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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.
Let's get to the games!
Already Played: Rams, Seahawks
Jets at Falcons, 9:30 AM eastern, Sunday
Jets Implied Team Total: 21.25
The Jets got their first win against the Titans in Week 4 and Zach Wilson was notably more efficient. Wilson came into the game ranked dead last in both EPA per play (which measures efficiency) and CPOE (which measures accuracy). In Week 4 he was up to ninth in EPA per play and 15th in CPOE.
Wilson was still Wilson. He continued to hold onto the ball for a long time, ranking second in time to throw per attempt. And he continued to be willing to throw deep, ranking 11th in deep ball rate. But the environment Wilson was operating in changed dramatically. Wilson entered Week 4 ranked second in pressure rate behind only Carson Wentz, having been pressured on 47% of his dropbacks. Against the Titans, Wilson saw the 18th highest pressure rate.
Wilson could face even less pressure against the Falcons. Atlanta rank 31st in Pro Football Focus' pass rush grades, while the Titans rank 29th. Atlanta is also worse in coverage grade, 25th to 18th. And they rank 28th in EPA allowed per dropback, with the Titans rank 27th. At the very least, Wilson should have a similar setup against the Falcons as he did against the Titans—and he has upside for an even better day.
Wilson also likely benefitted from Jamison Crowder making his debut in Week 4. Crowder ran a route on 76% of dropbacks and Wilson targeted him on an elite 32% of his routes. Crowder had an aDOT of 6.0 and should help Wilson mix in shallower, quicker throws at least a little more going forward.
Corey Davis has a 1.98 YPPR this season, which considering the state of the Jets offense for most of the year, is extremely impressive. He looks like a very solid WR3 this week in a good matchup. Keelan Cole has an even better 2.26 YPPR, but whereas Davis' YPRR is built on a strong 22% target per route run, Cole's is built on a weak, 11% TPRR and an unsustainable 20.3 yards per target. Cole is also facing a playing time squeeze from Elijah Moore this week. Even if that wasn't the case he would be a major regression candidate. Moore has a 21% TPRR and isn't a crazy dart throw this week. He has a 13.7 aDOT and his 3.7 YPT from Weeks 1-3 doesn't tell us much about what he can do if Wilson gets rolling.
Michael Carter appears to be the lead back here. Since Week 2, he leads the backfield in snap percentage. Last week he had 51% of snaps to 33% for Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman. With the Jets unlikely to spend the entire game in negative game script, Carter has a strong chance of leading in snap share once again. And unlike passing down back Ty Johnson, Carter's snaps have been leading to actual work. In 41% of the snaps this season, Carter has accounted for 43% of the Jets' rushing attempts and 8% of their targets. Johnson has a higher 47% snap share but accounts for 26% of team attempts and 7% of targets. More snaps for Carter should mean more production from this backfield.
Unfortunately, Tevin Coleman siphoned off 18% of snaps last week, which makes Carter a thinner play. But Carter can still be used as a desperation RB2 this week.
Falcons Implied Team Total: 23.75
Like Wilson, Matt Ryan had strong Week 4, finishing third in EPA per play. But unlike Wilson, he showed a bit of a different skillset than he displayed in Weeks 1-3. Ryan's aDOT jumped from a Dalton-esque 4.9 to 11.5, tied with Baker Mayfield for the third highest on the week. His newfound love of the deep ball came against a Washington secondary that ranks 29th in PFF's coverage grades, so this change was very likely matchup driven. However, he now gets a Jets defense ranked 26th in PFF's coverage grades, so it's possible he repeats his success downfield.
With Calvin Ridley missing this game du to a personal issue, and with Russell Gage still out, it seems almost impossible that the Falcons don't feed Kyle Pitts this week—which means it's probably an Olamide Zaccheaus blowup spot. Zaccheaus is a fine dart throw, but man, if the thesis of Pitts being a wide receiver with tight end eligibility is going to play out, it should play out here in a good matchup and with Atlanta's top two wide receivers out of the game. Pitts has played 47% of his snaps from the slot and has an aDOT of 8.8, so I doubt we see him in a true outside wide receiver role. But his 17% TPRR should improve this week. Pitts has been decently efficient when targeted, so it's really a matter of needing more target volume. Meanwhile, the Falcons will likely need to find a different player to take the top off the defense.
