterback position because they’re occurring almost entirely on short throws.

Garoppolo ranks QB29 in yards per attempt on 20+ yard passes this season. His 9.6 YPA is less than half of Josh Allen’s (22.2). But Garoppolo has been extremely successful on short throws. He leads the league with a 9.0 YPA on throws of less than 10 yards.

We know Shanahan is great at scheming up big plays and that Garoppolo’s biggest talent is executing this offense effectively while throwing in the occasional backbreaking mistake. But this dynamic has gone to another level this season. Garoppolo now ranks QB4 in EPA per play but just QB33 in CPOE.

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49ers_jimmy_epa_6.png

His accuracy has been worse than Mitch Trubisky‘s, Davis Mills', and Zach Wilson‘s... yet only Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Tua Tagovailoa have been more efficient this year. So even against a vulnerable defense, the 49ers’ passing offense could regress here... at least enough to convince Shanahan to lean more on the run game.

Given the matchup, Shanahan shouldn’t need much convincing. The Falcons are terrible at stopping the run. Imagine Kyle Shanahan not running heavily against this defense.

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49ers_mu_6.png

With a run-heavy game plan on tap, we’ll likely continue to see a split workload in the backfield. I wrote last week that Jeff Wilson‘s role had probably topped out in Week 3 when he hit a 73% snap share. He declined to 66% in Week 4 and to 58% last week. But Wilson still rolled for 120 yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts. Tevin Coleman mixed in for an additional 16 attempts, vulturing two touchdowns—but he remained far below Wilson in snap share at just 29%. We should see a similar dynamic this week, potentially with Tyrion Davis-Price taking over some of the Coleman role.

But even on split volume, Wilson could deliver solid RB2 value. He ranks RB7 in RYOE / attempt and RB5 in breakaway percentage, showing a surprising amount of big-play upside this year.

As I’ll cover shortly, Atlanta will almost definitely go extremely run-heavy in this game, limiting overall play volume. Given the risk that Shanahan also rolls out a vintage run-heavy game plan, we could be dependent on efficiency for any receiving production in this game. In other words, Deebo Samuel looks like the only exciting play on the 49ers this week. Of course, given where you drafted him, given the state of the tight end position, and given that he has 85% route participation, you have to keep putting George Kittle in your lineup. But you don’t have to be excited about it.

Even Deebo doesn’t look particularly exciting in this matchup. Samuel has been targeted on 25% of his routes, which is a strong rate. But for the first time in his career, he is below 2.0 YPRR. Samuel still has a very strong 1.91 YPRR, but off-the-charts efficiency is kind of Samuel’s thing, and it hasn’t fully been there this year. To be fair to Samuel, I wouldn’t be bringing this up after five games if he was in an offense with decent passing volume. But instead, he is part of an offense that generally wants to limit passing and is entering a game environment that could be extremely run-heavy on both sides. Deebo should remain in lineups, but you really have to be a believer to fire him up in DFS this week.

Brandon Aiyuk looks like a more risky version of Samuel. He lacks Samuel’s inane efficiency but has a solid YAC profile in his own right. Although, Aiyuk’s 11.0 aDOT gives him some big-play upside. He profiles as a volatile FLEX option in this low-volume game environment.

Falcons Implied Team Total: 19.5

Last week I expected the Falcons to pass the ball a bit more. Of course, I expected them to fight it tooth and nail... but I assumed the game environment would eventually force them to the air. And Marcus Mariota did log 25 passing attempts, his third most of the season. But I definitely underestimated the degree to which the Falcons would lean into the run, even against a strong team. Against the Buccaneers, the Falcons posted the second-lowest PROE of the week at -16%.

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Regardless of opponent, this is a team intent on hiding Mariota. Imagine you are Arthur Smith, desperate to hide your quarterback... and then you see this deadly pass defense on the schedule.

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falcons_mu_6.png

Sure, the 49ers are also great at stopping the run. But there’s simply no way that Arthur Smith is planning a balanced game plan against the number one pass defense in the NFL. Granted, the 49ers have been hit with a slew of injuries on their defensive line, including star pass rusher Nick Bosa. But to Smith, defensive line injuries probably look like a reason to run the ball more.

You can’t totally blame Smith. The Falcons are run blocking at an elite level. And even with Cordarrelle Patterson out last week, the Falcons finished second in EPA per rush. So we can count on them to run heavily here. If they really get carried away, they could be at levels normally reserved for the Chicago Bears.

Without Cordarrelle Patterson in the lineup last week, the Falcons installed rookie Tyler Allgeier as their lead running back. Allgeier played on 60% of snaps and ran a route on 56% of dropbacks. But he was hardly Patterson-esque in the receiving game; Allgeier didn’t see a single target. To make matters worse, he handled only 42% of team attempts, ceding eight attempts to Caleb Huntley and three to Avery Williams.

Both Allgeier and Williams saw a carry inside the 10 yard line, with Williams running in an 8-yard TD. In a sense, that was good news for Allgeier, given that Huntley had operated as the clear goal line back in Week 4. Allgeier saw three red zone carries in total, with Huntley and Williams at just one each. So Allgeier does not appear locked out of goal line work by any stretch.

And Allgeier’s lack of receiving work seems a bit fluky. He played on 35% of Atlanta’s third-down snaps, which is quite a bit higher than Patterson’s 56% rate from Weeks 1-3. And, as Ben Gretch notes in Stealing Signals, Allgeier had a 17-yard reception called back due to an illegal man downfield penalty. Allgeier will need to run hot on TD opportunity to access a ceiling, but he looks worth going back to as an RB2.

At wide receiver, injuries are starting to pile up. Kyle Pitts is working back from a hamstring injury, which will likely limit his routes... and limited routes were already a concern when he was healthy. Drake London was also hampered by an ankle injury against the Buccaneers, which helps explain why his route participation was down to 68%. It looks like a tough week to play Falcons pass catchers, given that the overall passing environment is likely to be quite low. But London remains a solid FLEX option, given his elite 2.22 YPRR, 32% target rate, and 33% target share.

Patriots at Browns, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Patriots Implied Team Total: 20.5

In their two games with Bailey Zappe at quarterback, the Patriots have been extremely run-heavy. In their overtime loss to the Packers, the Patriots posted a -16% PROE. Technically, they were less run-heavy last week. But keep in mind that there are some upper limits to how much a team can realistically run the ball. The Patriots shut out the Lions last week, which led to an extremely run-heavy expected rate. They were still more run-heavy than that expected script, posting a -7% PROE on their way to a 38% pass rate.

The Patriots would be delighted to have a chance to run the ball heavily again this week. And the Browns run defense provides them with an obvious mismatch to attack.

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pats_mu_6.png

The Patriots just played the Lions, who are also terrible at defending the run, and we saw how they handled that. This week, the only way the Patriots can be expected to take to the air is if the Browns are up big.

This isn’t to say that Zappe has played poorly. He ranks 19th in EPA per play and second in CPOE. We have a very small sample of just 46 plays for Zappe, and it’s entirely possible that he craters against a more talented Brown’s defense this week. However, it’s also possible he can bring non-embarrassing, Andy Dalton-esque, game-manager ability to the table.

If Zappe continues to play well, it will be great news for Jakobi Meyers, who saw a 38% target share and a 56% air yard share in his first game with the rookie. And Meyers looks fully healthy, having run a route on 95% of dropbacks last week. While this isn’t a great game to play Patriots pass catchers, Meyers has appeal as a bet that targets continue to funnel his way. On non-screen routes this season, Meyers has a 35% target rate... the highest in the NFL.

But even with Meyers earning targets at an elite rate, the most exciting play here is Rhamondre Stevenson. Sorry, sometimes I’m guilty of a spelling mistake: Rhamondre Stevenszn.

Stevenson played a ridiculous 90% of snaps last week, with Harris dealing with a hamstring injury. However, Pierre Strong was a healthy scratch, so Bill Belichick didn’t have much choice. Still... no one made Belichick give Stevenson 25 carries last week, which is more than Harris has had in his entire career.

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Obviously, I don’t expect Stevenson to play quite as much as he did last week. For one thing, Strong should be active. But Stevenson still has an exciting ceiling as the clear lead back as part of what will almost certainly be a run-heavy game plan.

Stevenson has also run well this season. He ranks RB13 in RYOE / attempt, RB19 in success rate, RB16 in breakaway percentage, and RB8 in elusive rating. He’s consistent, he breaks tackles, and he hits big plays. Stevenson, unfortunately, hasn’t done much as a receiver this year, ranking just RB45 in YPRR. As a result, he’ll need to get in the end zone to access a high-end ceiling. But at 230 pounds, Stevenson should have control of the goal line work as part of an overall workhorse role.

Browns Implied Team Total: 23

With the Patriots protecting their rookie quarterback, there is very little chance that they decide to forgo a true mismatch on the ground. Likewise, with the Browns protecting Jacoby Brissett, they also seem like a lock to attack any rushing mismatches. And they get a big one here, facing a Patriots defense that has been beaten up by opposing running games.

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browns_mu_6.png

And while the Browns haven’t been as wildly run-heavy as the Falcons or Bears, they have rolled out a run-heavy game plan all five weeks so far.

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browns_trend_6.png

Other than the Browns, the only team yet to have a PROE above -5% is... the Bears. So we can count on the Browns to establish the run here, which could lead to a low-scoring game environment and a closer-than-expected matchup. That is unless Nick Chubb continues to put the entire offense on his back.

That’s a real possibility, of course. Chubb has been a force of nature this season. He ranks RB2 in RYOE / attempt, RB6 in success rate, RB10 in breakaway percentage, and RB1 in elusive rating. Chubb’s elite rushing ability is nothing new. Still, it remains wild to me that the Browns can actually lean on their running game in the modern NFL—not as a method of controlling the clock and limiting scoring—but as a legitimate path to efficiently putting up points.

