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Welcome to the Friday Walkthrough. Every week I'll be outlining critical fantasy football context for the upcoming slate of games.
At the end of the article I've included an extensive list of the stats used to write this article, what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from.
Byes: Bills, Cowboys, Jaguars, Chargers, Vikings, Steelers
Already Played: Broncos, Browns
Panthers at Giants, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Panthers Implied Team Total: 23
Sam Darnold is beginning to look like the quarterback we thought he was last year. Over the last two weeks he ranks 32nd in EPA per play (which measures efficiency), ahead of only Jared Goff. And he ranks 32nd in CPOE (which measures accuracy), ahead of only Daniel Jones. Darnold was much, much better to start the season. He ranked eighth in EPA per play from Weeks 1-4 and 13th in CPOE.
The Panthers appear to be riding out his slump, however. In Week 6, facing a run funnel Vikings defense, the Panthers finished with a 0% pass rate over expected. That was as run heavy as they've been all season. But, given the matchup (which is not factored into pass rate over expected), the Panthers had an excuse to shift heavily to the run in an attempt to hide their struggling quarterback. Instead, they were more pass heavy against the Vikings than all but one of Minnesota's opponents.
This week Darnold faces a Giants defense that ranks 20th in EPA allowed per rush and 28th in EPA allowed per dropback. The Panthers rank 10th in pass rate over expected and 12th in situation neutral pass rate. Unless the last two weeks have shaken the Panthers' confidence in Darnold, this looks like a get right spot for their quarterback.
As impressive as D.J. Moore's season has been this year, he's actually slightly underperforming. Pro Football Focus' expected points metric measures his opportunity as being worth 19.3 points per game. He's delivered 18.6. Moore hasn't left a ton on the table, but it's still important to note that what Moore has done so far is entirely a product of the volume he's earning in the offense. If Darnold bounces back this week, Moore's 30% target share and 40% air yard share put him in position to deliver a high end spike week.
Robby Anderson is a far risker bet, as evidenced by his abysmal 0.85 yards per route run. But Anderson has earned decent volume. With a target on 17% of his routes and a 13.7 aDOT, he's not far off from DeVonta Smith's target profile (18% TPRR with a 14.5 aDOT). Smith has been slightly inefficient this season with an 8.2 YPT. Anderson has been far worse, with a 5.0 YPT. Like Smith, his profile will make him boost/bust; we just haven't seen a boom from Anderson yet. He's set up well against New York, particularly if the Giants offense can push the Panthers.
Chuba Hubbard played 65% of snaps in week five, and he played 65% of snaps in week six as well. And his share of backfield attempts actually increased from 89% to 94%. Royce Freeman's snaps increased from 26% to 31% last week, but he handled just 6% of the backfield attempts. Per Dwain McFarland, Freeman played 73% of Carolina's 2-minute snaps and 69% of their long down and distance snaps last week. But Freeman was not targeted in Week 6, while Hubbard was targeted three times for an 8% target share.
Hubbard has a firm grip on the rushing workload and gets targeted on early downs, in the mold of Antonio Gibson. As a result, Hubbard should be in good shape this week as long as the Panthers front-run. A come from behind script would likely severely curtail Hubbard's usage. That's not the most likely outcome for the Panthers, who are favored by three points, but it creates downside risk for Hubbard.
Giants Implied Team Total: 20
In Week 6, Daniel Jones ranked 26th in EPA per play and 27th in CPOE, failing to deliver against a formidable Rams defense ranked 10th in EPA allowed per dropback. He now faces a Panthers defense that ranks 4th in EPA allowed per dropback.
The Panthers are much weaker against the run, ranking 23rd in EPA allowed per rush. As a result they've become a bit of a run funnel, ranking 25th in PROE against. The Giants have been pass heavy this season, ranking ninth in pass rate over expected, but they've gone run heavy in two of six games this year, and could do so again here.
Devante Booker handled 72% of the Giants' snaps. The Giants were blown out by the Rams, so it's possible he may have played even more in a close game. Booker didn't have Saquon Barkley level usage is a receiver but he did have a solid 8% target share. He looks like the clear lead back this week, in a game where the Giants should be able to avoid another blowout as three point underdogs.
The Giants passing volume could be somewhat limited this week, and what we get could be inefficient. But due to injuries, at least targets will be condensed. Kenny Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, arguably the Giants top two receivers, are both expected to miss Week 7.
Sterling Shepard looked likely to be Jones' go-to target this week, but news that he may have suffered a setback with his hamstring puts that in serious doubt. Shepard has been targeted on 25% of his routes this season, and in his first week back from a hamstring injury, he an a route on 96% of dropbacks. He's played 74% of his snaps in the slot this season, but has a solid 8.2 aDOT. He offers upside for a high volume receiving day. The downside risk is that he misses the game entirely, which would be a major blow to the Giants' chances of generating offense.
Darius Slayton offers upside if he can return from injury. The third-year wide receiver has been targeted on 22% of his routes with a 14.4 aDOT, which is a borderline elite target profile. With Kenny Golladay likely out this week, Slayton should operate in a full time role, and only needs a few plays to have a productive day.
Evan Engram's target opportunity this year has been extremely disappointing. Last week with injuries forcing Dante Pettis on the field for 75% of dropbacks, Engram managed a target on just 12% of his routes. He has a poor 15% TPRR this season, and is a TD or bust option in a tough matchup.
Jets at Patriots, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Jets Implied Team Total: 17.75
Belichick shouldn't get too much credit. Wilson has been a disaster this season, ranking 33rd (dead last) in both EPA per play CPOE this year.
Belichick may not have had a special effect on Wilson, but he clearly affected the Jets' game plan. The Jets are tied for 16th this season with a 0% pass rate over expected. In Week 2 they went more run heavy than the Titans, completely hiding Wilson with a -11% PROE.
Although that plan did not work, it's a script other teams have followed. The Patriots are tied with the Raiders and Seahawks as the second biggest run funnel this season. Only the Cardinals have inspired more run heavy game plans. The Jets are likely to limit Belichick's opportunities against their floundering rookie, and go run heavy once again.
Coming out of their bye, it's possible the Jets' rushing attack is finally built around Michael Carter. Carter played 51% of snaps from Weeks 4-5, after averaging 38% from Weeks 1-3. Ty Johnson saw his snaps fall from 52% to 36% in Week 4-5. It's nice that Carter appears to have become the 1A to Johnson's 1B. But given the state of the Jets' offense, that level of usage isn't good enough. Carter ranks 12th in elusive rating this season, and a bigger role out of the bye would make logical sense. If he does manage to secure a lager role, he'll be a solid RB2 this week. And while I don't honestly expect a huge shift in snaps, Carter is worth risking as a RB2, with a season-long options in short supply.
When the Jets do throw it's also possible they emphasize another rookie. Elijah Moore has been targeted on 20% of his routes, with a 14.7 aDOT. That's a borderline elite target profile for a rookie, but he's paired it with an absolutely atrocious 3.3 YPT. Per target efficiency isn't sticky, and I almost always want to bet on YPT regression. But at a certain point, poor efficiency can lead to reduced playing time, which could be what we saw in Week 5, when Moore ran a route on just 46% of dropbacks. In Week 5, Corey Davis ran a route on 77% of dropbacks, with Jamison Crowder at 69%, and Keelan Cole at 51%. Hopefully the Jets coaches have plans to make Moore a full time player again coming out their bye. Otherwise, most fantasy managers can move on after this week.