Shockingly, Cordarrelle Patterson was that player in Week 4. The running back racked up 55 air yards was targeted on a ridiculous 42% of his routes. Last week I wrote that Patterson's role was unsustainable. He was likely to either see his role increase or his opportunity per snap decrease. Arthur Smith shot me the double bird and made Cordarrelle the engine of his offense while playing Patterson even less. Patterson saw his his snaps decline from 36% to 31%, and saw his fewest routes since Week 1, yet Patterson finished with his highest WOPR since the 2018 season.
Patterson's target share did decrease slightly in Week 4, as did his share of rushing attempts. It's just he was targeted like a running back in Weeks 1-3, and in Week 4 he was targeted like a wide receiver with an aDOT of 11. His production remains unsustainable unless his role increases. At this point though, it's bizarre that he's still seeing just a third of snaps.
Mike Davis has a had a very healthy snap share, which is generally what drives running back value. Although, we need to know who's going to get snaps, not just who got them in the past. Davis has had a clear lead in snap share so far, 67% to Patterson's 35%. But Davis has been extremely ineffective this season. Out of 46 qualifying running backs, Davis ranks dead last in NFL Next Gen's rushing success rate. That's not necessarily the end of the world, Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones and D'Andre Swift rank 43-45. But while those running backs might not be consistently delivering rushing value, they are all excellent receivers, posting YPRRs of 2.91, 1.59 and 1.81. Davis has a brutal YPRR of 0.75. Davis also adds nothing as a breakaway runner. He has yet to break a 15+ yard run this season after ranking RB53 in breakaway percentage in 2020.
Considering that Davis generated just 14 rushing yards on 13 attempts last week, his lead back role can't be taken for granted. There's also another back on the roster who was a much stronger rusher last season, once context is factored in: Wayne Gallman.
Gallman was active in Week 4, playing 13% of snaps. Per Ben Gretch, four of his carries came during a key series and Gallman produced 29 yards on his six attempts. I wouldn't be shocked if we see a changing of the guard in London.
Lions at Vikings, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Lions Implied Team Total: 19.5
Dan Campbell promised more D'Andre Swift this week, and technically... he delivered. Swift tied his career high with a 73% snap share, which was a significant jump from his 63% snap share entering Week 4.
It didn't feel like a bigger role for Swift however, because Jamaal Williams was able to get 14 carries as the clear early down rusher. The concern this week is that the Vikings could follow the same script as the Bears: controlling the game on the ground while hitting big plays through the air. If so, the Lions could follow suit and attack the Vikings' 29th ranked defense in EPA allowed per rush, rather than relying on Goff against the 15th ranked defense in EPA allowed per dropback. That approach is likely to involve a lot of Jamaal Williams, who has split backfield attempts evenly with Swift this season.
Swift still has paths to upside. If the Vikings get out to an early lead, or run less than expected, Swift can deliver high end value with a role that includes receiving and goal line work. Swift has an 18% target share this season. And even in his disappointing Week 4, he saw a carry inside the 10 and was targeted in the end zone. Even if he has another uninspiring week, be patient with Swift—he closes October with the Rams and Eagles.
Remain patient with T.J. Hockenson as well... assuming he's able to play through his knee injury this week. Only Darren Waller has run a route on a higher percentage of dropbacks than Hockenson (87%). Hockenson, Waller (91%), Travis Kelce (86%), Mark Andrews (86%) and Kyle Pitts (81%) are the only tight ends at 80%+ this season. Hockenson is TE6 in target share and TE6 in targets per route run. He hasn't fully capitalized on his route opportunity, but his high route percentage creates a very high ceiling. Like Swift, this matchup presents risk of a low volume passing attack. But with the Lions as 10 point underdogs, it's easy enough to imagine them passing quite a bit in this game. Keep a close eye on Hockenson's status heading up to kickoff.