Here are the passing games that have been more efficient than the Browns running game this season: the Bills, Chiefs, Eagles, Seahawks, and Dolphins. That’s it. The Chargers? Ravens, Buccaneers? All less efficient than this Nick Chubb-led rushing attack. This running game is special, and the Browns look to be entering another game environment where they can run to their hearts’ content.

Oh, and I don’t mean to overshadow Kareem Hunt, who ranks RB14 in RYOE / attempt and RB11 in success rate. You can feel confident starting both Browns running backs this week.

Unfortunately, it’s not an exciting week to fire up Browns receivers, but Amari Cooper remains a solid weekly FLEX option. Cooper has been targeted on 25% of his routes while running a route on 93% of dropbacks. That’s a strong combination that has led to elite target volume. But despite having a decent season so far, Cooper has dramatically underperformed his volume. His 6.6 YPT is unsustainably bad for his 11.2 aDOT. In other words, if Cooper keeps getting targeted like he has, he should be even more productive.

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On the other hand, as you can see above, David Njoku is overperforming his target opportunity. Njoku is running routes at an 81% rate, which is elite for a tight end and has a good 20% target rate. But Njoku has been targeted fairly shallowly, with just a 6.5 aDOT. As a result, he is a poor bet to maintain his elite 10.3 YPT. You probably don’t have a better option at tight end, but with three straight games of 5+ catches and 70+ yards, Njoku’s production might have you considering him in the FLEX. I don’t think he’s there yet if you can avoid it.

Jets at Packers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Jets Implied Team Total: 19.25

With a young quarterback like Zach Wilson, I’m looking for signs of improved play. We got that last week when Wilson posted the highest CPOE of his young career. Wilson was also solidly efficient, and his play last week had him grouped with some very good quarterbacks.

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But with Wilson, we have a very low bar for what counts as improved accuracy. As a rookie, Wilson turned in a handful of impressively efficient performances. But Wilson has never impressed in terms of his accuracy. Wilson’s 0.6% CPOE ranked just QB18 in Week 5... but it was the first time in Wilson’s career that he had a positive CPOE. So sure, Wilson improved—but only because no quarterback has been less accurate than Wilson since 2021.

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Given Wilson’s inaccuracy, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Jets have pivoted to a more run-heavy offense since he returned from injury. With Joe Flacco at the helm, they had a slight lean to the pass. But they’ve been run heavy in Wilson’s first two starts, posting a -10% PROE against the Steelers and a -5% PROE last week. We can expect this trend to continue, given how weak the Packers are against the rush.

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Of course, relying on the run game is easier when you have a breakout star at the running back position. Despite twice losing out on goal line TDs to Michael Carter, Breece Hall erupted in Week 5 for 197 total yards and a TD. Hall did most of his damage through the air, with two receptions for 100 yards. He was tackled at the one-yard line on both plays, and Michael Carter punched in the TDs.

As Ben Gretch notes in Stealing Signals, Carter’s usage came on well-timed (or poorly-timed if you had Hall) breather carries. In other words, Hall’s situation was very bullish, despite losing out on two carries from the one. Hall had a 69% snap share, a slight increase on Week 4’s 66%. At this point, I’m viewing him as the locked-in RB1 in New York. I won’t be shocked if his snap share declines to the low 60% range. I also wouldn’t be shocked if he was in the low 70% range. In fact, I expect we’ll see him bounce around a bit in that general range in the coming weeks. But while Carter won’t go away completely, Hall is shaping up as an extremely valuable fantasy running back. In Hall, we have an explosive, versatile player who has quickly displaced another talented and versatile back. It’s been fun to watch.

As Breece Hall‘s star is rising, Garrett Wilson‘s is fading—for now. Wilson has seen target rates of 17% in each of his games with Zach Wilson at quarterback. In three games with Joe Flacco, Wilson had a much stronger 21% target rate.

Wilson’s routes are also in flux. And after an 88% route rate in Week 4, Wilson was down to 75% against the Dolphins. Meanwhile, Corey Davis jumped from 71% to 92%. This isn’t a big deal long-term but could be a sign that Wilson’s playing time progress has plateaued for the short term. That would be an unfortunate development because Wilson looks like a potential star and because non-Wilson receivers look very difficult to trust in this offense.

Elijah Moore has been a fantasy disaster, delivering just 0.98 YPRR. He’s underperforming on a per-target basis, but his 15% target share doesn’t provide a ton of confidence going forward. Davis has been more efficient on his routes, with 1.68 YPRR. But his routes have been all over the place. He’s had two weeks of 85%+ route participation but has been at 75% or lower in his other three games. As a result, he actually has a lower target share than Moore, at 14%.

Even Tyler Conklin no longer looks like a fantasy option. He ran just seven routes against the Dolphins for a pitiful 29% route rate. C.J. Uzomah ran a route on 54% of dropbacks, indicating that the Jets may now have a tight end by committee.

Packers Implied Team Total: 26.25

Last week I wrote extensively about how the Packers’ slow-paced approach, combined with a newfound interest in running the ball, could get them in trouble against the Giants. To be clear, I did not think they would lose to the Giants—just that they would let the Giants hang around long enough to scare Packers fans. The fact that the Packers did, in fact, lose to an inferior Giants team emphasizes how sub-optimal the Packers’ offensive design has been this year.

To Matt LaFleur‘s credit, the Packers were slightly pass-first last week, with a 2% PROE. So they didn’t completely fall into the trap of going run heavy against a weak Giants run defense. But they still continued to play slowly.

The Packers’ pace gives Aaron Rodgers less margin for error. If the ball gets batted down at the wrong time... it can cost them a game.

But although the Packers didn’t go run-heavy last week, they still look like a run-first team. That is a bit of a problem because they can’t stop the run themselves.

Against teams like the Giants and the Jets, the Packers should want the opposing quarterback to drop back as much as humanly possible. Instead, the Giants just beat them with a run-first -3% PROE. The Jets should be expected to be at least that run-heavy this week.

But when looking at the matchup for Green Bay’s offense, they again have the potential to play things balanced or even run-heavy. Because Jets have been good at getting to the passer, ranking fourth in pass rush grade, third in pressure rate, and seventh in quick pressure rate.

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I would argue strongly that the Packers should attack aggressively this week, forcing additional dropbacks from Wilson. But I don’t think that is what they will do. And even when they do pass, we’ll likely see a lot of the quick game.

In 2021, Aaron Rodgers had an 8.1 aDOT, which ranked QB21 out of 38. This year he’s down to an aDOT of 6.8. Only Kirk Cousins, Kyler Murray, and Daniel Jones are averaging more shallow throws. Last year, even Ben Roethlisberger (7.1) had a higher aDOT than Rodgers’ current mark. And only Jared Goff (6.8) had an aDOT under 7.0.

Rodgers’ more conservative mix of throws is making it much less viable for the Packers to lean on passing efficiency—even though they are continuing to do so. Rodgers didn’t win the MVP by accident; he played remarkably efficiently last season.

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This season, he’s dropped to QB18 in EPA per play. He’s gone from playing like a more accurate Patrick Mahomes to a more accurate Kirk Cousins.

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It’s not exactly a mystery why Rodgers’ efficiency is down this year; his receiver room has undergone a significant shakeup and is relying on major contributions from two rookies.

And through five games, neither Romeo Doubs nor Christian Watson looks like a true impact player. Doubs has a solid 1.49 YPRR and is earning targets at a decent rate, with a 20% target per route run. But despite profiling as a deep threat, Doubs has an aDOT of just 7.7. He’s been able to earn targets... but only sort of. Because 31% of his targets have come on screen passes. Only Deebo Samuel (11) has seen more screen targets than Doubs (9). That isn’t necessarily bad for Doubs’ fantasy value, but it does cast some doubt on his ability to earn traditional targets. On non-screen routes, his target rate drops to just 17%.

It’s a similar situation for Christian Watson. Watson has seen 11 targets this season, with five coming on screens. On non-screen routes, Watson has a target rate of just 15%.

With the rookie struggling to earn downfield targets, Allen Lazard is under pressure to operate as a true deep threat. He’s not completely miscast in this role. Lazard’s aDOT of 13.8 is below his 2019 mark of 14.7 aDOT. And he’s never had an aDOT lower than 11.0. As a Marquez Valdes-Scantling fill-in, Lazard is doing all right—his 1.56 YPRR is actually higher than MVS’ 1.43 last season. But Lazard is probably not opening the offense up for other receivers like Valdez-Scantling used to. With an 18.2 aDOT in both 2020 and 2021, MVS threatened true splash play potential.

The overall effect of this receiver room is that Rogers is more dependent on designed targets to his receivers and has less opportunity to hit hugely impactful deep throws downfield.

From a fantasy perspective, this isn’t great for the offense... but it’s probably fine for Doubs. As the receiver that the Packers are scheming for most frequently, Doubs looks like a solid FLEX option. But he’ll need to flash a bit more downfield to be more than that.

In the backfield, Aaron Jones is coming off a 73% snap share against the Giants. That was a season-high for Jones and his highest since Week 7 of 2021. It’s nice that Jones still has that level of snap share available to him, with A.J. Dillon looking like he would be a major factor to start the season. But I wouldn’t get too worked up about the week-to-week usage here. We know that the Packers like both of these backs, and Jones twice hit a 73% snap share last year (Dillon played every game last season) before falling below 60% within three weeks, in both cases.

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This isn’t to say that Jones’ usage last week wasn’t good news. In fact, his usage looks very similar to the early half of 2021 when Jones had three 20+ point games, including a 40+ point game. So his current usage profile gives him access to an elite ceiling. It’s just that his snap share could fluctuate in the coming weeks, as it did last year.

And while snaps are great, we could use more work for Jones. He ranks just RB21 in PFF’s expected points per game. Dillon isn’t far behind at RB30. Jones has been efficient this year and could see his workload grow slightly this week if he maintains last week’s snap share. But I view his outlook as very similar to where it was entering last week.

Jaguars at Colts, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Jaguars Implied Team Total: 20

I’ve been optimistic about the Jaguars’ offensive outlook for two weeks in a row. That has burned me both weeks, especially last week when the Jaguars managed just six points against the Texans. As it turns out, I was clearly too confident in Trevor Lawrence‘s ability to play efficiently from a clean pocket.

