So much happens in any given Sunday of the NFL season. It’s hard to keep track of it all. More importantly, it’s quite a lot to decide what we should value as signal and what we should just ignore as noise. In this space, I’ll go through all that I watched in Week 7 and give you the five things I care about coming out of Sunday along with five things I can’t muster up the emotional energy to care about.
Five things I care about
The top of the running back landscape continues to turn
Fantasy players who drafted Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette and Le’Veon Bell — who finds themselves in the more frustrating situation here in the middle of the season? They all might be able to find common ground in the fact that it’s likely a few of them drafted more than one of those three players to the same team. Maybe they can unite under the banner of belittling the Jerick McKinnon and Devonta Freeman drafters.
The point of all of us lies in the tumultuous, ever-turning nature of the top of the running back landscape. It comes and goes in waves based on the year, but this season is one that brought chaos. We know that having a dominant RB1 in fantasy is an unfair advantage and worth chasing. Yet, we also know the top of the ADP board comes with many landmines, and not all 12 teams will find theirs early. Some will take this reality to go on a Zero RB victory lap. Do as you please. What’s most important is not chalking up 2018 wins and losses. We should take this unfolding reality to remind ourselves how we can all benefit from the chaos of the running back position. The best way to do that is by continuously cycling through upside bench stashes in the hopes they breakout as opportunity chances evolve. Several young backs are in the middle of such an evolution.
Marlon Mack’s big game
Marlon Mack returned from injury last week to lead the team with 12 carries for 89 yards. He ran well in that debut but fell victim to game script. He ended up being replaced by Nyheim Hines with the Colts trailing. It was only natural that he’d get more work this week. The Colts were seven-point favorites against a Derek Anderson-led Bills team and they still over-performed that number. Indianapolis dropped Buffalo 37-5, which paved the way for Mack to carry the ball 19 times for 126 yards and a score.
The situation and conditions were so perfect for rushing success, it’s hard to call this a permanent breakout. He drew just three targets today and has finished with four or fewer in his last 11 games. The Colts didn’t make much use of Hines today but that may change in a game they don’t outright control. On the other hand, their next four opponents are the Raiders, Jaguars, Titans and Dolphins. None of those teams seem ready to thwart the Colts as currently constructed.
Kerryon Johnson’s breakout
The rookie out of Auburn had already shown the football world he had the juice, but Week 7 will be remembered as the moment when Kerryon Johnson officially broke out. Detroit secured an 11-point win over the Dolphins and Johnson was the engine behind it. He handled a team-high 21 touches, ripped off a 71-yard run and looked the part of a featured piece.
The rookie didn’t receive a huge bump with Theo Riddick out but did snare two of three targets for 21 yards. The Dolphins are far from a stiff test but Johnson’s stock continues to soar as the backfield’s best play on an offense with a strong passing game. Johnson still saw 10 carries go to LeGarrette Blount, who naturally scored the team’s only rushing touchdown. That will not change; just accept that. Focusing too much on what Blount chips off the stone will only distract you from the gorgeous sculpture of Johnson’s rookie season. In a chaotic running back landscape, he’s a right answer.
Intriguing air yards rookies
Tre’Quan Smith (34 percent) and Michael Gallup (28 percent) both led their teams in market share of the air yards. These players were popular late-round sleepers back in August but both took some time to show any promise. Smith was likely scooped up en masse after Ted Ginn went on IR this week. Check to see if an impatient owner cuts bait, focusing on his weak (3-44) stat line against the NFL’s best passing defense while ignoring the strong opportunity signals.
Gallup is the tougher case to crack, simply due to the discrepancy between these rookies’ offenses. He nearly missed scoring his first NFL touchdown by a slight misplacement of his second foot last week. It happened for Gallup this week with a long reception where he worked open for a score. We could easily see Gallup lost once again next week amid Dallas’ peculiar receiver rotation. It might be better for the Cowboys if they didn’t let that happen.
Whatever New England does next with their backfield
As of publication, we don’t know what the results of Sony Michel’s Monday MRI will be.
We saw the glory of the New England backfield revealed when it was constricted to just James White and Sony Michel. Now the rookie seems destined to exit the stage for some time and whatever comes next absolutely carries great consequence. With Michel out, most of the work may just go to White through the air. He is well established as a pivotal piece to potential league-winners at this point.
Should Michel miss time, it would stand to reason the Patriots will make some sort of move to acquire a new face, as Kenjon Barner is unlikely the early-down answer to take over Michel’s vacated role. Whoever New England does target for that spot, he will be on the fantasy radar. A viewer suggested during our late-game Halftime With Harmon stream that the long-forgotten Ameer Abdullah could be rescued from exile on the back end of Detroit’s running back bullpen. No matter what veteran they look to, just remember the ultra-juicy role he’s stepping into and forget whatever you thought of them.