Vikings Implied Team Total: 29.5
Dalvin Cook was eased back in Week 4, and the Vikings probably won't need to push Cook as 10 points favorites this week. But if Cook is healthy enough he could be in for a huge week against a Lions defense ranked 24th in EPA allowed per rush. The Lions also rank dead last in EPA allowed per dropback and EPA allowed per play, so teams can truly pick how they would like to beat them. It seems likely that Zimmer will choose to beat the Lions on the ground, even if he has to do so with Alexander Mattison. The main question is if Cook will be active, and if so, how the running back workload will be split.
If the Vikings ease off Cook by passing in a strong matchup, or more surprisingly, are pushed by Detroit, Cousins is set up for a nice game here. In addition to being ranked last in EPA allowed per dropback, the Lions are last in the NFL in PFF's coverage grades. It's tough to see how Cousins is fully unleashed in this one, but he should be able to deliver value for at least one of his receivers.
My money will continue to be on Justin Jefferson as that receiver. Jefferson has been targeted on 22% of his routes this season with an aDOT of 11.4. He's delivered a strong yet sustainable 9.4 YPT, with 2.1 YPRR this season. Adam Thielen continues to be very TD dependent with 1.39 YPRR, seeing a target on 18% of his routes on a much lower 8.6 aDOT. Thielen can easily make his week on a TD, but Jefferson has a clear opportunity edge here.
I'm ready to declare Tyler Conklin the third receiver in this offense. The tight end has run just five fewer routes than K.J. Osborn over the last three weeks, including running two more routes than Osborn in Week 4. And although Conklin has a very shallow aDOT of 3.5 this season, he has been targeted on 20% of his routes. Osborn has a healthier aDOT of 7.5, but has only been targeted on 15% of his routes. It's close, but I think Conklin is a bit more trustworthy, and of course comes with the massive advantage of TE designation.
Saints at Washington, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Saints Implied Team Total: 23
Jameis Winston is third in EPA per play this season behind only Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford. He now faces a Washington defense that ranks 29th in PFF's coverage grades. Washington has PFF's second graded pass rush, but opposing quarterbacks have been picking them apart anyway—they rank 30th in EPA allowed per dropback. Washington has faced Justin Herbert and Josh Allen, but they've also facilitated big days for Daniel Jones and Matt Ryan. The only thing stopping Winston from a big game this week is passing volume.
New Orleans ranks last in the league in pass rate over expected. The gap between the Saints and the 27th ranked Vikings is equal to the gap between the Vikings and the 13th ranked Bills. New Orleans also ranks 30th in situation neutral pace. Considering they finished 28th last season, there's little reason to expect them to speed up. Winton has a strong chance to be highly efficient this week, but due to volume constraints he's unlikely to support more than one or two receivers.
Guessing Winton's target of choice this week is likely a fool's errand, but I'll take a shot at it anyway: Deonte Harris. Harris has run just three fewer routes than Marquez Callaway over the last two weeks. And despite having the exact same 13.6 aDOT as Callaway, Harris has seen a target on 22% of his routes compared to 16% for Callaway. I'll probably stop myself from using my big ol' galaxy brain to run a Winston/Harris skinny stack in small field GPPs this week, but I'm definitely intrigued by it.
Of course, for every other type of fantasy football the only player we really care about here is Alvin Kamara. With Tony Jones being carted off in Week 4 with an ankle injury, Kamara had an absolutely elite 87% snap share. He's now up an 82% snap share this season, third behind only Najee Harris' 93% and Darrell Henderson's 84% (through Week 4)
Kamara bizarrely wasn't targeted in Week 4.