Davis and Crowder have similar efficiency profiles to Moore—but at least they are full time players. Davis has a target on 23% of his routes with a 14.1 aDOT, and is a viable WR3 option with a 1.92 YPRR. Crowder has a target on 29% of his routes with a 5.1 aDOT. He looks like a low upside FLEX option this week.
Patriots Implied Team Total: 24.75
Mac Jones leads all rookie quarterbacks in EPA per play... but that's not impressive. Jones ranks 21st in EPA per play in the NFL. All other rookie quarterbacks rank between 23rd and 33rd. But Jones also leads the class in accuracy, and he's much more impressive there. Jones ranks fourth in CPOE with the other rookies ranking between 27th and 33rd.
Jones' accuracy offers some optimism for his future efficiency, as does his matchup this week—the Jets ranks 25th in EPA allowed per dropback.
When Jones faced the Jets in Week 2, he finished 27th in EPA per play. But the Patriots' attacked through the air anyway, with a 2% pass rate over expected. If the Patriots choose that route again, they should be able to find success.
Jakobi Meyers can't catch a break. The third year receiver finally scored his first career TD in Week 6, but it was called back due to a holding penalty. And it's not just TDs. Meyers is under-performing with a 6.8 YPT as well. Meyers has a 9.0 aDOT, which means he's left quite a bit of yardage on the field. The Patriots could have solid passing volume this week, and should be able to move the ball efficiently as well. Meyers is one of just two wide receiver in modern NFL history to go over 50 receptions without a TD, and he has 121 receptions. If he's going to break his streak this season, this is about as strong a setup as he'll get.
On the other hand, Patriots don't necessarily need to go pass heavy this week. The Jets also rank 24th in EPA allowed per rush. They're a vulnerable defense, and it's really up to the Patriots to decide how they want to play it.
Rhamondre Stevenson saw a 33% snap share, and lead the backfield with three targets in Week 6. Damien Harris lead the backfield in snaps with 48%, and handled 75% of the backfield attempts. Brandan Bolden was involved as well with 20% of snaps but only 4% of the backfield attempts and saw just one target. Bolden will likely stay involved to some degree but it appears that Stevenson does have a path to the James White role in this offense. Worse RB2s will be rolled out in season long leagues this week.
Harris is a much more comfortable RB2 play. The Patriots should be leading this game, giving Harris a path to a strong rushing workload with TD upside.
Chiefs at Titans, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Chiefs Implied Team Total: 31
Patrick Mahomes is in a mini-slump. Over the last two weeks he ranks 21st in EPA per play and 24th in CPOE. Week 5 was easy to write off since it came against the Bills. But it's more concerning that he was inefficient against Washington's poor secondary. Nevertheless, Mahomes is well positioned for a bounce-back this week, facing a Titans defense that ranks 26th in EPA allowed per dropback. In some ways the Titans are the opposite of Washington. The Titans are good in pass coverage, ranking sixth in PFF's grades, while Washington is a lowly 31st. But the Titans don't have a pass rush, raking 25th, while Washington ranks second. Mahomes should have plenty of time to throw this week, which should be a major concern for the Titans.
Mahomes' reduced efficiency has coincided with Tyreek Hill battling a quad injury. That's unlikely to be a coincidence. Hill was only able to run a route on 58% of dropbacks in against Washington, but Mahomes threw to him on 39% of his routes. Mahomes is leaning on Hill in a major way this season. Hill's 28% TPRR puts him behind only Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, Diontae Johnson and Deebo Samuel among full time wide receivers.
Part of the reason that Mahomes is so reliant on Hill is that he's been unable to find a reliable connection with another wide receiver. Even with Hill banged up in Week 6, Mecole Hardman was targeted on just 14% of his routes, although he did have a strong 12.4 YPT. But it would have been far more bullish if his target rate had spiked with Hill limited, rather than his per target efficiency. On the season, Hardman has a 17% TPRR with an 8.0 aDOT. That gives him a much lower opportunity ceiling than we'd like to see from a wide receiver playing with Patrick Mahomes.
Travis Kelce has been very good this season, with a target on 22% of his routes and a 9.0 YPT. But he hasn't been quite as good as we're used to, and he's being used a bit more shallowly than he has in the past, with an aDOT of 8.0. He should have plenty of time to get downfield this week, however.
Darrel Williams operated is the clear lead back in Week 6 with 72% of snaps and 88% of backfield attempts. Jerick McKinnon mixed in for 28% of snaps and 12% of team attempts. McKinnon operated primarily as a change of pace receiving back, tying Williams with four targets. As Ben Gretch noted in Stealing Signals, Williams handled all three of the Chiefs' carries inside the 10, and looks to be clearly ahead of McKinnon for now.
Titans Implied Team Total: 26.5
Excluding Week 1, Ryan Tannehill ranks 10th in EPA per play, and he ranks third in EPA per play over the last two weeks. Against a disruptive Bills defense, he finished 10th in EPA per play, and looks to be finding his rhythm in Todd Downing's offense.
Tannehill isn't running play action as much as he used to. He's 19th in play action rate after finishing first in 2020 and ninth in 2019. And the Titans aren't playing as fast as they used to. They rank 22nd in situation neutral seconds per play after finishing third in 2020. And, even excluding Week 1, Tannehill isn't playing as efficiently as he did under Arthur Smith. From 2019-2020, only Patrick Mahomes was more efficient than Ryan Tannehill in EPA per play.
But... Tannehill now looks far closer to the quarterback we saw over the last two years than he did at the start of this season. And his improved play is very good news for his receivers, particularly A.J. Brown.
Brown has an aDOT of 13.6 this season. Operating as a deep threat, his 24% TPRR is very impressive. Brown having an elite target profile shouldn't be a surprise, since that's been the case in every season of his career. But for the first time he's falling short in YPT, with a mark of just 6.9.
Brown's poor YPT does not mean the third-year star has lost a step... it represents opportunity. Brown has a career YPT of 10.7. If he and Tannehill are clicking this week, his target profile provides elite upside. And with Julio Jones nursing a hamstring injury, Tannehill may be even more inclined to look Brown's way in the highest total game of the week.
The 57.5 game total also represents major upside for Derrick Henry. Henry is force of nature this season, ripping through a Bills defense on Monday night that came into the game with the second ranked defense in EPA allowed per rush. Henry disrespected spreadsheets everywhere by treating the Bills to a 27th ranking in EPA allowed per rush in Week 6. The Bills were supposed to be a Buccaneers level run defense. Henry turned them into the Chargers.
He now faces a Chiefs defense that has only been slightly better than the last ranked Chargers run defense.
Obviously you're starting Henry wherever you have him. For DFS however, Henry does have a path to failure in this matchup. After seeing 13 targets in Weeks 1-3, he's seen just five in the three games since. It's also possible that Darrynton Evans is activated for Week 7. Evans was expected to be in a receiving role prior to his injury in training camp. His presence on Sunday would represent meaningful downside risk for Henry, and make Titans-trailing game scripts more perilous.
But Henry's ceiling is also off the charts. Jeremy McNichols was knocked out of Monday's game with an ankle injury, so there's also a path to Henry absolutely dominating Week 7 snaps. And if the Titans play from within a score of the Chiefs this week, Henry's rushing production could be unspeakable. In six games this season, Henry has just 12 fewer rushing yards than Antonio Gibson produced in 14 games last year.
Washington at Packers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Washington Implied Team Total: 20.5
Taylor Heinicke has had some tough weeks this season, but has been pretty solid in good matchups, including last week when he finished 17th in EPA per play against a weak Chiefs defense. This week he faces a middle of the road Packers defense ranked 16th in EPA allowed per dropback, 17th in PFF's pass rush grades, and 14th in PFF's coverage grades.