Five things I don’t care about
The Jaguars offense as currently constructed
T.J. Yeldon escaped Week 7 with a fringe RB1 finish but we can look back on this moment as our collective breakup with the Jacksonville offense for fantasy football. Some folks, myself included, were into Yeldon because you could reasonably project a once-proud Jaguars squad to barrel over a Texans offense that had allowed 18 more quarterbacks hits than any other team coming into Week 7. Instead, the Jaguars were never competitive in this game and Yeldon salvaged his day with a late receiving touchdown. Right result, wrong process.
The backfield isn’t going to get any less confusing following the bizarre Friday trade for Carlos Hyde, especially if Leonard Fournette does indeed return following their London trip. Don’t forget — we’ll get Jamaal Charles sprinkled in. How can anyone possibly have confidence playing any asset in a backfield that may look like that in the blink of an eye? One tied to a broken passing game, no less. Blake Bortles was legitimately benched Sunday, putting an exclamation point on just how lifeless this aerial attack has been for five of seven weeks this season. The task of debating between Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook as the top option only to see Donte Moncrief piddle forward for 70 yards on double-digit targets feel especially pointless in this environment. What a mess. As things stand today, we’ll see you in 2019 fantasy drafts, Jaguars.
Mitchell Trubisky’s mistakes
My colleague Liz Loza discussed on our Sunday night recap podcast that she’s struggling to truly buy into Mitchell Trubisky, despite his hot streak. In her view, the numbers are a mirage and his mistakes are too overwhelming to ignore. That’s a fair thought. To me, the good outweighs the bad. Trubisky has more than his fair share of “what the hell” throws. While his numbers over the last three weeks (1,003 passing yards, 12 total touchdowns and 181 rushing yards) will certainly not keep to this pace, let’s consider how we were talking about him before Week 4.
In the first three weeks of the season, Trubisky looked like a non-functional quarterback after a rookie year in one of the most stripped-down passing games we’ve seen in recent NFL history. He’s still a player just shy of 20 career starts. It’s clear he’s getting better as an individual and now plays in an offense that gives him a wide margin for error. Manned by a great designer and play caller in Matt Nagy, this offense is loaded to the point where on afternoons like this that Allen Robinson (1-4) and Taylor Gabriel (3-26) go quiet, Trey Burton (9-126-TD) and Tarik Cohen (8-69-TD) can carry the load. Trubisky may well be a flawed player, but it’s worth looking past those with rose-colored glasses given where the dialogue was on this player just a month ago.
Picking up a Bills running back
LeSean McCoy went down early in the Bills Week 7 thumping in Indianapolis. He did not return after being listed with a head injury. In his stead, Chris Ivory led the way with 16 for 81 yards. Name value gives him some credibility and he popped with a decent line earlier this year. Marcus Murphy also flashed with nine touches for 70 total yards. Five of his looks came in the pass game, so he will get some attention in deep PPR leagues. Leave both of these backs to the vultures.
The Bills offense looked predictably dead on arrival with the recently dusted-off Derek Anderson pulled from the shelf. A five-point outing against a defense that was trending in the wrong direction, allowing 117 points in their previous three games, says it all. McCoy was barely a fantasy factor in the Josh Allen-led offense, totaling 328 scoreless yards in Weeks 1 to 6. “Buffalo running back,” regardless of the name on the back of the jersey, is closer to roster deadweight than fantasy option. At least try to unearth something better from your waiver dumpster dive.
Our September takes on Kareem Hunt’s passing game usage
It was just about a month ago where nearly every fantasy analyst could be heard espousing worry over Kareem Hunt getting just one target in each of his first three games. Perhaps it just fit so cleanly with a narrative that Patrick Mahomes, the consummate gunslinger, would naturally overlook dumping it off to his running back in favor of firing downfield. Nonetheless, it’s clear it was unfounded panic.
Hunt has caught five of six targets in each of his last two games while totaling 160 yards and three scores. Don’t get it twisted — that was a legitimate issue with Hunt the first three weeks. But it feels like such distant past at this point and almost worth a chuckle knowing what we know now. You can’t blame anyone that freaked over Hunt’s passing game usage but we must always remember that something in a three-week sample, no matter how consistent the data point, is such a minor note in the grand scheme of NFL realities.
Solving the Duke Johnson puzzle
Most of the excitement following the trade of Carlos Hyde centered around Nick Chubb’s inevitable promotion. He is legit, handling 18 carries and scoring in Week 7. However, some exuberance made its way to Duke Johnson and the possibility of an expanded role. That didn’t go well. Johnson handled a measly five touches and took his lone rush for -4 yards. Such a limited deployment was especially disconcerting considering Cleveland trailed Tampa Bay through most of this relatively high-scoring game. Whatever the reason, the story remains the same for Duke Johnson.
It’s hard to blame the presence of the once short-area only target, Jarvis Landry (12.3 aDot today, 10.8 on the season) scooping up looks that once went to Johnson (1.7 aDot today, 1.43 on the season). The two aren’t really playing the same role with Landy’s expanded Cleveland route tree. Perhaps Johnson, who hasn’t cleared six touches in a game all season, borrowed something from Hue Jackson and didn’t give it back. Our interest in him as a fantasy option shouldn’t be coming back anytime soon, either.