Entering Week 4, Lawrence ranked QB26 in PFF’s quarterback grades under pressure, but he showed promise when kept clean, ranking behind only Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. Over the last two weeks, Lawrence has been even worse when pressured, ranking QB33. But the Jaguars’ line has done a decent job of protecting him; he’s seen pressure at only the 22nd-highest rate. Unfortunately, Lawrence has dropped from QB3 in PFF’s grades when kept clean to QB22. Mediocre clean pocket play and league-worst play under pressure is far from an ideal combo.

But while I was overly optimistic that Lawrence was about to take a step forward, he still has a chance to rebound from a bad two-week stretch against the Colts. Like the Texans, the Colts aren’t generating pressure on the quarterback. They rank 28th in pass rush grade, 26th in pressure rate, and 28th in quick pressure rate. And the Colts’ secondary is performing even worse than the Texans’.

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As you can see above, the Jaguars actually have had some success through the air, despite some backbreaking plays from Lawrence. I’ve cooled on Lawrence after the last two weeks, but I think the Jaguars’ passing offense could at least be frisky.

Likewise, Christian Kirk looks less exciting than he did after his strong three-game stretch to start the season. He has just three receptions for 71 yards over his last two games. But Kirk still looks like the best bet in this offense by a wide margin. Kirk has a 95% route rate and has been targeted on 20% of his routes, giving him upside if the Jaguars’ offense rebounds.

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Zay Jones has bested Kirk with a 23% target rate, but Jones has benefited from six screen targets, while Kirk is seen just one. Jones has an exceptionally poor 1.15 YPRR on screen routes, so those targets could dry up. He’s also running routes at a lower rate of 84%. Jones is a viable dart throw, but Kirk remains the clear No. 1 option.

The running back situation is also starting to take shape. Over the last two weeks, Travis Etienne has a 53% snap share to James Robinson’s 43%. But the Jaguars have been losing those games, indicating that Etienne is probably the passing down back. To that point, he has a 9% target share to Robinson’s 3%. However, both backs have carried the ball 18 times. Neither back looks like a great bet, but with the Jaguars 2-point road underdogs, I lean towards Etienne.

Colts Implied Team Total: 22

There’s no other way to put this; the Colts’ offense has been brutal this season. Matt Ryan ranks QB32 in EPA per play, and the Colts rank 28th in EPA per dropback. Perhaps more concerningly, the Colts rank 30th in EPA per rush.

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To put in perspective how disappointing the Colts’ run game has been, they ran the ball more efficiently with Jonathan Taylor out of the lineup than in Weeks 1-4.

One of the major issues facing the Colts is that their offensive line is playing very poorly. The Colts rank 27th in pass blocking grade and 24th in run blocking grade. Given how bad the Colts’ running game has been with an elite talent like Jonathan Taylor, it’s probably fair to say that not all of Matt Ryan‘s struggles are on him.

It’s also fair to say that Ryan has run bad to an extent in terms of efficiency. Ryan has been awful in EPA per play, ranking ahead of only Mitch Trubisky, Davis Mills, and Baker Mayfield. But Ryan has been much more respectable in CPOE, ranking QB21. With mediocre accuracy, we should expect his play to trend back towards mediocre throughout the season.

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Still, Frank Reich will likely need a few weeks of better play from Ryan before having faith in his quarterback. The Colts have been a run-heavy team this year with a -4% PROE. They’ve only posted a positive PROE once, in their win over the Chiefs. So we can expect the Colts to be run-heavy this week. The only major question is how many of those carries will go to Taylor.

And this is not an ideal matchup for Taylor to be at less than full health, as the Jaguars have actually been fairly strong against the run, despite letting up some highlight plays to Miles Sanders and Dameon Pierce.

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Still, he’s Jonathan Taylor. If he suits up, Taylor belongs in lineups. But I would prefer not to mess with the Colts committee that replaces him if Taylor misses another game.

The running game will be far better off if the passing game can rebound. And maybe... Ryan can flash some non-horrendous efficiency against a pass defense that ranks 22nd in coverage grade and 18th in pass rush grade. If so, it will be interesting to see if Alec Pierce can build on his strong game against the Broncos. Pierce ran a route on 75% of dropbacks, with Michael Pittman at 100% and Parris Campbell and 98%. But it was Pierce who led the team with nine targets, delivering an impressive 25% target rate, with Pittman at 17% and Campbell at just 6%.

Pittman is very likely to remain the No. 1 option here, so the emergence of Pierce is actually a welcome sign for Pittman’s fantasy managers. Because, he might actually draw some defensive attention.

Campbell has been completely unable to earn targets. He has just a 7% target rate, which explains his abysmal 0.60 YPRR. Campbell is clearly doing nothing to help anyone in the offense, given that he is doing nothing at all. And Pittman could use some help. He had a true No. 1 receiver aDOT of 10.3 last season, but that has fallen to a shallow 7.1. Pittman’s path to value is earning targets at a high rate, but he is not particularly explosive after the catch and is in a low-volume passing offense. If he can’t earn targets beyond the shallow areas of the field, it’s going to hurt his fantasy value. Pierce can’t fix the offensive line issues that are limiting downfield throws or Matt Ryan‘s arm, but Pierce should still be able to help Pittman if he can reliably threaten downfield.

As for Pierce himself, he looks like nothing more than a dart throw until we see true full-time route participation. But he does look like a viable dart throw if you’re struggling to find bye-week replacements. The rookie has an elite 2.06 YPRR, so he’s flashing potential despite an unideal situation.

Vikings at Dolphins, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Vikings Implied Team Total: 24.5

Every week when previewing the Vikings, I insist that they are a pass-first team. But for three straight weeks, they have posted a -1% PROE. But I’m telling you… this is a pass-first team.

If the Vikings had a run-heavy gear, we would have seen it last week against a Bears defense whose opponents were averaging a -11% PROE against them entering last week. Playing balanced football against the Bears actually qualifies as pass heavy.

This week, the Vikings get a Dolphins defense that has lost a little bit of its pass funnel reputation after the Jets went run-heavy against them. But there have been some extenuating circumstances with the Dolphins in recent weeks. And the simple fact is that this secondary is extremely exploitable.

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Kirk Cousins hasn’t been impressive this season, but he hasn’t been bad either, ranking 17th in EPA per play and 19th in CPOE. The Vikings, understandably, aren’t going to force the issue with Cousins in a matchup that doesn’t call for an aggressive passing attack. But Cousins does look capable of producing spiked production if called upon in a good matchup.

Of course, facing Skylar Thompson, the Vikings may take their foot off the gas reasonably early... and then I’ll really be banging the table that the Vikings are a pass-first team in my writeup of Vikings/Cardinals in Week 8. But even if the Vikings don’t take to the air at a high rate here, it’s hard not to get wildly excited about Justin Jefferson when looking at the matchup chart above.

Among receivers with 100+ routes, Jefferson’s 2.66 YPRR trails only Tyreek Hill (3.49), Jaylen Waddle (2.71), and Stefon Diggs (2.67). It’s not exactly news that Justin Jefferson is producing elite efficiency. But in a year where Ja’Marr Chase is struggling to get anything going, it’s still great to see.

And Jefferson is dominating targets in Minnesota. His elite efficiency is supported by elite target volume, while all other Vikings receivers have seen weak per-route volume this season.

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The best you can say about Adam Thielen is that he has run a route on 98% of dropbacks, which matches Jefferson. He also presumably has a red zone role, despite having only one touchdown this season. His route rate keeps him in the mix this week, given the matchup.

Irv Smith continues to operate as a part-time player, although his route rate was up to 68% last week, which is a positive sign. He’s also underperforming with a 5.8 YPT, which is unsustainably bad. I’ve been a big-time Irv Smith bear this year, but he’s definitely in the low-end TE1 conversation in this matchup.

One reason that teams tend to pass on the Dolphins is that they are fairly strong against the run.

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Unfortunately, Dalvin Cook is primarily dependent on carries for value. He hasn’t had much success as a receiver this year, ranking RB52 with a 0.70 YPRR. Early in his career, Cook was an efficient receiver, finishing with a YPRR of 1.25 or better in his first four seasons. But Cook has a bit of an Alexander Mattison problem. Last week, Mattison ran a route on 39% of dropbacks, which matched Cook. And on the season, Mattison has a 6% target share, with Cook only slightly ahead at 7%. The Vikings aren’t throwing to their running backs a ton in general; to have Mattison getting almost half the targets is going to have an impact.

And as a pure runner, Cook looks surprisingly volume-dependent this year. He was great last week against a weak Bears defense but ranks fairly poorly across the board as a rusher. Cook is RB31 in RYOE / attempt, RB30 in success rate, RB43 in breakaway percentage, and RB27 in elusive rating. However, with the Dolphins starting Thompson at quarterback, Cook could feast on a heavy rushing workload.

Dolphins Implied Team Total: 23.75

Last week I wrote that the Dolphins’ offense should be able to keep rolling with Teddy Bridgewater, but after a first-play injury, it turned out to be seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson under center.

Thompson predictably struggled, finishing 26th in EPA per play and 20th in CPOE. Because while Bridgewater had a chance to fill Tagovailoa’s shoes as an accurate executor of the McDaniel offense, that was a bit too much to ask of a rookie as an emergency fill-in.

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And so, with Thompson at quarterback, the Dolphins shifted to a run-heavy attack. Miami finished with a -8% PROE, twice as tilted toward the run as their previous season-low in Week 4. We can expect a similar game plan with Thompson starting again this week. With a full week of practice for Thompson, the Dolphins may be slightly more aggressive through the air, but it would be a genuine surprise if they were firmly run first.

And on the ground, the Dolphins should be fairly successful against a Vikings run defense that has let up big plays on the ground while also yielding a high success rate.

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As you can see, the Vikings are also vulnerable through the air. But the Dolphins didn’t pass aggressively against an exploitable Jets secondary and may have to pass up another good passing matchup this week.