Even if he struggles in a middling matchup, Heinicke should be able to support Terry McLaurin, on pure volume alone. McLaurin has an elite combination of a high target rate (25% TPRR) with deep threat usage (13.5 aDOT). Only Brandin Cooks and Ja'Marr Chase have a larger share of their team's air yards than McLaurin. Unfortunately, McLaurin has just a 7.5 YPT this season, far below his 9.0 career average. This isn't an obvious bounce back spot for efficiency but YPT is noisy and unpredictable. McLaurin's role puts him a few plays away from a big week, every week.
Ricky Seals-Jones ran a route on 92% of dropbacks in Week 6, and there is now zero doubt that he is fully in the Logan Thomas role. Seals-Jones has a 1.17 YPRR to Thomas' 1.14 so their production has been essentially identical. His role isn't elite, outside of his route volume, Seals-Jones is a strong fill-in option at a position with few good options.
The Packers defense has been a run funnel this season, but it appears that matchups have driven that to an extent. Four of their six games have come against teams ranked outside the top 25 in pass rate over expected, and the Steelers are the only team they've faced with a positive PROE this season. Washington has a 0% pass rate over expected though, and may choose to follow the path of least resistance, attacking the Packers' 27th ranked defense in EPA allowed per rush.
If so the big question will be Antonio Gibson's health. Gibson looks likely to play this week, but cannot be relied on to play a complement of snaps. He managed just 39% of snaps in Week 6. The fact that he's still firmly a RB2 this week says more about Week 7 than it does about Gibson.
J.D. McKissic should see plenty of work this week, even if Gibson is close to full health. McKissic has played 44% of snaps this season to Gibson's 56%, has run a route on 48% of dropbacks to Gibson's 41%, and has a target share of 13% to Gibson's 9%. With Washington 7.5 point underdogs, this already set up as a McKissic game. Gibson's uncertainty adds upside.
Packers Implied Team Total: 28
Aaron Rodgers is fourth in EPA per play this year. He leads the NFL in EPA per play from Week 2 on. He now faces a Washington defense than ranks 27th in EPA allowed per dropback.
The Packers have tilted toward the pass this season and are tied with Carolina for 10th in pass rate over expected. Washington's defense is the second biggest pass funnel in the league, behind only the Buccaneers. Opposing offenses have a 7% pass rate over expected against them, which matches the Eagles' season long rate. Moreover, Washington appears to be shifting opposing game plans. The Saints have a -7% PROE this season, and are tied with the Browns as the second most run heavy team in the NFL. They had an 11% PROE in Week 5 against Washington. The Saints have run like the Titans against the rest of the league. But against Washington, they passed like the Buccaneers. Pass happy teams have also leaned into their arial attack against Washington. The Chargers, Bills and Chiefs all finished at least 3% above their season long PROE marks when they played the Football Team. Only the Falcons shifted toward the run against Washington.
If this matchup increases the Packers' passing volume, Davante Adams is set up to singlehandedly win season long matchups. Adams leads the NFL in weighted opportunity rating (WOPR), with a 37% target share and a 47% air yard share. His 12.0 aDOT is ridiculously high given that he's been targeted on 34% of his routes. Adams' target rate leads all full time receivers. Cooper Kupp is second, with a far shallower 9.2 aDOT. The only thing keeping Adams from breaking fantasy is volume. The Packers rank 24th in passing attempts, in large part because they play slow, ranking 27th in situation neutral pace. Washington plays fast however, ranking 6th in situation neutral pace. Washington may be able to speed Green Bay up a bit if Taylor Heinicke and company can put up points.
As I discussed last week, AJ Dillon's Week 5 snaps share was in line with his season long usage. But following comments from Matt LaFluer, Dillon's role did increase significantly in Week 6. Dillon saw 42% of snaps against the Bears and 46% of backfield attempts, after averaging 32% of snaps and 33% of backfield attempts from Weeks 1-5. Dillon was not involved as a receiver however, with zero targets to Jones' four. But Dillon also ran a route on a season high 32% of dropbacks. Overall Week 6 was a bullish sign that Dillon's role has increased. He's still firmly behind Aaron Jones, but Dillon is pushing to move fully into the Jamaal Williams role, rather than operating as a change of pace backup.
Dillon has also been good this season. He ranks 14th in success rate, 11th in elusive rating, ninth in breakaway percentage and ninth in yards per route run. Dillon has shown to be far more well-rounded than expected, even as a receiver, where he offers Jonathan Taylor like ability to get downhill in space.
I still expect Aaron Jones' role to hold steady where we saw it last week. Jones has also been excellent over the last two weeks. I noted two weeks ago that Jones was in a slump as a rusher, despite having run hot on TDs. Since then he's fourth in elusive rating and seventh in breakaway percentage. For the season, Jones still ranks behind Dillon in success rate, elusive rating, breakaway percentage and yards per route run, but not to the point where we should expect a further decline in Jones' usage. Jones is likley to be in more of a 1A role this week than a true lead role. But facing a weak Washington defense, that may be more than enough opportunity for a spike week.
Falcons at Dolphins, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Falcons Implied Team Total: 25
Matt Ryan had a rough start to the season, ranking 28th in EPA per play from Weeks 1-2. He's been strikingly better in his three games since, leading the NFL in EPA per play since Week 3. The reason for Ryan's strong stretch seems obvious—he played the Giants, Washington and Jets. But Ryan had an easy schedule to start the year as well, opening against the Eagles and Buccaneers. The Eagles rank 15th in EPA allowed per dropback, and that's the toughest pass defense he's faced. Ryan may eventually crater against a tough defense, but he's up well this week for continued success, facing a Dolphins defense that ranks 24th in EPA allowed per dropback.
Ryan's recent success has also come during a stretch when the Falcons have been extremely run heavy on 1st-and-10.
The Falcons dropped from a 0% PROE on 1st-and-10 from Weeks 1-2 to -19% from Weeks 3-5. But interestingly, they didn't shift away from the pass overall. They have an identical 0% pass rate over expected in both splits. Although the Falcons are rushing substantially more on 1st down, they're also faking the run a lot more as well. From Weeks 1-2, Matt Ryan ranked 24th in play action rate; he ranks sixth since Week 3.
Notably, the Falcons have not been very good at running the ball, despite their shift to 1st down runs. They rank 20th in EPA per rush since Week 3, after ranking 23rd Weeks 1-2. To the extent that running the ball is helping, it's likely coming in the form of the defense biting for split second longer on play action, after a heavy dose of early down rushes. The Dolphins 14th ranked defense in EPA allowed per rush should keep Atlanta's rushing attack inefficient, but that hasn't been a problem for the passing game so far.
Even assuming that the Falcons passing volume is restricted on 1st down, volume overall could be fairly high. The Falcons rank 11th in situation neutral pace, and the Dolphins rank 13th. Neither team is likely to dictate a fast pace, but with the Dolphins as just one 2.5 point, an evenly matched affair between two up-tempo offenses could produce plenty of play volume.
If Ryan is able to keep up his efficient play, it could be a strong week for Calvin Ridley. Ridley missed Week 5's London game with a personal matter, but is expected back this week. Ridley has seen a route on 26% of his routes this season with an aDOT of 10.9. Ridley has a strong 28% target share and an elite 45% air yard share. Unfortunately, Ridley has just a 6.1 YPT, well below his career 9.2 YPT. He has upside for better efficiency in a high volume game.