But like Austin Ekeler's zero target Week 1, I'm tossing this result out. We can't count on much in this world, but we can count on Alvin Kamara to be used as a receiver the vast majority of weeks. Kamara has a run a route on 72% of dropbacks, which ranks third among running backs this season (again behind Harris and Henderson). Kamara's 16% target share ranks behind only Harris, D'Andre Swift, Chase Edmonds and Christian McCaffrey among running backs. I recognize that Kamara's receiving role isn't as secure as it once was, due to the nature of the Saints' extremely low passing volume. But as frustrated as I am by Week 4's lack of targets (and by Taysom Hill's goal usage), Kamara's previous target volume wasn't just driven by the offense around him. It was also driven by the type of player he is: an elite receiving weapon out of the backfield. I'm keeping the faith.
Washington Implied Team Total: 20.5
After Washington lost Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1, I compared Taylor Heinicke's play to Mitch Trubisky's. At the time, that was meant to be a positive comp, communicating optimism that Washington's offense would retain fantasy value. It seems that I wasn't optimistic enough.
Heinicke took full advantage of a good matchup and led all quarterbacks in EPA per play against the Falcons. He was also highly accurate, finishing 11th in CPOE. And he showed a willingness to throw deep with the third highest deep ball rate. Heinicke also finished second on the week in rushing yards among quarterbacks. Week 4 was by far Heinicke's best showing, but he's shown a nice mix of accuracy, deep ball ability and mobility this season, and ranks 11th in EPA per play between Russell Wilson and Daniel Jones through Week 4.
Washington hasn't been featuring Heinicke as a passer, but they haven't been hiding him either. Since Week 2, Washington has a pass rate over expected of 0%—in line with Denver's 19th ranked rate this season. Even better, Washington ranks second in situation neutral pass rate since Week 2. They may not fully trust Heinicke in all situations, but like the Patriots (who rank first in situation neutral pass rate), they're setting up their quarterback for success as much as possible. Washington has also been willing to push the tempo, ranking sixth in situation neutral seconds per play.
This week is likely to be a step back for Heinicke, however. The Saints' defense ranks fifth in EPA allowed per dropback, sixth in EPA allowed per rush and second in EPA allowed per play. This week we're more likely to get the version of Heinicke we saw against the top ranked Bills defense, than the version who took advantage of an exploitable Falcons defense. Still, Henicke's versatile ability and Washington's intelligent deployment of him should help deliver receiving value this week.
Terry McLaurin has been targeted on 26% of his routes with an aDOT of 11.8. He has an elite YPRR of 2.46, and given his underlying usage, that appears to be sustainable. One nice thing about his elite per route efficiency is that he runs every route. The third-year star has missed exactly one route in four games this season. McLaurin is as locked in as it gets.
A slew of injuries to Logan Thomas (on injured reserve with a hamstring pull), Dyami Brown (out for Week 5 with a knee injury) and Cam Sims (out for Week 5 with a hamstring pull) will likely open up opportunity for Curtis Samuel and Ricky Seals-Jones this week. Seals-Jones ran a route on 82% of dropbacks in Week 4, and is likely to be an every down player against the Saints. He shapes up as a solid dart throw option this week. Samuel ran a route on 34% of dropbacks in his Washington debut. Three's a good chance he's at 60%+ this week. With a target on 31% of his routes he should have a nice mix of designed touches as well as downfield opportunities.
Antonio Gibson missed some time in Week 4 with a ribs injury and is questionable this week with a shin injury that we now know is a stress fracture. He'll be playing through injury all season... as a best case scenario.
Per Dwain McFarland, he also continues to lose work in 2-minute and long down and distance situations to J.D. McKissic. But despite his limited role, Gibson is involved as a receiver. He's seen a target on 17% of his routes, which is tied with Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara. He's just running routes at a Josh Jacobs-ian 43% of dropbacks instead of the 66% and 72% rates that Barkley and Kamara are at this season. Gibson remains a solid starting option, but it's hard to get excited about his upside this week at less than full health and in a game that could get away from Washington if the Saints open up the passing game.