As a result, Raheem Mostert looks like a solid option. He’s played 70% of the Dolphins’ snaps over the last two weeks, with Chase Edmonds at just 21%. As far as Edmonds goes, it’s unclear that he is even the No. 2 at this point; he was out-snapped by Myles Gaskin last week.

Mostert did not practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday. So his health is a minor concern. But if Mostert gets in another practice on Friday, he looks worth trusting as the Dolphins lead back in a run-first game environment.

At wide receiver, Tyreek Hill still looks like a strong option despite having Thompson at quarterback. He exited Week 5 with a foot injury but practiced in full this week and was actually very efficient against the Jets. Hill was targeted on 32% of his routes last week and delivered 2.14 YPRR. Two of his targets were on-screen passes, but he generated four yards on those two receptions. So he was decently productive as a traditional receiver with Thompson. You can feel confident with Hill in your lineup.

Waddle requires a bit more faith. He had just 0.77 YPRR last week, with just a 10% target share. But Waddle is still seeing very strong per-route volume. And targets remain concentrated to Hill and Waddle, with the two combining for a 53% target share (30%; 23%). Again, Hill looks like the superior option, but both players are producing elite efficiency on elite target volume.

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Bengals at Saints, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Bengals Implied Team Total: 22.5

As many noted before the season, Joe Burrow was likely to face some negative regression in terms of his accuracy. Burrow led all quarterbacks in CPOE last season—including the playoffs, where he tailed off a bit. Those prognosticators have been correct so far. Burrow’s CPOE has dropped from 5.9% to 0%; he ranks QB20 in the metric.

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And with Burrow coming back to earth a bit, Zac Taylor doesn’t seem particularly inclined to play aggressively. Shocking, I know. Despite a run game that ranks 29th EPA per rush and 29th in success rate, the Bengals have been run first on 1st-and-10, with an inconsistent commitment to the pass overall. I don’t want to call Taylor a talent minimizer... but he is running his offense like Nathaniel Hackett.

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This week, Burrow gets a Saints defense that just let up big plays to Geno Smith. While Smith’s consistent success this season has me questioning my grip on reality, I’m still willing to say that if Smith can light up this defense, Burrow can too. That assumes, of course, that Taylor will shift to the pass against a middling secondary and poor pass rush rather than feature Joe Mixon against a run defense that is quietly first in EPA allowed per rush.

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Entering last week, Joe Mixon led all running backs with 24 expected points per game. However, his workload cratered against the Ravens to just 13 expected points. And the Mixon tax remained in effect, with 1.2 fantasy points left on the field.

One issue last week was that Mixon saw his lowest target share of the year, while Samaje Perine jumped from his previous season-high of 8% to 13%. But I wouldn’t be overly concerned about Mixon’s usage last week. His target share is still up significantly from last year and he has been consistently involved as a receiver in a way that he was not in 2021.

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And Mixon is still the RB1 in expected points. Based on his workload, he should be scoring 21.8 PPR points per game. But, of course, Mixon is not doing that... he’s averaging just 13.8. But Mixon now gets a Saints defense that has shown some serious cracks, despite continuing to rank well by the numbers. I don’t expect Mixon to ever be exceptionally efficient, but at some point, he has to play better than he has so far. His current level of inefficiency is simply unsustainable.

Still, while Mixon has a shot at high-end fantasy production against a run defense that isn’t what it was at its peak, the Bengals are deluding themselves if they think that the running game is the key to their offensive success this week. So, with any luck, Cincinnati’s passing volume will be up. That would give Burrow a good chance of a strong outing against a pass rush that ranks 25th in PFF’s grades and dead last in pressure rate and quick pressure rate.

But Burrow will likely be without Tee Higgins, robbing him of an elite downfield threat. Higgins’ health will put even more pressure on Ja’Marr Chase, who continues to be the focus of defensive game plans. But fantasy managers will take some additional defensive attention if it comes with additional targets. As I noted last week, only Cooper Kupp has seen more double teams than Chase; that remains true after Week 5.

Perhaps like the Rams do with Kupp, or like the Vikings do with Justin Jefferson (who has seen the fifth-most double teams), the Bengals will feed Chase with targets now that their secondary option is no longer an elite one. To be clear, we’re not going to get the route creativity that we see with Kupp and Jefferson, but we have to work with what we have.

With Higgins banged up, Tyler Boyd should definitely be in line for a larger role. He ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Ravens, up from 78% the week prior. Unfortunately, Boyd only earned a target on 80% of his routes and has struggled to earn targets all year, with an 11% target rate. But more routes are never a bad thing. Boyd isn’t an exciting option but is very much in play as a bye-week FLEX fill-in.

Saints Implied Team Total: 20.5

Jameis Winston appears more likely than not to play on Sunday, but could ultimately be a game-time decision. But whether or not Winston plays might not have a huge impact on the game.

Andy Dalton has actually been more efficient than Winston, ranking 12th in EPA per play, with Winston at 28th. And Dalton has also been more accurate, ranking third in CPOE, with Winston at sixth. So with either player under center, the offense should be functional.

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Even with better play from Dalton, the Saints seem to be far more comfortable passing the ball with Winston under center.

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As you can see above, the Saints have been extremely run-heavy with Dalton at quarterback for the last two weeks. But although the Saints were more balanced with Winston, that’s not necessarily an indication that they will be more balanced in Winston’s first game back from injury. With either quarterback, the Saints look like a good bet to be run-heavy but decently efficient through the air.

Although, that passing efficiency will be tested by a Bengals defense that has covered well and can generate pressure, ranking 12th in quick pressure rate.

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The Saints could also be hampered by missing both Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry for the second straight week. Only having Chris Olave in the lineup wasn’t an issue against Seattle, but the Bengals are a far better defense.

But even if the Saints struggle without starting-level options beyond Olave... Olave remains a very strong bet. He is seeing unreal target volume on his routes, combining an elite 27% target rate with an ultra-deep 18.4 aDOT. There are plenty of paths to receivers having fantasy football value. But being a downfield target dominator is arguably the highest upside role at the position.

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Olave still needs to clear the concussion protocol, but he profiles as a strong start if he’s cleared for Sunday. After that... sure... you can start Taysom Hill. Hill... who has a 21% snap share and a 10% route rate, but who will probably run for a TD again this week for some reason. A TD that could otherwise go to Alvin Kamara.

Kamara, by the way, posted a season-high 25% target share against the Seahawks. With Dalton presumably more likely to check down to him, Kamara could benefit the most from another Dalton game, especially if the Saints are planning to be run-heavy either way.

Kamara’s rushing efficiency fell off last year and hasn’t been great this season. He ranks RB28 in RYOE / attempt, RB26 in success rate, RB32 in breakaway percentage, and RB39 in elusive rating. He has a middling rushing matchup this week, so we can’t rule out spiked efficiency. But the more receiving work for Kamara, the better.

Ravens at Giants, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Ravens Implied Team Total: 25.25

The Ravens enter Week 6 as a pass-first team. They have a 3% pass rate over expected, which ranks sixth, and a 5% PROE on 1st-and-10, which ranks fifth. Although, the Ravens are coming off a Week 5 performance where they went run first for the first time all season. But even against the Bengals, the Ravens were pass-heavy on 1st-and-10, indicating that they haven’t dramatically shifted from the philosophy they’ve shown so far this year.

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The Giants are a defense that opposing offenses can choose their method of attack against. New York has graded poorly in coverage and doesn’t get pressure on the quarterback at a high rate. But they can also be run on.

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If the Ravens intend to continue playing as a pass-first team, we should see them lean on Lamar Jackson’s arm here. Otherwise, we could ultimately view last week’s negative PROE as a sign that the Ravens were moving toward the run game.

However, given how well Jackson has played this season, it would be strange if the Ravens didn’t rely on him to attack this matchup. Jackson ranks ninth in EPA per play and 10th in CPOE. He’s been slightly less efficient than Jalen Hurts but slightly more accurate as well. He should have no trouble putting up points against the Giants.

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Plus, as I noted last week, attacking the Giants through the air puts them in a bind on offense. Going pass-heavy will generally increase the likelihood of a high-scoring game environment, forcing the Giants to lean on Daniel Jones... something they very much do not want to do. The Ravens have hit a 4%+ PROE in 3-of-5 games; I expect them to make it 4-of-6 this week.

With Rashod Bateman out of the lineup last week, the Ravens offense continued to look fairly similar. Devin Duvernay moved from secondary deep threat to primary deep threat. And Demarcus Robinson moved from tertiary deep threat to secondary deep threat. But the design of the offense was basically the same: two outside deep receivers, opening up space for Mark Andrews in the middle of the field.

Duvernay hasn’t been as effective as Bateman this year, but he’s been efficient, delivering 2.04 YPRR. If Bateman is out again, Duvernay profiles as a viable FLEX option. Whether or not Bateman is available, the Ravens’ offensive design is working out great for Andrews. The tight end posted a 2.62 YPRR last week and finally ran hot on a per-target basis with a 9.7 YPT. Andrews continues to profile as an absolute superstar whose elite YPRR is fully supported by target volume.

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In the backfield, things are a little less exciting. J.K. Dobbins debuted this season with a 44% snap share in Week 3. He followed that up with a 50% snap share against the Bills, hinting that he was beginning to ramp up. But the ramp-up never came. Dobbins dropped to a 40% snap share last week, and there’s a chance that Gus Edwards will return to the lineup against the Giants. Dobbins has been a solid rusher this year, ranking RB23 in breakaway percentage and RB20 in elusive rating. But he’s not getting enough work right now to be fantasy viable; he ranks just RB31 in expected points per game. For now, we’re back to a wait-and-see situation with this backfield.