Kyle Pitts is also set up well if this game ends up delivering on play volume. Pitts has been targeted on 20% of his route with a 9.4 aDOT. His Week 5 breakout game came with Calvin Ridley out of the lineup, allowing Pitts to see target on 29% of his routes in London. But Pitts was also heavily targeted in Week 4, with a 26% TPRR. Pitts delivered just a 5.6 YPT in Week 4. That jumped to 11.9 in Week 5. Ridley's absence helped open up some targets, but this matchup should provide plenty of available opportunity for both Ridley and Pitts to produce.
It will be very interesting to see Cordarrelle Patterson's usage coming out of Atlanta's bye week. Patterson logged season highs in both backfield snaps (24) and snaps out-wide (15). Patterson played 59% of snaps overall, but his true multi-positional usage allowed Mike Davis to still play 64% of snaps. Patterson's wide receiver usage could take a hit this week with Russell Gage likely back. But I would argue that Patterson offers the Falcons substantially more value than Gage or Olamide Zaccheaus. Zaccheaus has earned a target on just 12% of his routes this season. Gage has been slightly better at 15%, but has a running back level 3.4 aDOT. Patterson has a running back level 3.8 aDOT, but has the excuse of actually being a running back. And critically, Patterson has earned a target on 37% of his routes. It's tough to bet on Patterson to see a similar workload as he did in Week 5, but he's certainly earned it.
Mike Davis has a strong 66% snap share. Patterson's involvement hasn't actually cost him that much work. By PFF's expected points, he's had the 11th most valuable running back workload this season. The problem is that only Mark Ingram and Najee Harris have left more points per game on the field than Davis. Davis is a slightly a risky bet coming out of the bye week. But given the team's approach to the backfield so far, it seems unlikely that we'll see a shift to Wayne Gallman in a meaningful way or Patterson in a pure running back role this week, making Davis a solid RB2.
Dolphins Implied Team Total: 22.5
The Dolphins are really into running play action... as long as Tua Tagovailoa is under center. In his Week 6 return, Tagovailoa ran play action on 42% of his dropbacks behind only Carson Wentz and Lamar Jackson. He now leads the NFL this season with a 40% play action rate. Jacoby Brissett ranks 31st with a 20% rate, which is super weird, but not something we have to worry about anymore.
The Dolphins ranked 21st in EPA per rush in Week 6, so their revival of play action does appear to be quarterback related, rather than a reaction a functioning run game. That's good because the Dolphins' run game can't be relied on due to their offensive line. The Dolphins rank 29th in adjusted line yards, ahead of only the Steelers, Giants and Texans in the run blocking metric.
The Miami backfield has also been a nightmare to predict, with snap shares changing with the winds. Even the one thing we thought we could count on, Salvon Ahmed playing clearly behind the other two backs, wasn't the case in Week 6.
Facing a Falcons defense that ranks 25th in EPA allowed per rush, there should be some backfield value this week. I still prefer to bet on Gaskin here, but my real preference is to avoid the backfield if possible.
The Falcons defense also ranks 21st in EPA allowed per dropback, so they're vulnerable through the air, and we could see Tagovailoa slinging it this week. He certainly did in Week 6. Miami ranked third on the week with a 10% pass rate over expected. Tua was solid in his return, ranking 12th in EPA per play, and could find success again this week.
Jaylen Waddle is coming off a breakout game where he was targeted on 27% of his routes with a 9.8 aDOT. With DeVante Parker, Will Fuller and Preston Williams out, Waddle ran a route on 94% of dropbacks. His full time role and high end target rate led to a 29% target share and 32% air yard share. Waddle disappointed with a 5.4 YPT, but all is forgiven when you score two TDs. With Parker likely out again, Waddle is set up for another high volume day. It's quite possible that the electric rookie is also able to play efficiently.
Mike Gesicki also benefitted from the available targets in London, with a 25% TPRR. He's now seen a target on 22% of his routes this season. Among tight ends with a route rate of at least 50%, only Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle, Dalton Schultz, Darren Waller, Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews rank higher in targets per route run. As usual at tight end, the breakout is happening later than expected, but Gesicki is emerging as a reliable TE1 option.
Bengals at Ravens, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
Bengals Implied Team Total: 20
I'm going to show you a chart... but before I do, let's revisit some insight from the wise Mike Leone.
Now that we've taken our medicine - look at this trend!
Obviously, we can't count on the Bengals to continue moving toward the pass. They could easily stall out and settle into a slightly run heavy approach. But after the least three weeks, it appears likely that Cincinnati's days of going extremely run heavy to protect Joe Burrow are over.
Removing the restrictor plate on the offense makes a ton of sense, because Burrow has played well this season. He ranks 16th in EPA per dropback and ninth in CPOE. And he's maintained that level of play on higher volume, ranking 16th in EPA per play and 11th in CPOE over the last three weeks. This week, Burrow faces a middle of the road Ravens defense that ranks 18th in EPA allowed per dropback, 21st in PFF's pass rush grades and 19th in PFF's coverage grades.
Baltimore is stronger against the run, ranking fifth in EPA allowed per rush, and teams have game planned accordingly. Over the last three weeks, the Broncos, Colts and Chargers have all been more pass heavy against the Ravens than their season averages, and the Ravens are tied with the Saints and Jaguars this season and the fourth biggest pass funnel defense. This sets up as a clear opportunity for the Bengals to make another shift toward the pass.
Ja'Marr Chase is absurdly good. He's still about to regress in a big way. Chase has a 13.8 YPT this season and is coming off a week where he had a 16.2 YPT. Chase has a 17.6 aDOT. He's basically operating in a vintage Will Fuller role. No matter how good he is, he won't be able to stave off a bust week forever with that type of usage. That said, I don't really want to bet on him to bust in any given week. That sounds like no fun at all. After all, Chase's 51% air yard share is tied with Brandin Cooks' for the NFL lead.
The alternative to betting against Chase is to bet on Tee Higgins. Higgins has seen a target on 23% of his routes this season, with an 8.8 aDOT. Higgins has just 6.9 YPT, so he has room to be quite a bit more efficient. If the Bengals continue to move toward the pass, Higgins and Chase can hit together in a big way.
I continue to be the most skeptical of Tyler Boyd. Boyd has a target on 21% of his routes but a shallow 5.7 aDOT. In some ways he's the most dependent on the Bengals recapturing their high pass rate identity from 2020, which they probably won't get fully back to this week, even if they set a season high in PROE.
Joe Mixon looks to be back into his lead role. He saw 63% of snaps in Week 6, in a game where Brandon Allen played more than a half-quarter of football, due to the Bengals' easy win over the Lions. Had Detroit kept things close, Mixon's snap share could have been much higher. This week's matchup with the Ravens and Cincinnati's own glorious trend could push the Bengals toward the pass, as I won't shut up about. But that won't preclude Mixon from having a big week. Mixon ran a route on 51% of dropbacks in Week 6, with Chris Evans at just 22%. Mixon looks like a reliable RB1 this week, regardless of how the Bengals approach this game.
Ravens Implied Team Total: 26.5
Lamar Jackson ranks 10th in EPA per play this season, but faces a difficult test this week—on paper at least. The Bengals defense ranks eighth in EPA allowed per dropback, but have faced three bottom five offenses in EPA per dropback: the Steelers, Jaguars and Lions. The Bengals' only test against a top 10 offense in EPA per dropback was the Packers in Week 5. The Bengals finished 17th in EPA allowed per dropback against Green Bay. The Bengals aren't a bad defense, but they aren't likely to pose a major challenge to the Ravens if Jackson is at the top of his game.