Patriots at Texans, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Patriots Implied Team Total: 24.25
No team has been more pass heavy in neutral game script that the Patriots, and only the Bills, Giants and Eagles have a higher pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10. I highlighted the Patriots' intelligent usage of Jones after Week 2, pointing out the Patriots were using Jones heavily in +EV passing situations, which then gave them the flexibility to use him less overall—rather than endlessly passing from behind like the mismanaged Jaguars.
Jones is now coming off a game against the Buccaneers pass funnel defense where he passed 23% over expected. The Patriots are clearly willing to lean on him when the opportunity arises. They're also not trying to hide him by playing slow. The Patriots rank 12th in situation neutral pace. They're not blazingly fast, but in good matchups there's actually some value in this passing game.
This week, even if the Patriots remain pass heavy in neutral script, they could be quite run heavy overall, because they probably won't have a ton of neutral game script this week. Even if the nine point road favorites let the Texans hang around, the path of least resistance is through the running game. The Texans rank a respectable 12th in EPA allowed per dropback and a lowly 31st in EPA allowed per rush.
Damien Harris has never had control of the Patriots backfield like he does right now. Harris averaged a 39% snap share in 2020. Through Week 3, he averaged a 42% snap share. In James White's first missed game, his snap share jumped to 61%. With J.J. Taylor failing spectacularly in his audition for the James White role, it's possible that Rhamondre Stevenson is active and involved this week in a way that Taylor (7% snap share) was not. But Stevenson has been a healthy scratch since fumbling in Week 1 and is unlikely to have a big role this week even if active. Harris has a strong chance to play 50%+ of snaps and could easily top his career high 64% snap share if the Patriots roll here as expected.
All Patriots receivers look like weak plays with passing volume likely to be quite low. Jakobi Meyer's 24% target per route run makes him the best option.
Texans Implied Team Total: 15.25
Last week I called Davis Mills' matchup with the Bills defense "unfair" but I didn't think it would this bad:
Mills does not get a reprieve in Week 5, facing a Patriots defense that ranks fourth in EPA allowed per dropback. The best I can say for Mills here is that Bill Belichick probably won't bother wasting any of his best stuff against him.
Brandin Cooks came out Houston's disastrous Week 4 shutout with a 1.96 YPRR, which makes him borderline superhuman. Cooks has been targeted on 32% of his routes this season and has an impressive 9.7 YPT for an elite 3.08 YPRR. Belichick won't have to think very had to identify the piece of the Texans' offense he needs to take away. He could still have trouble completely doing it given how committed Houston is to feeding Cooks.
Rex Burkhead is getting snaps. That was the most efficient way I could think of to communicate how gross this backfield is.
Dolphins at Buccaneers, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Dolphins Implied Team Total: 19
The Dolphins refuse to run play action with Jacoby Brissett. In their defense, their running game has been terrible, so they may not feel there's any point in faking it. But Ben Baldwin has found that the effectiveness of play action is actually "unrelated to the frequency or effectiveness of the team's rushing." Play action works because defenses are not willing to be run on. Linebackers don't stop aggressively defending the run, even if they've effectively stopped the run to that point.
It was nice to find out this week that this isn't purely a football nerd talking point.
Clearly, some coaches agree that you can play action without establishing the run. But the Dolphins' coaches aren't on board. Brissett ranked 32nd in play action rate in Week 4 and ranks 31st on the season. Tua Tagovailoa's 37% play action rate this season trails only Lamar Jackson's, so it's not like the Dolphins haven't heard about the idea of play fakes. They just don't appear to be willing to fake the run unless they can actually run (like they were able to in Week 1).
The combination of Brissett's deployment and his own play has been disastrous. He ranks 31st in EPA per play, ahead of only Zach Wilson and Davis Mills this season. Yet this week, the Dolphins really have no choice this week but to lean on Brissett.