Giants Implied Team Total: 19.75

The 4-1 Giants are arguably the biggest surprise in the NFL. And, at least some of what they’re doing looks sustainable. While I don’t expect the Giants to continue ripping off wins, Daniel Jones’ play so far does not make him a negative regression candidate. In fact, Jones could plausibly be in line for some positive regression. Jones ranks QB9 in CPOE but just QB22 in EPA per play. His play has been remarkably similar to Aaron Rodgers’ and Ryan Tannehill‘s, which is interesting since all three quarterbacks are dealing with inconsistency at the wide receiver position. (Sometimes the stats just get it).

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The Giants have also been willing to let Jones sling it, at least a little bit. They posted back-to-back weeks of a 6% PROE against the Panthers and Cowboys. They’ve also leaned on the run, including last week against the Packers. But they shouldn’t completely run from the fight if the Ravens are efficient on offense.

The issue for fantasy is that there are no Giants pass catchers worth starting. In fact, this isn’t just an issue for fantasy. The Giants have no receivers who are worth starting in real life. The only Giants wide receiver with a 70%+ route rate this year is Sterling Shepard, who is out for the season. Wherefore art thou, Kadarius?

But at least we have Saquon Barkley. Barkley got a little banged up in London, so his snap share was only 68%. Even still, he has an 85% snap share this season, which is second only to Christian McCaffrey (86%). Barkley also has a 19% target share, again second only to McCaffrey (23%). And even in a game he briefly exited, Barkley had a 24% target share against the Packers. Given his involvement in all facets of the game, Barkley can put up elite numbers regardless of the game script. That’s backed up by his 18.1 expected points per game this season, the second-highest among running backs. It’s possible that, for the second year in a row, we don’t get a legendary running back season of 23+ points per game. But Barkley, who is averaging 20.7 PPR points per game, is arguably the best candidate.

Panthers at Rams, 4:05 Eastern, Sunday

Panthers Implied Team Total: 15.75

Mercifully, we don’t have to watch Baker Mayfield this week. Through the first five weeks of the season, Mayfield blew away the competition for the worst quarterback in the league, finishing last in both EPA per play and CPOE. But... not all change is good.

I can’t believe this is true, but it is—the Panthers are now turning to a quarterback whose play over the last two seasons has been even less efficient than Mayfield’s this year. In fact, since 2020, no quarterback has been less efficient in EPA per play than P.J. Walker.

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I’d love to see this passing game become productive enough to support D.J. Moore as much as anyone, but we’re more likely to see the Panthers continue to flounder under new head coach Steve Wilks.

Speaking of Wilks, it seems likely that he will move this offense toward the running game. In his one season as a head coach, Wilks’ Cardinals operated with a -5% PROE and a -2% PROE on 1st-and-10.

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The Panthers currently rank ninth with a 2% PROE. They also have a 9% PROE on 1st-and-10, which is the second-highest in the league. I pointed out previously that, despite disastrous results, the Panthers were trying to set the passing game up for success with their playcalling approach. We could see that change quickly under Wilks.

And look, I know I’m being a bummer here... I would also like for the Panthers not to be a complete dumpster fire, but I think the situation in Carolina could get worse this week.

If the Panthers do surprise by being frisky, it’s likely to come through a few big plays downfield. The Rams rank 24th in EPA allowed per dropback and 20th in coverage grade. So it’s at least plausible that Walker can hit Moore or Robbie Anderson for a few big receptions.

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But the only real play here is Christian McCaffrey, who leads all RBs in snap share (86%) and target share (23%). McCaffrey has only played one game where Walker was a full-time quarterback. And after my pessimistic rant about the post-Rhule Panthers, I’ll offer an optimistic note here. While playing only 59% of snaps in Week 10 last season with Walker at quarterback, McCaffrey saw a 31% target share. That was his highest mark of the last three years.

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The Panthers are a wasteland outside of McCaffrey, and even he doesn’t have the elite ceiling he should. But he— somehow—he remains an RB1.

Rams Implied Team Total: 25.75

Given that the Panthers are likely to hide their quarterback and try and grind this game out, it’s a tough week to get excited about a Rams bounceback. But Matthew Stafford does look to be a candidate for some positive regression. Stafford’s accuracy has been respectable this season. He ranks 15th in CPOE and has actually been more accurate than last year. But Stafford ranks just 29th in EPA per play. In a sense, he’s a reverse Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo ranks 33rd in accuracy but has delivered elite efficiency, ranking fourth in EPA per play.

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Like Garoppolo, Stafford’s aDOT is down substantially from last season. In 2021, Stafford ranked QB8 with an 8.9 aDOT; he’s down to 6.9 this year, which ranks QB30. Stafford’s current mix of throws is extremely shallow. Even Ben Roethlisberger (7.1) had a higher aDOT last season, and only Jerry Goff (6.8) was lower. While an ultra-underneath approach is working for Garoppolo, it is very much not working for Stafford. This makes sense, given what we know about the two quarterbacks. Stafford has consistently challenged defenses downfield throughout his career. His inability to do so this season seems to be dramatically impacting his play.

It’s not hard to understand why Stafford is having trouble attempting deep throws at a high rate. Stafford has been pressured on 35% of his dropbacks this season, which ranks QB7. That’s up from 26% last season. Only Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady had a lower pressure rate in 2021.

This pressure helps explain why Stafford is struggling mightily with a shallow aDOT while Garoppolo is thriving. Garoppolo has been pressured on only 26% of his dropbacks this season; only Tom Brady has seen pressure at a lower rate. In other words, Garoppolo’s short passing game is part of a larger plan... Stafford’s is a symptom of the Rams’ inability to protect him.

This was on display last week. Against the Cowboys’ elite pass rush, Stafford was pressured on 43% of his attempts. Only Daniel Jones and Justin Fields have been pressured at a 43%+ rate this season. Much like Joe Burrow to begin the season, Stafford’s shallow aDOT is a sign that his play has been negatively affected by pressure.

Sacks are partially a quarterback stat, but Stafford’s issues with pressure really do appear to be on the Rams’ offensive line. PFF has charged him with responsibility on just 4.4% of his pressures, which ranks QB33 this year. He’s also allowed pressure on just 1.4% of his dropbacks, which ranks QB32. If the Rams can protect him better, he should be able to take advantage.

The Panthers rank sixth in pressure rate and sixth in quick pressure rate. But they’ve been able to feast on some quarterbacks who invite pressure, most notably Daniel Jones and Jacoby Brissett. Given that allowing pressure isn’t a weakness for Stafford, the Panthers could have more trouble getting to him than their pressure rush rates suggest. This idea is backed up by PFF’s grades, which rank the Panthers just 21st in pass rush grade. At the very least, the Rams should be able to avoid another disastrous outing. Unlike the Cowboys’ defense, the Panthers aren’t tailor-made to shut the Rams down.

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Last week I wrote that Cooper Kupp‘s 37% target share was clearly unsustainable. And sure enough, he was at just 24% last week, bringing his target share for the season down to 34%. But Kupp still owned me anyway, recording seven receptions for 125 yards and a TD on 10 targets. I had assumed that Kupp would need someone else to step up to help the offense, maintaining his fantasy production on what would inevitably be a lower target share. Instead, the person to step up was Kupp himself, delivering an elite 12.5 YPT.

Still, the overall situation is not ideal for Kupp. The Rams can’t protect their quarterback, and defenses are keying in on Kupp, leading to the most double teams in the league. And no other Rams wide receiver seems capable of drawing targets, much less defensive attention. But I’m not going to forget the bottom line here. Kupp has a 2.44 YPRR, which is supported by elite target volume. He could be an absolute smash this week.

But man, is it rough for non-Kupp Rams receivers. Allen Robinson is down to a 0.52 YPRR. (I had to check this while editing because 0.52 is so bad that I genuinely did not believe it could be right. It is). And while Robinson is running cold in YPT, positive regression still won’t make him fantasy relevant. Because while Robinson’s efficiency has been embarrassingly bad, his target volume is only slightly less mortifying.

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But it’s not like Ben Skowronek is stepping up. He has just a 13% target rate and is earning very similar volume to Robinson. It’s gotten to the point where I would like to see more of Tutu Atwell, who still weighs just 165 pounds two years into his NFL career. For now, the only startable non-Kupp option is Tyler Higbee.

Here’s one way to get your head around how dire the receiver situation is in Los Angeles: Tyler Higbee ranks second at the tight end position in target share. Let that sink in for a second. Tyler Higbee has a higher target share than Travis Kelce. Tyler. Higbee. We don’t have to understand it, but Higbee should be in your lineup this week, with the potential for a minor offensive rebound.

In the backfield, this could be a Cam Akers game... although I’m not even sure what that means. Akers has topped out at a 50% snap share this season and is coming off a 38% snap share against the 49ers and a 30% snap share against the Cowboys. But his usage in those games was likely limited due to the game script. That shouldn’t be a problem here with the Rams as 10-point favorites. But while Akers should see more playing time in a positive script, it’s worth noting that he has not been good this season. He ranks RB42 in RYOE / attempt, ahead of only Najee Harris, and RB37 in success rate. He also ranks RB45 in elusive rating and is one of only three running backs with 40+ attempts who has yet to hit a 15+ yard run. But if Akers is ever going to get together, it would be in a spot like this, where the Rams offense as a whole should be more efficient, and game script should be on his side. Akers shapes up as a hold your nose RB2.

Cardinals at Seahawks, 4:05 Eastern, Sunday

Cardinals Implied Team Total: 26.5

Last week I was optimistic that the Eagles could push the Cardinals into an exciting shootout script. But unfortunately, the Cardinals ran from that fight. In a game Philadelphia led throughout, the Eagles posted a 6% PROE and an 11% PROE on 1st-and-10. They had an aggressive game plan, showing confidence in Jalen Hurts to put up points.

The Cardinals played things very differently with an ultra-run-heavy -9% PROE and a -3% PROE on 1st-and-10.

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The Cardinals were a balanced team heading into Week 5. And their game against the Eagles represents the first time they had a PROE below -2%. In other words, this was a big shift to the run for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals clearly preferred to limit the number of possessions against a strong offense. It nearly worked, at least to the extent that the Cardinals were a missed field goal away from taking the Eagles to overtime. Then again, the Cardinals signed Kyler Murray to a $230.5 million contract this offseason, have an offensive-minded head coach (or so we are told), and were playing at home. The fact that their plan was to limit possessions and play for overtime tells you a lot about the state of this team.