Jackson has been excellent this season and his play has helped facilitate a shift toward the pass. If the 2020 Ravens faced the Chargers' run funnel defense, and dominated the game from start to finish, there's no way they would have been pass heavy. The 2021 Ravens were in that exact scenario in Week 6 and finished with a pass rate 2% higher than expected. At this point, I'm buying fully in. The Ravens aren't a pass heavy team, but following their backfield decimation and a step forward from Jackson as a passer, they're clearly more comfortable relying on the pass than they were in Jackson's first three seasons. I'm viewing them as a balanced offense going forward.
The shift to the pass has been extremely valuable for Marquise Brown. Brown is seeing a target on 22% of his routes, with a 14.2 aDOT. Brown has run a bit hot with an 11.3 YPT, but his production has been mostly sustainable. And given his drops issues, the fact that he's running hot on per target efficiency tells you something about just how efficient the passing game has been.
Mark Andrews has seen a target on 22% of his routes, with a 10.7 aDOT. With a 24% target share and 24% air yard share, he trails only Darren Waller in WOPR. Get ready for Andrews dynasty TE1 takes if he keeps this up. In the short term though, Andrews is running quite hot with an 11.1 YPT. His underlying volume is elite, but he's likely to cool off in per target efficiency very soon.
With Sammy Watkins likely to miss another week, Rashod Bateman should be in a similar role to the one he debuted in last week. That's great news for his fantasy managers. Bateman was targeted on 27% of his routes against the Chargers with a 7.7 aDOT. He only ran a route on 67% of dropbacks, however. While a 67% route rate isn't bad for his debut, his fantasy managers will be hoping for that to improve this week. Luckily, those routes should be available. Devin Duvernay ran a route on 55% of dropbacks last week and earned a target on just 17% of his routes. And that was actually one of Duvernay's better showings this season. The second-year wide receiver has just a 12% TPRR, and a very poor 0.83 YPRR. Bateman had a poor 4.8 YPT against the Chargers, but he has upside for improved efficiency in a larger role. If he maintains a high target rate, he could be in for a solid week.
At running back, the Ravens are throwing... things... against the wall. Latavius Murray led the backfield in Week 6 with 38% of snaps, but left with a sprained ankle. That allowed Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman to finish close behind at 32% and 30% of snaps. Murray and Freeman each carried the ball nine times, with Bell mixing in for eight attempts. Murray looks unlikely to play in Week 6 which would make Devonta Freeman a viable RB2 play and Le'Veon Bell a soul-crushing FLEX option.
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Lions at Rams, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday
Lions Implied Team Total: 17.25
Jared Goff has been brutal this season... and it's getting worse.
Goff was a little frisky at times this year, particularly in Week 2 against the Packers. But Goff has ranked 27th or worse in EPA per play since Week 4. For the season he ranks 33rd in EPA per play, ahead of only Zach Wilson. He's been better in CPOE, but still bad, ranking 27th. To sum up, Goff isn't very accurate, and accuracy is his best trait.
He now faces a Rams defense that ranks ninth in EPA allowed per dropback, 11th in PFF's coverage grades and seventh in PFF's pass rush grades. This is probably not going to go well. The betting market agrees, giving the Lions just a 17.25 implied team, as 16 point underdogs.
A total blowout is rarely desirable for fantasy, but D'Andre Swift's fantasy managers probably won't mind if the Lions fail to show up on Sunday. Swift played 78% of snaps against the Bengals, logging 72% of backfield attempts and an 18% target share. For the season, Swift has 69% of snaps, 47% of backfield attempts and a 19% target share. Ideally, the Lions would be able to put up points, and would strongly prioritize Swift over Williams while doing so. But the Lions are very unlikely to produce efficient offense against the Rams, and they don't always prioritize Swift over Williams when the game is in doubt. So... at least when the game gets away from them, they'll get away from using Williams.
Blowouts have been more hit or miss for T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson can benefit from the added passing volume, but he's not able to rack up dump off passes the way Swift is. And frankly, he may simply not be as good at tight end as Swift is at running back. (That's not intended as a knock on Hockenson, Swift looks like a young star). Hockenson been targeted on 19% of his routes while running a route on 85% of dropbacks. Those are both good numbers for a tight end. He's been slightly inefficient on a per target basis, but considering the state of the offense, it's hard to imagine he'll do a whole lot better than his current 7.2 YPT at his 7.8 aDOT. Hockenson ranks TE5 in WOPR, but he's closer to TE12 Zach Ertz than he is to TE1 Darren Waller. At this point, Hockenson is what you see is what you get. He's a locked in TE1; he's also not a difference maker.
Rams Implied Team Total: 33.25
Matthew Stafford leads the league in EPA per play. He demolished the Giants last week, and get the Texans and Titans in Weeks 8-9. Depending on how the Rams play this, we may be about to hear major MVP buzz.
I say depending on how the Rams play this, because the Rams may not need to fully unleash Stafford to rattle off wins in the coming weeks, including this week against the Lions. But if they do...
Last week I noted that the Rams were facing a fake run funnel defense in the Giants. Los Angeles went on to throw 3% over expected. This week they get another fake run funnel. Lions opponents have averaged a -1% pass rate over expected, but four of their six opponents (the Vikings, 49ers, Bengals and Bears) rank 25th-28th in pass rate over expected. The Lions have been a run funnel because their defense isn't great at anything, and they've played a bunch of run heavy teams. But the Lions are actually better against the run than the pass, ranking 16th in EPA allowed per rush, compared to 30th in EPA allowed per dropback.
The Rams have shown a strong preference for the pass, ranking sixth in pass rate over expected and eighth in situation neutral pass rate. They can attack however they want this week. I expect them do so primarily through the air... at least until they pull the starters.
The Rams' ability to pull the starters is the only reason Darrell Henderson doesn't have a truly elite snap share. Henderson is already extremely close. He has a 79% snap share this season, which ranks behind only Najee Harris (86%) and Alvin Kamara (83%). But per Ben Gretch in Stealing Signals, five of Sony Michel's nine carries came with the backups last week, with Matthew Stafford out of the game. So Henderson's role is actually even stronger than his snap share indicates. Of course, I probably should have saved this point for another week... because garbage time is extremely likely to occur again this week. Henderson remains an elite play. The Rams are second in situation neutral pace, and should be able to pack plenty of scoring into their starter's snaps.
For as long as the Rams decide to keep their foot on the gas, Cooper Kupp will be set up for elite production. Kupp has a 34% target share, which ranks behind only Davante Adams. His 0.74 WOPR ranks behind only Adams, Brandin Cooks and Terry McLaurin. He's run hot with a 9.9 YPT, but he's not off the charts. His 3.20 YPRR is off the charts, trailing only Davante Adams among full time players. The scary part is that what Kupp is doing is mostly sustainable.
Robert Woods has a strong role, but at the same time, is being completely overshadowed by Kupp. Woods has a target on 22% of his routes with a 9.5 aDOT. He's performing about as expected on his opportunity, with an 8.2 YPT. He's a bit risky this week, given the potential for the Rams to pack it in early, but he's settled into a solid secondary role in an elite offense.
Van Jefferson ran a route on 71% of dropbacks last week, and seems to be fending off DeSean Jackson for the time being. Tyler Higbee is tied with Jefferson with a 13% target share. Higbee's 4.8 aDOT comes with less upside than Jefferson's 13.1 aDOT, but Higbee is my preferred third option here given his tight end eligibility.