The Buccaneers rank first in EPA allowed per rush; they rank 31st in EPA allowed per dropback. They've suffered so many injuries in their secondary that Richard Sherman might literally be their top cornerback, despite signing with the team last Wednesday. Opposing offenses are well aware of the matchup that Tampa Bay presents. The Buccaneers have seen an average pass rate over expected of 16% this season, which is a true outlier. The third ranked Falcons defense in PROE against is as close to the last place Seahawks as they are to the Buccaneers.
If the Dolphins follow the established game plan for the Tampa Bay defense, perhaps passing volume can help make up for Brissett's inefficiency. If so, DeVante Parker is mildly interesting, assuming he's not expected to be limited by his hamstring injury. Parker has 1.57 YPRR this season with an aDOT of 14.5. With Will Fuller on injured reserve, Parker should have a good chance to rack up air yards this week.
Jaylen Waddle continues to be used very shallowly, with an aDOT of 4.3 last week and a 3.8 aDOT on the season. Still, he's been targeted on 19% of his routes. With a route on 86% of dropbacks he's also more of a full time player than expected as a rookie.
Mike Gesicki leads the Dolphins in targets per route run with 23%. He's only run a route on 69% of dropbacks this year, which is tied with Jared Cook and Evan Engram. He's not a part time player, but he's also well below the elite tight end options. Perhaps in a pass heavy environment, his routes tick up a bit. If so, he looks like a decent tight end start this week.
When looking at the Dolphins rushing game, it's easier to understand why they're not even bothering to fake the run. Malcolm Brown had a 2.9 YPC against a beatable Colts defense—and that was the best the Dolphins could do. Myles Gaskin managed three yards on two carries, Salvon Ahmed managed a single yard on three carries. Brown ranks RB26 in NFL Next Gen's success rate and Gaskin ranks RB27. Brown ranks RB82 in YPRR and Gaskin ranks RB57. It's bad.
Brown appeared to take over the backfield in Week 4 with 67% of snaps to 23% for Gaskin, but with as bad as the backfield has been, and as bad as this matchup is, both players are stay-aways here.
Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 29
Tom Brady is coming off his worst game of the season But nothing has changed here statistically. Brady remains moderately efficient, ranking 16th in EPA per play. And the Buccaneers are continuing to push that small advantage with high passing volume. Tampa Bay leads the league in pass rate over expected and are passing more than expected in nearly every situation.
The Buccaneers are also pressing their advantage by playing fast. They rank fourth in situation neutral seconds per play this season, behind only the Rams, Bills and Eagles. With strong passing volume and pace, Brady should be able to bounce back this week against a Dolphins defense ranked 14th in EPA allowed per dropback.
With Rob Gronkowski out again this week, Tampa Bay's passing tree will be more condensed. Cameron Brate has taken over Gronkowski's role and is decently involved. He ran a route on 69% of dropbacks last week, a perfect tribute to Gronk, and very comparable to the starter's role prior to injury. He saw a lower target rate however, with a 19% TPRR compared to Gronkowski's 24%. It's a one game sample, but there should be at least a few additional targets freed up by Gronkowski's absence.
Last week Antonio Brown benefitted from additional target volume, seeing a target on 38% of his routes for a 28% target share. Brown only ran a route on 64% of dropbacks and is at 64% for the season. His limited role caps his upside, but with a target on 24% of his routes this season, he'll consistently be involved.
Chris Godwin (97%) and Mike Evans (89%) are running routes at a much higher rate, but both players have had trouble consistently producing. Evans has an aDOT of 13.3 and has earned a target on a strong 21% of his routes. His 7.6 YPT could regress positively.
Godwin's profile is a bit more concerning. He's only been targeted on 15% of his routes, despite a much shallower 9.9 aDOT. He's been efficient when targeted with 9.9 YPT, but his target rate is definitely a concern. But with 68% of his routes coming from the slot, he could benefit from Gronkowski's absence this week.