As a result, it will be dangerous to bet on the Cardinals to be pushed into up-tempo, pass-heavy game environments by better offenses. They seem more inclined to try and hide a vulnerable defense in play for coin-flip outcomes against better opponents.

However, that’s not the situation they find themselves in this week. Sure, Geno Smith has been very impressive to start the season. But if Kliff Kingsbury is worried about going toe to toe with the Geno Smith Seahawks... he’s gone off the cowardly deep end. If Kingsbury can muster some confidence, the Cardinals are well-positioned against an extremely weak Seahawks pass defense.

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But as you can see above, the Cardinals can probably get away with a balanced or run-first approach this week against a run defense that is also not particularly good. This creates a bit of risk for the Cardinals’ passing game.

But even if the Cardinals don’t fully lean into this passing matchup, Kyler Murray should be able to deliver strong efficiency on his dropbacks. Granted, relying on Murray for efficiency requires a leap of faith. He ranks 24th in EPA per play and 22nd in CPOE. He’s been both inefficient and inaccurate this year, and the numbers don’t suggest that he’s due for positive regression.

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However, this defense allowed Jared Goff to finish fourth in EPA per play against them in Week 4... without Amon-Ra St. Brown, D.J. Chark, or D’Andre Swift. Last week against the Patriots, Goff finished dead last in EPA per play. So while Murray’s play has been quite disappointing this year, this matchup should significantly boost his efficiency, even if Kingsbury keeps his volume and check.

If Murray’s play improves this week, it could be huge for Marquise Brown. And we don’t have to worry about volume with Brown, at least not until DeAndre Hopkins gets back next week. Brown has seen at least nine targets in his last four games, averaging 11.5 targets over that span. Interestingly, after an 18.3 aDOT in Week 1, Brown has an aDOT of just 9.7 over the last four weeks. He’s been an intermediate option rather than the deep threat he’s traditionally been. Even on his non-screen targets, he has an intermediate aDOT of 12.3. Brown has traditionally had a bit more downfield juice on his targets, but given how badly the Cardinals’ offense is struggling, pure target volume will do just fine for now.

Rondale Moore suddenly looks like a strong bet for target volume as well after he ran a route on 91% of dropbacks against the Eagles and—crucially—played 83% of his snaps in the slot. Greg Dortch had just 4% route participation and was not targeted. With Dortch completely out of the way, Moore looks like a surprisingly comfortable FLEX option. Is Moore any good? I have no idea. Moore has seen an absurd 38% of his targets on screens. It’s entirely possible that he can’t earn a traditional target to save his life. But the Cardinals don’t have another viable option at wide receiver this week, so Moore should continue to get fed targets.

Zach Ertz continues to do Zach Ertz things. He has a 20% target rate this season and is coming off 91% route participation against the Eagles. He is a locked-in TE1, especially with the potential for the Cardinals to attack the Seahawks through the air.

We could see the Cardinals rely more on the passing game this week because their running backs are injured. Of their typical rotation, only Eno Benjamin will play this week. Benjamin hasn’t been a big play threat this season, but he’s been consistent and breaks tackles. Benjamin ranks RB8 in success rate and RB4 in elusive rating. He’s also a capable receiver, ranking RB23 in YPRR. Benjamin profiles as a similar fill-in bet to Jamaal Williams.

Seahawks Implied Team Total: 24

Somehow, we live in a world where the Geno Smith-led Seahawks are a more aggressive passing offense than the Kyler Murray-led Cardinals. To be fair, I would categorize both as balanced teams. But the Seahawks rank 14th in PROE, with the Cardinals at 19th and seventh in PROE on 1st-and-10, with the Cardinals again at 19th.

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The Seahawks also rank sixth in situation-neutral pass rate, with the Cardinals at 14th. I know it’s crazy, but it’s just as likely that the Seahawks push the Cardinals to the air in this game as vice versa. And the Seahawks have a good reason to air it out against the Cardinals—Arizona can’t defend the pass. In fact, the Cardinals are so bad against opposing passing offenses that the most obvious path to failure for this game is the Cardinals playing conservatively to hide their defense like they did last week.

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That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to be skeptical of the Seahawks’ passing offense. For one thing, they rank just 22nd in PFF’s pass-blocking grades. But that shouldn’t be a problem this week against a Cardinals defense that ranks 22nd in pressure rate. Outside of that, my skepticism of this offense stems primarily from my preseason expectations and from the fact that Smith’s biggest game came against an extremely weak Lions’ defense. But again, Smith has another great matchup this week. Even if what he is doing is fraudulent, he should be able to keep it rolling for another week.

And it’s worth taking a second to consider how impressive the numbers are for Smith this season. Smith ranks fifth in EPA per play and leads the league in CPOE and PFF’s quarterback grades. This a player whose coaches forced him to compete with Drew Lock in training camp. Even if this turns out to be a five-game illusion, it was a hell of a magic trick.

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Smith isn’t just playing well; he’s also completely dialed in on DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Metcalf has a 28% target share in the 30% air yard share, with Lockett at 26% and 39%. With WOPRs of 0.69 and 0.66, Metcalf and Lockett are one of only two pairs of teammates with WOPRs of 0.60 or better—the other pair being A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. They are the only two fantasy options in this receiving game, but at least both are strong starts this week.

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With Rashaad Penny devastatingly suffering a broken fibula, Ken Walker is now the next man up at running back. Walker seized his opportunity right away with a 69-yard TD run against the Saints. We have a small sample for Walker of only 23 carries, but he ranks RB1 in breakaway percentage and RB9 in elusive rating—so far, so good. This is a good rushing matchup for Walker but an even better spot for the Seahawks through the air. Normally, that could create less volume for the run game. But this is the Seahawks. The fact that they should have success in the passing game means that we can be confident that the offense as a whole will be efficient. I’m never going to stress about Pete Carroll running the ball enough.

I might stress a little about Carroll being tempted to play the wrong player. He’s sort of got a thing for that...

But the Seahawks spent a second-round pick on Walker, and he’s already flashing. Carroll would really have to outdo himself here to give DeeJay Dallas meaningful work over the rookie.

Assuming Walker is the guy, it’s easy to envision his role in the offense. Walker is very similar to Penny in terms of skill set. That’s good news, given that he’s looking to directly replace Penny. But it also means that he will be dependent on long runs and generally uninvolved in the receiving game. Walker has 0.47 YPRR this season; that’s actually better than Penny’s 0.22, but still an extremely poor mark. Walker has a lower floor than it probably seems but is still a strong RB2 play.

Bills at Chiefs, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday

Bills Implied Team Total: 28.25

I can’t imagine anyone accusing the Bills of not being in an aggressive pass-heavy team last season. With a 5% PROE, they finished third behind only the Chiefs (8%) and Buccaneers (6%), and they led the league with a 15% PROE on 1st-and-10—nearly twice the rate of the second-place Chiefs.

But in 2021, the Bills’ most pass-heavy game was a 17% PROE, and they posted a PROE above 10% just three times in 20 games. This season, they’ve already posted three games with a PROE over 10%. And... their 18% PROE against the Titans and 20% PROE against the Steelers are both higher than any games last season. The Bills currently lead the league with a 14% PROE, nearly triple their 2021 rate. And they’ve stayed aggressive on 1st-and-10, with a league-leading 16% PROE.

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When looking at this matchup, it seems a little silly to parse how the Chiefs’ defense might affect the Bills’ offense. Sure, if they play well, the Chiefs could limit Josh Allen’s effectiveness in this game. But given how they’ve played so far this year, the only way the Bills would consider shifting their game plan to the run is if the Chiefs had a shutdown pass defense. They do not.

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The Chiefs haven’t been terrible against the past this year, and have actually been pretty good at getting pressure quickly; they rank 11th in quick pressure rate. But Josh Allen is having an MVP season. An average defense isn’t a good bet to slow him down. Allen ranks first in EPA per play in seventh in CPOE.

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Allen’s accuracy is right in line with last year’s (including the playoffs). But he’s been far more efficient. To some extent, he’s likely to be hit with negative regression at some point. But at the same time, the hope was that Allen could take a step forward in terms of big plays this year with a more explosive set of receiving weapons. So far, that seems like a winning bet.

Gabe Davis came alive against the Steelers with 171 yards and two TDs. But, of course, his receiving line was mostly the product of two big catches, and he had just three receptions total. But Davis’s 18% target rate was respectable for his 28.0 aDOT. He doesn’t get targeted a ton, but he also gets targeted so far downfield that it mostly makes up for it.

That’s especially true if some of Davis’s struggles this year have been related to his ankle injury—which I believe to be the case. But even if fully healthy now, Davis will be inconsistent this season. He has a 17.1 aDOT, which makes him an ultra-deep threat. Essentially, he’s a better version of Packers-era Marquez Valdes-Scantling in a better offense. That will lead to some huge games like we saw last week, but there will be more disappointing weeks on the way.

The good news is that even in weeks when Davis disappoints in the box score, he’s likely to open up the defense a lot more than Emmanuel Sanders did last year. Davis already has 207 receiving yards on deep targets this season. Sanders managed just 271 yards on deep targets in 18 games last season. Sanders averaged just 15 deep yards a game last year; Davis is averaging 52—including a two-game stretch where he probably wasn’t healthy. Defenses have to respect the deep pass more than they did last year. If they don’t, Allen and Davis are going to shred them.

This creates an ideal situation for Stefon Diggs. Unless Davis starts earning targets at an elite rate, which seems unlikely given his ultradeep aDOT, Diggs stands to benefit immensely from Davis’s lid-lifting ability. In Weeks 1 and 5 (the two games where Davis has clearly been healthy this season), Diggs has 3.61 YPRR. Of course, he also has an elite 2.22 YPRR in his other three games. So this isn’t to say Diggs is dependent on Davis by any means. Still, Davis’s presence should generally be a good thing for Diggs as it raises the ceiling for the Bills’ offense end caps how much attention defenses can throw Diggs’ way.