Eagles at Raiders, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday
Eagles Implied Team Total: 22.75
Jalen Hurts has not been a good real life quarterback this season, ranking 27th in EPA per play. That EPA ranking does not include garbage time however, which is where Hurts thrives.
Hurts also trails only Lamar Jackson in quarterback rushing yards, which are also quite a bit more valuable for fantasy football than real life. Real life could catch up with Hurts here though.
The Raiders rank seventh in EPA allowed per dropback, second in PFF's coverage grades and first in PFF's pass rush grades. The Raiders offense may not push the Eagles into pure garbage time either. Instead, as three point underdogs, the Eagles could simply have trouble moving the ball in a close game.
Rather than messing around with a formidable pass defense, opposing teams have been running on the Raiders. There are three teams tied for third in pass rate over expected this season. The Raiders have played two of them: the Dolphins and Chargers. The only time that either has run more than expected this season is when they faced the Raiders. The Raiders are a true run funnel in the sense that even pass heavy teams are changing up their approach against them.
The Eagles are the third team tied with the Chargers and Dolphins for third in pass rate over expected. And Philadelphia has already gone run heavy once this season, against the 49ers in Week 2. It should not be a surprise if they take the same approach against the Raiders as their pass happy compatriots did in Miami and Los Angeles.
If the Eagles stop being ideological and start establishing, Miles Sanders could be in for a nice week. Sanders seems to have successfully defended his position in the Eagles' backfield. Over the last two weeks, Sanders has a 78% snap share, 91% of backfield attempts and, crucially, a 16% target share. Kenneth Gainwell is at a 24% snap share, 9% of backfield attempts and a 9% target share. Sanders has led the way in snaps all season, but from Weeks 1-4 he had just 64% of snaps to 35% for Gainwell. And Gainwell led in target share to start the season 13% to 10%. The recent shift has evened up Sanders and Gainwell in target share at 12% each. Even if Sanders' role shrinks a bit from here, he no longer seems to be at risk of losing pass catching work entirely to Gainwell. That pass catching work is critical, because even if the Eagles shift toward the run this week, they'll be moving from pass-heavy to balanced. Sanders will still need to be involved as a receiver to deliver a big week. His recent uptick in target share makes him a far more attractive option.
DeVonta Smith is seeing a target on 18% of his routes with a 14.5 aDOT, that's an impressive combination for a rookie, but is below what we'd expect from a team's true No. 1 wide receiver. Jalen Reagor isn't stealing much work. He has a target on just 14% of his routes despite a much lower aDOT of 8.6. Quez Watkins actually leads the team in YPRR with 1.98, but like Reagor he's only seen a target on 14% of his routes. Watkins has still been more impressive than Reagor this year however, because he's drawing his targets much deeper downfield, with an aDOT of 13. Watkins ran a route on 76% of dropbacks in Week 6. I would really prefer not to have to do this, but if I was going to trust an Eagles wide receiver outside of Smith this week, it would be Watkins.
With Zach Ertz traded to the Cardinals, Dallas Goedert could have significantly more opportunity this week. Goedert has only run a route on 58% of dropbacks this season, while Ertz has been at 58% as well. Assuming Goedert is a full go after returning from the Covid list, he could see his routes spike to over 75% here. Goedert's target profile hasn't been great, however. He's seen a target on only 15% of his routes, with a shallow 6.8 aDOT. He'll definitely have more opportunity this week, but he's likely to see a smaller increase in targets than the market expects.
Raiders Implied Team Total: 25.75
Derek Carr ranked 35th, dead last, in play action rate entering Week 6. In his first week under new play caller Greg Olsen, he ranked 11th. Carr was quite good with the new play selection, ranking second in EPA per play. Carr is 11th in EPA per play this season, and play action rate had been an obvious place that the offense could improve. With that adjustment now in place, Carr has upside to take another step forward as a passer.
The Raiders also showed signs of being more balanced, however. After starting the season unexpectedly pass heavy, the Raiders had a -1% pass rate over expected against the Broncos. It's possible we could be looking at a lower volume but more efficient passing offense going forward.
If that is indeed the Raiders preferred approach, it fits well with their matchup this week. The Eagles are a fake pass funnel; to the point that they're actually a run funnel. Philadelphia's opponents have averaged a 2% pass rate over expected against them, but those opponents include the Buccaneers and Chiefs, who rank first and second in pass rate over expected. Every single Eagles opponent has had a PROE against Philadelphia that was below their season long rate—which is a complicated way of saying "everyone shifts to the run against the Eagles." This makes sense given that Philadelphia ranks 15th in EPA allowed per dropback, but just 29th in EPA allowed per rush.
This all sets up well for Josh Jacobs. Jacobs played 64% of snaps in Week 6, and has played 61% of snaps this season. Peyton Barber was a healthy scratch last week, which left Kenyan Drake and Jalen Richard backing up Jacobs. Despite two receiving backs behind him, Jacobs still managed a route on 48% of dropbacks, which was in line with his season averages—although he did see just a 4% target share. Jacobs still likely needs a run heavy script to deliver significant fantasy value, but he could get that here. If Barber is healthy scratched again, it'll remove a potential TD vulture, and set up Jacobs for strong rushing workload with TD upside.
In the passing game, the Raiders appear to be embracing Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards as dual deep threats with Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow operating in the intermediate and shallow areas. Ruggs had an extremely deep aDOT of 24.5 last week. Edwards was at 19.3. I don't want to take too much away from a single week, but this is really an emphasis of what we were already seeing from both players. Ruggs has a season long aDOT of 19 and Edwards is at 16.8. Only Ruggs looks fantasy viable, earning a target on 16% of his routes this season compared to just 12% for Edwards. And we're seeing Ruggs' aDOT go in the wrong direction for his fantasy production. We'd like Ruggs to be used more like Terry McLaurin, where he's getting deep shots mixed with intermediate and shallow routes as well.
If the new play calling does emphasize deep routes from the outside, it's a recipe for a week winning performance from Darren Waller. Waller has seen a route on 23% of his routes, but has just a 7.3 YPT. But the Raiders may be looking to create more space for him to operate. Ruggs and Edwards both have to be respected deep. The Raiders may be emphasizing deep routes for them, and they're definitely cranking up their play action rate. The combination of those effects has potential to create a ton of space for Waller over the middle. This could be a lower volume passing day than ideal, but Waller looks well setup otherwise.
Texans at Cardinals, 4:25 PM Eastern, Sunday
Texans Implied Team Total: 15
Davis Mills ranks 31st in EPA per play and faces a Cardinal defense than ranks sixth in EPA allowed per dropback. I'll respect both of our time here—this is gonna be bad.
The Texans have a silly low 15 point implied team total this week, but what little value the offense does generate will be soaked up by Brandin Cooks. Cooks is third in the NFL in target share, first in air yard share, and second in WOPR. He has a 13.2 aDOT, which gives him the upside to deliver value on a few big plays, and plenty of underlying opportunity to create them. As 17.5 underdogs, the Texans will be throwing for most of this game. Cooks should be able to put together a solid outing on volume alone.
Cardinals Implied Team Total: 32.5
Kyler Murray is playing at an MVP level, ranking sixth in EPA per play and second in CPOE. He's facing a Texans defense that ranks 23rd in EPA allowed per dropback, 23rd in PFF's coverage grades and 18th in PFF's pass rush grades. He should have no trouble here.