This is Leonard Fournette's backfield. Fournette played 82% of snaps in Week 4 and ran a route on 82% of dropbacks. Fournette isn't terrible as a receiver. His 1.24 YPRR ranks RB23 and he's RB5 in targets. He's been rough as a rusher though, ranking RB36 in NFL Next Gen's success rate, RB35 in elusive rating and RB37 in breakaway percentage. But if Fournette is going to get 80%+ of snaps in a blowout win, none of that matters. He's a solid play this week as a bet on volume.
Packers at Bengals, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Packers Implied Team Total: 26.75
Following his disastrous Week 1, Aaron Rodgers's play has been stellar. Over the last three weeks Rodgers ranks first in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE. He's fifth in EPA per play this season and 11th in CPOE.
This week he gets a solid but untested Bengals defense. The Bengals rank 11th in EPA allowed per dropback, but have faced Kirk Cousins, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger and Trevor Lawrence. Rodgers should have no trouble playing efficiently this week.
The issue, as usual with the Packers, is pace. As Pat Thorman notes, the Packers were faster paced last week than they normally are, but it's tough to trust that going forward. Thorman also notes that the Bengals were slightly faster last week than they were to open the season. The bar is low though. Only the Colts have taken more time being situation neutral plays than the Bengals. With both teams having major red flags in terms of pace of play, this game could have disappointingly little volume in what otherwise looks like a sneaky great matchup for Rodgers.
Efficiency is all Davante Adams needs to get going. If the game surprises in terms of volume, he could explode. Adams had a down week against the Steelers, going 6-for-64 on 11 targets. The fact that Adams' down week still came with and elite 28% TPRR and a 33% target share shows you just how high his ceiling is. Adams is second in the league in WOPR and he leads the league in targets per route run. He has only one TD this season and a middling 8.3 YPT, which is the only thing keeping him from wrecking fantasy leagues (in a good way). Some massive weeks are coming, and I expect this to be one of them.
Randall Cobb scored twice last week with Marquez Valdes-Scantling on injured reserve, but Cobb only ran a route on 63% of dropbacks. He'll likely need a voluminous environment to deliver fantasy value again this week. Robert Tonyan might be the bigger long term beneficiary of Valdes-Scantling's absence. Tonyan ran a season high 33 routes with a season high rate of 83%. He has just a 5.7 YPT this year and a weak 13% TPRR, so he's hardly a slam dunk. But I'd prefer to gamble on a tight end, rather than play any secondary wide receivers here.
Aaron Jones is having a very strong fantasy season, but it's been highly touchdown driven. Jones has three receiving TDs this season, but he's only run a route on 55% of dropbacks, with a good-not-great 11% target share. He's also scored two rushing TDs, but ranks RB44 in NFL Next Gen's success rate, RB40 in breakaway percentage and RB46 in elusive rating.
From our fantasy viewpoint, it feels bizarre that the Packers gave A.J. Dillon 40% of the snaps last week. But given Jones' rushing inefficiency, it's actually not shocking that the Packers mixed in another back. Now... as Ben Gretch notes, Dillon was used in a "salt the game away" role. Dillon isn't going challenge Jones for the lead role here. My point is that Jones' five TDs have skewed our perception of him. He's a very good receiving back with a sub-elite workload. He's also a very good rusher who's in a slump. Jones will need to get back to his 2020 form when he finished sixth in success rate, 12th in breakaway percentage and seventh in elusive rating to make up for a likely dip in TD production and potentially some lost rushing work in positive game scripts, like the Packers are expected to have this week.
Bengals Implied Team Total: 23.75
Joe Burrow has been quietly excellent this season. He ranks eighth in EPA per play and fourth in CPOE. The reason he hasn't been a fantasy star this year is because he ranks 29th in pass attempts.
Last week offered some signs for optimism though. In addition to being slightly faster in Week 4, the Bengals were also more pass heavy. Actually, a better way to put it, is that they were less run heavy. Over the first three weeks the Bengals were -14%, -4% and -11% in pass rate over expected. They were at 0% against the Jaguars.