Devin Singletary is an enticing play in a game that should remain highly competitive throughout. Singletary played on only 54% of snaps against the Steelers, but that’s not a huge concern given that Case Keenum was in the game for 14% of snaps. Singletary had a 74% snap share in the Bills’ loss to the Dolphins and an 87% snap share in the Bills’ three-point win over the Ravens. I continued to be intrigued by James Cook, who is up to RB4 in YPRR. But Cook is more of a long-term bet. In a game that could decide the No. 1 seed in the AFC, Singletary could get back to a huge snap share, giving him RB1 upside.

Chiefs Implied Team Total: 25.75

For as pass-heavy as the Bills are, the Chiefs have had an even more consistent commitment to the pass. So far this season, only eight teams have posted a PROE of 11% or higher: the Bills, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Chargers, Vikings, Commanders, Dolphins, and Seahawks. This represents an ultra-pass-heavy outing. As mentioned above, it’s something the Bills achieved in only 3-of-20 games last year. This season, the Chiefs have had an 11% PROE or higher in every game they’ve played. I know Andy Reid makes some bad decisions and can’t manage a clock to save his life, but outside of that, he’s doing everything he can to maximize Patrick Mahomes.

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Without this week-in-week-out consistency, we might worry that the Chiefs would shift to the run against a very strong Bills defense. And who knows, we can’t rule out the Chiefs playing more balance than expected against a Bills defense that ranks fourth in quick pressure rate.

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But even if the Chiefs go run-heavy by their standards, it would be a genuine shock if they roll out a legitimately run-first game plan.

Because while Josh Allen is having an MVP season... so is Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes ranks just behind Allen in EPA per play and has been slightly more accurate, ranking fifth in CPOE.

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Mahomes’ accuracy, like Allen’s, is in line with last year. But also like Allen, he’s been significantly more efficient. That dynamic creates some potential for negative regression. I hand-waived that a bit in Allen’s case, with him facing an unimposing Chiefs defense. It’s a bigger concern for Mahomes, given the strength of the Bills’ pass defense. It’s also easier to imagine Mahomes having a letdown because it’s easier to imagine his weapons disappointing him.

Travis Kelce is a fantasy legend. Truly, we’re going to look back on his career and wonder why the conventional fantasy advice wasn’t to just draft Kelce every single year, regardless of his ADP. He hasn’t been below 15 PPR points per game since 2016 and has played at least 15 games every season of his career outside his redshirt rookie year. And as a No. 1 option in the passing game, Kelce still looks fully capable. After his aDOT dipped to 7.6 last year, he’s back up to 8.9 this year, indicating he can still stretch the seam. But Kelce... and this is true.... currently has the lowest YPRR of his career at 1.89. Don’t worry; I’m not going to use that data point to argue that Kelce is falling off. Instead, I think it says more about the Chiefs’ wide receivers.

For comparison, we’re also seeing the Ravens build their passing game around the tight end. But the way they’re doing it is a little more intuitive. Their outside wide receivers are deep threats, drawing coverage away from the middle of the field, allowing Mark Andrews to see a 34% target share—second in the league to only CeeDee Lamb. The Chiefs don’t have this dynamic. In fact, it’s fair to say they don’t have a deep threat this season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling only has an 11.1 aDOT and Mecole Hardman is at 10.9. Everyone on the Chiefs is either an intermediate option or, in JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s case (7.4 aDOT) an underneath option. This doesn’t seem like an ideal set up against a Bills defense that doesn’t blitz and instead drops seven into coverage. Valdes-Scantling and Smith-Schuster are running routes at a high enough rate that they are very interesting FLEX options in what projects to be a shootout. But the Chiefs will need them to step up this week to keep up with Josh Allen.

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With what will almost assuredly be a past heavy game environment, Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks like a boom/bust option. On the one hand, Edwards-Helaire has impressed this season with 1.63 YPRR, which ranks RB13. However, Edwards-Helaire is a bit of a mini Joe Mixon this year. He’s played only 13% of the Chiefs’ third-down snaps. As a result, there’s risk he’s scripted out of the game if the Chiefs need to stage a comeback. To that point, with the Chiefs erasing a 17-point deficit against the Raiders last week, Jerick McKinnon led 46% to 38% in route participation. To be fair, Edwards-Helaire led 10% to 8% in target share, but he will still be much better off if this is a true back-and-forth affair.

CEH has drastically outperformed his workload for much of the season, but we saw last week what can happen when he plays inefficiently. Edwards-Helaire had 13.6 expected points against the Raiders, nearly identical to his 13.3 expected points workload from Weeks 1-4. But efficiency variance swung against him. After averaging 5.6 points over expected in Weeks 1-4, CEH turned in -7.1 last week, delivering just 6.5 fantasy points. CEH has RB1 upside if he can play efficiently again this week, but it’s tough to count on a big workload given McKinnon’s hold on receiving down snaps.

Cowboys at Eagles, 8:20 Eastern, Sunday

Cowboys Implied Team Total: 17.75

Last week, I noted that the Cowboys seemed rather intent on hiding Cooper Rush. They took things to another level against the Rams, with a 36% pass rate, the second lowest of the week. The Cowboys led the Rams from start to finish, but their game plan was extremely run-heavy even within that context. Dallas’ -16% PROE was tied with the Falcons for the second lowest of the week.

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The Cowboys might like what they see when reviewing last week’s Cardinals/Eagles game. Arizona shifted heavily to the run against Philadelphia and nearly took the game to overtime. I’ve made fun of Kliff Kingsbury for utilizing this strategy with a franchise quarterback in a home game. But it would make a ton of sense for the Cowboys to lean on their defense this week and try and limit overall play volume. As road underdogs, they stand to benefit from a high variance (i.e., low total play volume) game environment.

Of course, even against a strong Cowboys defense, the Eagles offense is good enough to put up points. So the Cowboys could eventually be forced to pass. That’s not likely to go particularly well, though. Rush ranks QB20 in CPOE, and his inaccuracy could get him in trouble in this matchup.

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But even if Rush struggles, CeeDee Lamb should be just fine. Lamb has a league-leading 35% target share, and his 43% air yard share trails only Darnell Mooney and A.J. Brown. As a result, Lamb leads the NFL with a 0.82 WOPR. No receiver has accounted for a bigger slice of his team’s passing offense than Lamb. With Dalton Schultz dealing with a knee injury, Lamb should have no trouble maintaining a huge role in the Cowboys’ offense.

Michael Gallup also looks like a viable FLEX option as a bet that the Cowboys play from behind. But he is at risk of Brown encroaching on his targets.

Gallup had just an 8% target rate in his Week 4 debut, with Brown at 23%. But Gallup saw the target volume last week, with a 29% target rate to Brown’s 13%. Gallup has slightly led in routes in both weeks and is the better talent. But Brown will be out there for a full slate of routes and is shown a stronger-than-expected connection with Rush, with a 20% target rate. He’s a thin play on his own but could make life difficult for Gallup.

Last week, I noted that Tony Pollard was getting just enough snaps to crater Ezekiel Elliott‘s value but not enough to actually generate fantasy value of his own. Tony Pollard, I am sorry for doubting you. With just a 42% snap share, Pollard turned in 86 yards and a TD against the Rams. Of course, Pollard saw only eight carries, tied for his third-lowest total of the season.

Nothing has actually changed here; Pollard remains very good at football. He now ranks RB1 in RYOE / attempt, RB14 in success rate, RB17 in elusive rating, and RB6 in breakaway percentage. “Get this man the football!” the fantasy writer screamed into the void.

But the Cowboys will not, in fact, be getting Pollard the football. Elliott handled 65% of the Cowboys’ attempts last week and has handled 59% this season. That’s been good for precisely nothing, as Elliott ranks RB37 in PPR points this year, despite being healthy for all five games. Elliott has fewer fantasy points than Dontrell Hilliard, but... he simply must continue to get the football.

Eagles Implied Team Total: 24.25

Last week was a disappointing result for the Eagles’ offense. Against a weak Cardinals pass defense, the Eagles managed to put up just 20 points and were a missed field goal away from overtime. But as we look forward, Week 5 does not look like a red flag for the Eagles’ offense. Jalen Hurts didn’t have his best game in Arizona, but he wasn’t bad, finishing 16th in EPA per play and 17th in CPOE. And the Eagles’ game plan was aggressive. In fact, with a 6% PROE and an 11% PROE on 1st-and-10, it was arguably their most aggressive game plan of the entire season.

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Moreover, had G Landon Dickerson not injured his ankle during the game, the Eagles may have been even more aggressive with their play calling. In either case, the Cardinals were doing what they could to slow the game down, with a very run-heavy -9% PROE. And as a result of that game environment, the Eagles ran only 41 passing plays, their second-lowest of the season. With the Cowboys looking to lean on their defense and hide their quarterback, we could be looking at a similar game environment this week. But as good as the Cowboys’ defense has been this year, they face a major test this week.

The Cowboys’ ability to get to the quarterback has been outstanding this season. They rank first in PFF’s pass rush grades, first in pressure rate, and first in quick pressure rate. There is no doubt that the Cowboys have a high-end pass rush. However… the Cowboys’ reputation may also be a bit inflated due to their schedule.

The Cowboys played a banged-up Buccaneers offensive line in Week 1. PFF graded the Buccaneers with a 38.1 pass-blocking grade that week, which is well below the Dolphins’ league-low 45.5 grade this season. They then played the Bengals, Giants, Commanders, and Rams, all of whom rank 21st or lower in PFF’s pass-blocking grades.

The Eagles’ offensive line is a much stronger unit than the Cowboys are used to facing. They rank first in PFF’s pass-blocking grades, and Hurts has dealt with allowed pressure at only the 31st-highest rate this season. The Eagles should also get Dickerson back this week, and starting LT Jordan Mailata looks set to return as well, giving them a better chance of living up to their lofty ranking.