Murray's most realistic path to failure is the Texans not putting up enough of a fight, and playing slow. The Texans rank 20th in situation neutral pace, and 20th in pace when trailing by 7+. They're not excruciatingly slow, but they're going to take their time no matter the script.
The question for the Cardinals will be, how many receiving weapons can Murray support? Christian Kirk ran a route on 81% of dropbacks in Week 6, after running fewer routes than Rondale Moore the week prior, and his role now looks considerably safer. But both players are risky bets with the Cardinals having potential for a quick blowout win.
A.J. Green is more trustworthy because we know he'll be out there. Green has run a route on 89% of dropbacks. He's only earned a target on 16% of his routes, but has upside for big plays with an aDOT of 12.
DeAndre Hopkins saved his Week 6 with two TDs on just three targets. He's only been targeted on 16% of his routes... the same rate as A.J. Green. We're six weeks into the actual 2021 NFL season and DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green have the same target rate. Imagine suggesting that was possible on twitter.com in August. Actually, Mike Leone probably did but I have a deadline to hit so I can't search his tweets right now.
The point is, Hopkins usage is egregious. I still think that riding is out is the only option. Murray is having an incredible season, and Hopkins was targeted on 24% of his routes last year. Given that Hopkins is 29, his lack of targets is mildly concerning... but emphasis on mildly.
As much as I like Rondale Moore, Christian Kirk's profile (20% TPRR, 13.6 aDOT, 90% slot rate) actually looks the most reliable. We just can't count on him to run a full slate of routes because Moore deserves playing time in the slot as well. Hopefully the Cardinals will deploy more 4WR sets in close games, but we can save that discussion for another week.
James Conner looks like a solid spot start this week, with the Cardinals likely to be way out in front. Conner played 55% of snaps in the Cardinals' blowout win over the Browns. With Chase Edmonds still dealing with a shoulder injury, this looks like an obvious spot for the Cardinals to lean on Conner. He handled 67% of backfield carries in Week 6 with just one target. It wasn't exactly an inspiring workload, but I expect him to have similar opportunity this week and he can help you get through the heavy bye weeks. Chase Edmonds will likely see less snaps unless the Cardinals have much more trouble with the Texans than expected. But he saw four targets last week, and has a 16% target share this season. He's a lower upside play than he usually is, but there are far weaker options in play this week.
Bears at Buccaneers, 4:25 PM Eastern, Sunday
Bears Implied Team Total: 17.25
In case you missed our Week 6 recap podcast, I got my hopes up when I asked about Justin Fields' six rushing attempts in Week 6. But Chris Allen let me know the hard truth: all 43 of Justin Fields' rushing yards came on scrambles. These coaches simply refuse to utilize Fields on designed rushes. It's genuinely maddening.
I hate to do this because it feels like I'm letting Matt Nagy off the hook, but at this point my baseline assumption for Fields is that he's a pocket passer with some scrambling upside, in the mold of Ryan Tannehill. It's stupid and I hate it, but this is where we are.
With that in mind, Fields' matchup this week provides some upside. Since we can't count on Fields to run, we need him to pass. The Buccaneers rank 22nd in EPA allowed per dropback and rank first in EPA allowed per rush. As a result they are a giant pass funnel. Opponents have averaged a 15% pass rate over expected against them. It would be nuts not to deploy a pass heavy game plan against Tampa Bay. Fields has yet to attempt more than 27 passes this season, so I can't completely rule out the Bears attempting a run heavy script here, but that would be nonsensical even for them.
Hopefully the Bears embrace the opportunity to pass more, because we saw some signs of life from Allen Robinson last week. Robinson was targeted on 24% of his routes with an aDOT of 27.4. He converted for just 4-for-53, but he had an elite 31% target share and a massive 68% air yard share. Darnell Mooney also had strong volume with a 31% target share and 22% air yard share. Both receivers look interesting this week, particularly Robinson. Although, playing either in DFS requires putting an uncomfortable amount of trust in the Bears' brain trust.
I've heard from team Watch The Tape that Khalil Herbert is very good. And Herbert is ranked a solid 23rd in elusive rating. But he also has an extremely poor 0.39 YPRR this season, including a 0.50 YPRR last week. If Damien Williams misses Week 7, which is looking increasingly likely, Herbert will be a strong start. He ran a route on 81% of dropbacks in Week 6 and played 89% of snaps. With Williams out, he's the only guy. But if Williams returns, I believe he will take over the majority of receiving work. I could be wrong about that, but if Williams plays Herbert looks far riskier, given a very poor rushing matchup.
Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 29.75
Tom Brady ranks fifth in EPA per play and 13th in CPOE. This week he faces a defense that ranks ninth in EPA allowed per play, but also one that the Rams and Packers had little trouble with.
The Bears rank 13th in EPA allowed per rush, so the path of least resistance is technically through the rushing game. But the Bears aren't bad enough against the run to force the Buccaneers out of their preferred game plan... and the Bucs strongly prefer the pass. Tampa Bay leads the NFL in pass rate over expected, and along with the Chiefs, are one of two teams not to have run more than expected all season.
Even still, Leonard Fournette is set up very well this week. After giving the RB dead zone its name in 2020, and nearly being cut twice in a season, Fournette delivered in the NFL playoffs and has carried that success into 2021. Fournette has a 69% snap share over the last three weeks, and PFF measures his workload as the sixth most valuable this season in terms of PRR points per game. Most importantly, Fournette appears to have locked up receiving game duties, with a 13% target share to Bernard's 5% since Week 4. Ronald Jones can always vulture a TD, but he won't be coming for the receiving work. And Bernard's role seems clearly limited to the 2-minute drill. Fournette looks like a locked in RB1 with the Buccaneers as 12.5 point favorites.
If the Bears offense can't push the Buccaneers, it could be a low volume passing day... even if Tampa Bay continues to pass more than expected. But target volume should condense dramatically with Antonio Brown out of the lineup with an ankle injury. Brown has an elite combination of 28% TPRR and a 13.4 aDOT. On a per route basis, Brown isn't far off Brandin Cooks' profile (29% TPRR, 13.2 aDOT). Brown just runs routes on 66% of dropbacks instead of Cooks' 95%—which is a massive difference, but still enough routes to significantly limit the impact of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.
Chris Godwin could bounce back here with Brown out, but he has a decent way to go. Godwin has a route on just 16% of his routes with a 9.0 aDOT, good for just a 17% target share and 17% air yard share. Mike Evans offers more upside with a 14.5 aDOT. He has been targeted less than expected as well, with a 19% TPRR and a 21% target share, but Brown's available targets would more naturally flow to Evans. Evans also has four TDs this season, which has helped make up for his lower than ideal target volume. Both receivers look like solid options this week, and Evans has WR1 upside even with risk for a low volume passing environment.
Colts at 49ers, 8:20 PM Eastern, Sunday
Colts Implied Team Total: 19.75
It looked like the wheels might fully come off for Carson Wentz, but the Colts have managed him well. Last week he finished third in EPA per play, bringing him up to 23rd on the season. This week he faces a 49ers defense than ranks 16th in EPA allowed per dropback. Wentz won't look good doing it, but he has a decent chance for another solid outing this week.
T.Y. Hilton was much more involved that I expected him to be in his return. While he only ran a route on 70% of dropbacks due to a quad injury, he was targeted on 25% of his routes with a true deep threat aDOT of 16.5. Hilton delivered an off the charts 20.0 YPT, and contributed to Wentz's efficient day in a major way. Unfortunately, Hilton missed practice Wednesday and Thursday and looks unlikely to play this week.
