The Fantasy Football Numbers Do Lie: Don't be fooled in Week 3

A simple look at a box score or a study of fantasy categories doesn't always tell the whole story of how a player is performing. Dalton Del Don attempts to identify misleading numbers that are worth a closer look.

Yes ... The Numbers Do Lie.

Jacksonville’s sluggish offense has been a lie

The Jaguars’ offense ranks right next to Chicago’s in points per game and has unquestionably been a disappointment while getting the third-lowest EPA/play to open the season (sandwiched between the Panthers and Jets). But last week they faced a much-improved Kansas City defense that got Chris Jones back in Florida weather that had 100+ people treated for heat-related illnesses.

Trevor Lawrence (31st in EPA/dropback) also had a receiver nearly catch a touchdown in the end zone four separate times:

Lawrence somehow went 0-for-7 passing in the red zone last week (he had the seventh-most RZ attempts in the league). The Jaguars are also a league-worst (25%) on third downs to open the season. Jacksonville’s passing offense screams regression moving forward (Christian Kirk should also see more routes with Zay Jones nursing a knee injury).

Lawrence is still a budding superstar (he had a 15:2 TD:INT ratio over the second half last year) and remains primed for a big 2023.

Travis Etienne, meanwhile, also has misleading numbers while barely a top-20 fantasy RB. He played 80% of the snaps through three quarters last week before exiting with cramps from the heat (assuming this was the issue). Tank Bigsby didn’t see one touch.

Etienne is fourth among backs in routes run this season, when he’s already recorded a career-high in catches in a game. Etienne is someone to target in fantasy trades given his usage (including 100% of the red-zone snaps last week) on an offense sure to improve.

He gets a highly favorable matchup this week with Jacksonville 9.5-point home favorites against a Texans defense yielding the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs.

Isiah Pacheco averaging 7.5 fantasy points is a lie

Pacheco’s box scores haven’t jumped out, but his underlying usage as the Chiefs’ lead back suggests bigger fantasy days are coming. He was given 86% of KC’s running back carries last week and is one of only a handful of RBs to have played 100% of his team’s red-zone snaps this year. He was also unlucky to be tackled at the one-yard line last week. Pacheco has caught five passes while running more routes than Jerick McKinnon (who’s disappeared) in each of the first two weeks of the season.

KC’s slow start on offense is sure to regress, especially with a healthier Travis Kelce. The Chiefs are averaging 10 fewer ppg than last year, which figures to change dramatically this week against a Bears defense that’s allowed 25+ points in 12 straight games and the third-most fantasy points to running backs this season.

Chicago’s D hasn’t been quite as effective as they were in 1985.

The Chiefs are 13-point home favorites Sunday. If Kansas City’s defense is for real, then even more positive game scripts should follow. Pacheco’s fantasy value is about to jump.

Tony Pollard’s 71.0 rushing yards per game is a lie

Pollard leads all running backs in expected fantasy points, but he’s barely been a top-five RB to date thanks to modest rushing totals. Pollard’s low YPC (3.6) is a product of nursing big leads in obvious run situations — and facing the Jets.

He was also unlucky last week, when he had a six-yard TD run nullified by penalty and watched Rico Dowdle steal two goal-line carries thanks to the lopsided score. Even still, Pollard’s three carries inside the five-yard line were tied for second-most at the position in Week 2. His seven carries inside the five are three more than any other back, and just two fewer than he had in all of 2020 and 2021 combined. Ezekiel Elliott had the second-most RB carries inside the five last season, but he's gone. Pollard should be considered the favorite to lead the NFL in touchdowns.

Pollard’s efficiency may drop under a heavier workload, but he has a career 5.0 YPC. More rushing yards are also coming as the schedule eases up (starting this week against an Arizona defense yielding the third-most fantasy points to running backs). The Cowboys easily lead the league in RB fantasy usage and believe Pollard’s built for it.

I thought Pollard could be a top-three fantasy back this year if he reached 300 touches, and he’s somehow on pace for 425 (the second-most over the last 15 years).

Ja’Marr Chase’s slow start is a lie, BUT ...

Chase ranks top-12 in expected fantasy points among WRs but is outside the top 60 in scoring — just ahead of Mac Hollins and KaVontae Turpin. Chase has seen a healthy 17 targets (top-15) and drew a downfield PI penalty last week, when he also had a sure touchdown slip away.

The Bengals’ offense has run the fourth-fewest plays in the league, something sure to change moving forward. Moreover, Cincinnati has faced an incredibly difficult schedule to open 2023. They went on the road (with Joe Burrow barely practicing) to face a new Jim Schwartz defense in Cleveland that’s second only to Dallas in EPA/play. Then they went against a Ravens defense that’s been the best in football since acquiring Roquan Smith. Conversely, the Bengals’ upcoming schedule looks highly favorable. The same situation (good usage but a lack of results so far) applies to teammate Joe Mixon.

But ... Burrow’s status for Monday night is “very much in the air” after he aggravated his calf injury late in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Cincinnati’s backup QB is 27-year-old Jake Browning, who has one career NFL pass. Burrow would likely be even more compromised should he play, and the Bengals had already dialed back the playbook (he ranks bottom-five in intended air yards).

For the sake of all Bengals skill position players, we need Burrow to get healthy fast somehow.

Michael Pittman Jr. being a top-20 fantasy WR is a lie

Pittman has more fantasy points than Davante Adams, Tee Higgins, Chris Olave, Calvin Ridley, DK Metcalf, Jaylen Waddle and many other WRs drafted well ahead of him. Pittman is clearly an emerging NFL star, but he remains in a tricky fantasy situation. He’s gotten just 69 yards on 15 targets (4.6 YPT) from rookie Anthony Richardson, and that includes a 39-yard screen in Week 1. Pittman secured 7-of-9 targets for 84 yards from Gardner Minshew after Richardson left Sunday’s game early in the second quarter.

Richardson reportedly could miss Week 3, but he remains the team’s locked-in starter moving forward after he clears concussion protocol. AR looks like a top-five fantasy QB right away when healthy, but he’s still an incredibly raw passer with fewer than 450 pass attempts since high school. Pittman can remain a WR3 with the rookie QB while benefitting from a lot of RPO and play action, but his 2023 fantasy value might be peaking.

Pittman could be an easy top-10 fantasy WR in the right situation, but given his quarterback, he’s worth testing the trade waters right now while sitting fourth in the league in targets (and with Minshew helping him).

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