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The Cowboys may still be able to get to Hurts, though, because he invites pressure to some extent. He ranks QB10 in pressures allowed per dropback. But Hurts has been protected so well that this weakness of his game hasn’t been an issue.

However... the Eagles’ offensive line may also be inflated by their schedule. The Eagles have played the Lions, Vikings, Commanders, Jaguars, and Cardinals, all of whom rank 13th or lower in PFF’s pass rush grades. The Eagles’ offensive line hasn’t had quite as soft of a schedule as the Cowboys’ defensive line, but this will still be a major test of their ability to protect Hurts. This battle of strength against strength will tell us a lot about how good these units are going forward.

The typical move for teams facing the Cowboys is to lean on the run game. Although they rank third in rushing success rate, the Cowboys’ defense has been a run funnel this year. Cowboys have played the Buccaneers, Bengals, Giants, Commanders, and Rams, all of whom are pass-first teams this year. But those teams have averaged a -3% PROE against the Cowboys. The Cowboys’ defense is doing more than just getting after the passer; it’s altering opposing teams’ playcalling.

The Eagles have a chance to skirt this trend if their offensive line is able to hold up against this Micah Parsons-led pass rush. But we’ve seen that the Eagles are willing to shift heavily to the run under the right conditions. So if Hurts finds himself under pressure, we’re likely to see the Eagles shift to a rushing counterpunch, which worked to perfection against the Jaguars in Week 4.

In either case, there’s not much reason to be worried about Jalen Hurts. Hurts ranks QB3 behind Josh Allen and Justin Fields in scramble yards this season and QB4 in designed yards. Moreover, 55% of his designed rushing attempts this season have come in the last two weeks. We have seen a bit more of an emphasis on Hurts in the running game recently, and he should be in a strong position to put fantasy points, even if the Eagles decide to go run-heavy.

With that in mind, it’s entirely possible that Hurts has a huge game this week, despite the difficult matchup. Hurts ranks sixth in EPA per play and 12 in CPOE. His passing volume is likely to be somewhat limited, but his fantasy upside is not.

While Hurts’ rushing ability insulates him from a down game this week, it would be nice to see some passing volume for a crowded receiver corps. Among receivers with 100+ routes, A.J. Brown ranks seventh in YPRR. But Brown ranks 32nd in routes run this season. I don’t really blame the Eagles for this. Brown has run a route on 91% of dropbacks, and outside of their rain game against the Jaguars, the Eagles have been firmly pass-first this year. But volume would be very much welcome for the Eagles receivers because Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert are all running very hot in YPT.

eagles_yprr_6.png

eagles_yprr_6.png

Goedert is at the most risk here. His 12.0 YPT is ridiculously high for his 3.3 aDOT. Although, things are a bit skewed. Goedert has seen 36% of his targets on screens, which is why he’s been able to rack up so much YAC. But if the screen targets dry up this week, Goedert has a very low floor in a potentially low-volume game environment.

Smith’s underlying target volume is a bit more robust, and as I noted last week, he’s running all the routes. Even with middling per-route opportunity, his 97% route rate has helped him earn a strong 0.61 WOPR. I’m still happy to start Smith, but he looks like a boom-bust option. The same can be said for Brown, but the boom could be more fun than with Smith. Brown is seeing elite target volume on his routes and is the player I am most willing to bet on maintaining a higher-than-expected YPT. This game environment hurts Brown’s floor, but his ceiling is enticing regardless of the game script.

Miles Sanders might also be becoming less game-script-dependent. He fell off against the Cardinals with just 8.4 PPR points, but he still has a strong expected points workload of 15.1 points. Sanders’ best-case scenario is a run-first attack; when the Eagles prioritized the running game in Week 4, he saw a 20.9 expected points workload. But it’s encouraging that he had a strong workload last week in a game where the Eagles posted their highest PROE of the year. He looks like a strong RB2 option.

Broncos at Chargers, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday

Broncos Implied Team Total: 20.5

It is abundantly clear that the Broncos will not have a fun offense this season. And Russell Wilson‘s advanced stats finally reflect the misery of watching him play this year; he ranks 26th in EPA per play and 26th in CPOE. I can’t say I was surprised last year when Jared Goff looked lost without Sean McVay. However, I’m genuinely stunned by Wilson’s Goffian decline without Pete Carroll.

broncos_wilson_6.png

broncos_wilson_6.png

Nathaniel Hackett has also inspired very little confidence. He has a run-first lean on 1st-and-10 and is running a balanced offense overall despite a highly inefficient running game. As bad as Wilson has been this year, you’d still rather put the ball in his hands than Melvin Gordon‘s.

Broncos Strength Table

Broncos Strength Table

This week the Chargers’ defense doesn’t offer too much hope for a bounceback. They aren’t a particularly strong unit, but at this point, I’d have trouble mustering excitement for the Broncos against the Lions’ defense. Instead, the hope for the Broncos’ offense this week is that the Chargers’ offense will push them into a pass-heavy script as home favorites.

The Broncos have played the 49ers and Colts, who are both run-heavy teams. And their other three opponents, the Seahawks, Texans, and Raiders, have been balanced. We haven’t yet seen the Broncos pushed by a heavy pass team. The Broncos will likely remain unwatchable this week, but maybe they’ll put up some fantasy points.

So while you don’t have to watch Courtland Sutton, he should be in your fantasy lineup. With a 28% target share and 41% air yard share, Sutton ranks ninth in the NFL in WOPR. He’s a true No. 1 receiver and stands to benefit in a big way if the Broncos are forced to pass at a high rate this week.

Of course, as I’ll cover below, the Chargers have some issues on offense this week and aren’t actually a lock to push the Broncos to the air. If this game plays out like the typical Broncos affair, it’s Sutton or nothing.

Even if the game is a little more enjoyable than usual, Jerry Jeudy is less interesting than Sutton, partially because he has a lower route rate. Sutton has run a route on 97% of dropbacks this season, while Jeudy’s routes have been a bit inconsistent. In Week 4, Jeudy had a 97% route rate, but he was at just 75% in Week 3 and 87% last week. It’s definitely possible that he’s out there for every route against the Chargers, but he is not a lock to be involved like Sutton. Jeudy is also seeing less target volume on his routes. He’s underperforming that target volume, and so could be due for some positive regression. But even if he gets it, he isn’t set up nearly as well as Sutton.

broncos_yppr_6.png

broncos_yppr_6.png

Fellow K.J. Hamler stans should take note that he was up to 71% route participation last week. However, please ignore that he has a 7% target rate this season. The only talent he’s flashed this season is the ability to repeatedly sprint downfield in the thin Denver air.

Melvin Gordon has not played great this season. He ranks RB36 in RYOE / attempt and has a fumbling problem. But Gordon ranks a more respectable RB17 in success rate and took a week off from fumbling against the Colts. With an expected points workload of 14.7 last week, he profiles as a low-floor RB2 option.

Chargers Implied Team Total: 25

Week 5 was a quietly concerning week for the Chargers. Justin Herbert played well enough, finishing 13th in EPA per play and 19th in CPOE. The Chargers also played fairly aggressively, posting a 2% PROE against a defense that has typically been a run funnel. However, in a highly unwelcome development, sixth-round rookie LT Jamaree Salyer started playing like a sixth-round rookie. Salyer is filling in for injured LT Rashawn Slater. But after finishing as PFF’s highest-graded offensive lineman in Week 4, he dropped to 119th in Week 5, allowing six pressures—twice what the rest of the line allowed combined. So the Chargers may have a liability on Herbert’s blind side, which is bad news, considering they face a Broncos defense with a highly graded pass rush.

chargers_mu6.png

chargers_mu6.png

The silver lining here is that the Broncos rank just 16th in quick pressure rate. Herbert may be able to mitigate poor blocking by getting the ball out quickly.

That could help Austin Ekeler, who ranks RB6 in expected points per game this season despite getting shut out of goal line work. Ekeler has an expected receiving total of 29 receptions, which leads the position. He also has 31 actual receptions, which also leads the position. He’s an elite option as the top check-down option in the passing game.

Although, Herbert may have another option in the short area, with Keenan Allen getting in a limited practice on Thursday. Allen has barely played this season, but he could be a major thorn in Williams’ side Mike Williams’ side even on limited snaps. That will be especially true if Williams is running deep routes and the Chargers’ line is struggling to protect Herbert. Williams is a solid option this week, but he looks like a much stronger play if Allen misses again.

But even if Allen is out, ancillary Chargers pieces don’t look like ideal bets this week. Gerald Everett is in the TE1 mix, but he’s down to a 69% route rate this year and isn’t seeing enough volume to be all that interesting as a part-time player. He’s Irv Smith west.

Sources

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

  • Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).
    • Efficiency metric based on how much a play improved a team’s likelihood of scoring.
    • I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency, but also for defensive efficiency.
  • Completion Percentage Over Expected
  • Pass Rate over Expected
    • Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.
  • Situation Neutral Pass Rate
    • Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.
  • Situation Neutral Seconds per Play
    • Seconds between plays in neutral game script.
    • Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.
  • Adjusted Line Yards
  • Snaps and Snap Share
    • Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.
      • Teams check in and out of runs with only one back on the field. Being on the field is critical.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus, AddMoreFunds and RotoViz
    • Third down and Red Zone Snaps from Sam Hoppen’s Player Stat Explorer at 4for4.com
  • Target Share and Air Yard share
    • The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz
  • Routes run per dropback
    • Snap share for receivers... since I’m not concerned with who is playing run-blocking snaps.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus
  • Yards Per Route Run
    • A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good.
    • This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.
    • It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.
    • It filters out in-game injuries and blowouts much better than target share does.
      • Data from PFF
  • Target per Route Run
    • TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR.
    • TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.
      • Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.
      • Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.
    • TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I’d rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.
  • Expected Fantasy Points.
    • Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metrics that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
      • I am referencing PFF’s metric unless otherwise stated.
  • A number of other PFF stats including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.