If Hilton misses, it'll be bad for the Colts' offense, but it could help Michael Pittman. Pittman ran a route on 96% of dropbacks in Week 6 and his playing time was unaffected by Hilton's return. But he saw a target on just 14% of his routes. Perhaps Hilton will ultimately help open things up for Pittman and help the Colts offense score more TDs. But Pittman doesn't have a ton of a lot of margin for error. He's managed 20% TPRR this season, which is decent given his 11 aDOT, but Pittman has earned targets alongside very weak target competition. Week 6 was a minor red flag for his ability to earn volume with Hilton back, and I'd prefer to play Pittman this week with Hilton inactive.
The 49ers defense also ranks 21st in EPA allowed per rush. The Colts, who lean toward the run anyway, could decide to build their offense around Jonathan Taylor this week. Taylor is having a sensational season. He ranks ninth in elusive rating, third in breakaway percentage, third in yards per route run and leads the league in NFL Next Gen's success rate. In Week 6, he ran a route on more than 45% of dropbacks for the first time this season... coming in at an impressive 61%. He only saw two targets, but he has potential for quite a bit more receiving work with that type of route workload. Taylor's main path to failure this week is if the Colts are in comeback script. But his Week 6 passing game usage at least offers hope that he will be a key factor in the offense regardless of how the game plays out.
49ers Implied Team Total: 23.75
Trey Lance (knee) looks unlikely to play in Week 7, which means Jimmy Garoppolo will be under center this week. Garoppolo ranks 14th in EPA per play this season, and should be able to move the 49ers offense against a Colts defense that ranks 20th in EPA allowed per dropback.
The big question in the passing game will be if Brandon Aiyuk's role expands after the 49ers bye week. Aiyuk ran a route on 77% of dropbacks in Week 5. That was an improvement on his 69% mark from Week 4, but still well below his high water mark of 89% in Week 3. After what Aiyuk showed last year, none of us thought we'd be wondering if Week 7 would finally be the week that he ran a full slate of routes. But it's been that kind of season.
As much as I'd love to see Aiyuk running a route on 90%+ of dropbacks this week, his targets are actually a much bigger concern. To some extent, targets can be schemed up, particularly in this offense. Per the Athletic's Matt Barrows, Aiyuk had 14 receptions on targets at or behind the line of scrimmage last season; he's had zero this year. So to some extent, Shanahan's doghouse extends beyond doling out routes, and applies to targets as well. But targets can also be earned through route running, timing and a connection with the quarterback. Aiyuk is either the last read on every route, can't get open, or isn't in sync with his quarterbacks, because he's seen a target on just 11% of his routes. Aiyuk requires a major leap of faith in lineups this week, but because he's a first round pick who flashed in a major way as a rookie, I am hopeful for a bigger role.
Regardless of Aiyuk's involvement, it seems extremely likely that Deebo Samuel will operate as the 49ers primary receiver. Samuel ranks fourth in the NFL in target share and is tied with Cooper Kupp for second in YPRR. He's having an unbelievably good season. His 11.4 YPT is bound to regress, however. If Auiyk keeps sputtering, that regression will make him a strong WR1 instead of an elite one. If Aiyuk come back to life, then Samuel will flip further, but is still likely to settle in as a high end WR2.
At running back, I'm expecting Elijah Mitchell to have a clear lead this week. In his Week 5 return from injury, Mitchell played 68% of snaps. Coming off two weeks of rest, Mitchell has the chance to operate at an elite snap share of 75%+. More likely he'll be in the 60-75% range. Unfortunately, we'd strongly prefer an elite snap share this week, because Mitchell is facing a difficult matchup. The Colts rank second in EPA allowed per rush. I feel great about Mitchell's share of the rushing offense this week. I don't feel as confident that the rushing game will be productive.
Saints at Seahawks, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday
Saints Implied Team Total: 23.5
Jameis Winston is having a legitimately good season, ranking third in EPA per play and 14th in CPOE. He even got a chance to open up the passing offense in Week 5, in a good matchup against Washington. But given this week's matchup, the Saints look likely to get right back to the run.
Seattle ranks 14th in EPA allowed per dropback and 18th in EPA allowed per rush, but the NFL has decided that you beat the Seahawks on the ground. The Seahawks are tied with the Patriots and Raiders as the second biggest run funnel this season. Meanwhile, the Saints are tied with Cleveland and for 31st in pass rate over expected. I can't see the run heavy Saints passing up an opportunity to win through the ground game this week.
At least that rushing attack will run entirely through Alvin Kamara. Kamara has 83% of snaps this season, which ranks behind only Najee Harris. And Kamara is averaging an 87% snap share since Week 4. With Tony Jones still injured, Kamara is likely to handle the full workload here.
That workload does include targets by the way. Kamara has run a route on 72% of dropbacks and has a 20% target share—the highest on the team. He's not getting the high end receiving volume we're used to, because this offense isn't passing like we're used to. But Kamara still has elite upside in a good matchup against Seattle.
Seahawks Implied Team Total: 19
Smith hasn't been that bad, to be fair. He ranks 25th in EPA per play over the last two weeks. But just because Smith has been acceptable so far doesn't mean he won't be terrible this week.
Smith played well against a Rams defense ranked 10th in EPA allowed per dropback, and didn't embarrass himself against a Steelers defense ranked 11th. But he now faces the third ranked defense in EPA allowed per dropback. The Saints are holding opposing quarterbacks to an EPA per dropback rate that is lower than what Davis Mills has delivered this season. Smith has genuine risk of a meltdown here.
That's obviously not what DK Metcalf's and Tyler Lockett's fantasy managers want to hear. Metcalf held up decently well last week with a 19% TPRR, but his aDOT dropped to 6.2, robbing him of upside. Lockett had a healthier 9.6 aDOT but had just a 14% TPRR. The Seahawks also went ultra-run heavy, finishing with a -7% pass rate over expected. The Saints have been a pass funnel this season, but it's hard to imagine Pete Carroll signing off on a pass heavy game plan with Geno Smith at the helm. Both Seahawks wide receivers need to be in lineups, but you don't have to be happy about it.
Alex Collins has played 65% of snaps over the last two weeks, but it's not certain that he'll play on Monday night. Even if he does, Rashaad Penny is expected to return. Collins has some FLEX appeal given Week 7's bye week difficulties. Even Penny has a desperation FLEX appeal. But due to the matchup and uncertainty, I'd be looking elsewhere if at all possible.
To write this article I relied on the following stats, metrics and grades.
Implied Team Totals are calculated using the lines at PointsBet.
Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).
Efficiency metric based how much a play improved a team's likelihood of scoring.
I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency, but also for defensive efficiency.
All EPA/play referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.
I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.
Completion Percentage Over Expected
QB accuracy metric
All CPOE referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.
I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.
Pass Rate over Expected
Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.
Situation Neutral Pass Rate
Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.
Situation Neutral Seconds per Play
Seconds between plays in neutral game script.
Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.
Adjusted Line Yards
Run blocking stat that has been correlated with elite fantasy running back seasons.
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
Target Share and Air Yard share
The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz
Routes run per dropback
Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run blocking snaps.
Data from Pro Football Focus
Yards Per Route Run
A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good.
This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.
It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.
It filters out in-game injury and blowouts much better than target share does.
Data from PFF
Target per Route Run
TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR.
TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.
Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.
Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.
TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I'd rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.
Expected Fantasy Points.
Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metric's that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
I am referencing PFF's metric unless otherwise stated.
A number of other PFF status including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.