The Bengals still seem intent on being overly protective of Burrow. They had a pass rate over expected of -7% on 1st-and-10 in Week 4 and are at -9% on the season. Only the Titans, Browns and Falcons favor 1st down runs more than the Bengals. Still, in a competitive game against the Jaguars, the Bengals were, for the first time, passing as expected.
With Joe Mixon looking likely to miss Week 5, the Bengals could decide to attack the Packers through the air, taking advantage of the 25th ranked defense in EPA allowed per dropback. I don't actually trust them to do this, because they seem to have a conservative plan in place for Burrow. But if they open things up this week, Burrow has potential for a big game.
Unfortunately for Burrow's fantasy managers, the Bengals may not need their starting running back to run effectively here. The Packers have the 26th ranked defense in EPA allowed per rush. And Samaje Perine, who is likely to lead the backfield this week, played well in limited action last season. Perine finished RB21 in breakaway percentage, and RB4 in elusive rating. Perine doesn't offer much as a receiver, finishing RB72 in YPRR last year, which will likely mean a passing down role for rookie Chris Evans. Neither back is as versatile as Mixon, but the combination of Perine and Evans should allow the Bengals to operate a low volume passing attack, if that remains their preference.
There is one reason we could see more passing this week: Tee Higgins is expected to return. Higgins has been targeted on very strong 26% of his routes this season with a classic No. 1 aDOT of 10. His 2.07 YPRR is a both an elite mark for a second-year wide receiver, and the third highest YPRR on the team.
Tyler Boyd is second on the team with a 2.44 YPRR. He has a shallow 6.3 aDOT but his 27% TPRR makes up for it. Boyd is playing 91% of his snaps in the slot and would be a huge beneficiary from increased passing volume. His role sets him up to be a PPR dynamo if the Bengals lean on Burrow.
Ja'Marr Chase's profile is even more exciting. He leads the team with a 2.65 YPRR. Part of that is driven by an unsustainable 11.9 YPT. Chase has run hot on deep throws and he's likely to be less efficient on his targets going forward. But that regression can be easily made up for by additional passing volume. Chase has a pure deep threat aDOT of 16.2 and has seen a target on 22% of his routes. His role will make for disappointing weeks, but if this game hits the over, Chase could hit in a huge way for fantasy managers.
C.J. Uzomah has been targeted on just 12% of his routes this season, and if Higgins is active he makes a very thin dart throw, despite coming off a career game.
Broncos at Steelers, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Broncos Implied Team Total: 20.5
Bridgewater ranks 6th in EPA per play, in between Aaron Rodgers and Sam Darnold. He ranks sixth in CPOE, just behind Dak Prescott. Bridgewater has been highly competent this season. Drew Lock was a number of things on Sunday; highly competent was not one of them. In fairness, Lock wasn't the worst quarterback in the league, but that's only because Davis Mills exists. Lock ranked 31st in EPA per play in Week 4 and 30th in CPOE. I'll say this for Lock, he's willing to chuck it. Lock dropped back 24 times against Baltimore and attempted five passes of 20+ yards. That's the highest deep ball rate of any quarterback this season. But Lock's confidence in throwing deep is entirely unearned. He ranks dead least in adjusted completion percentage on deep balls.
If Bridgewater unexpectedly misses this game, I'm avoiding this entire offense, but even Bridgwater could struggle this week. Pittsburgh's defense ranks 22nd in EPA allowed per dropback, so it's theoretically beatable. But the Steelers earned that ranking by playing against Josh Allen, Derek Carr, Joe Burrow and Aaron Rodgers. They're licking their chops at the prospect of facing Lock, and could easily limit Bridgewater.
Even with Bridgewater under center, the Broncos are also likely to limit play volume. Denver ranks 29th in situation neutral pace. They're running considerably slower than last year when they ranked 10th in situation neutral pace. Bridgewater's Panthers were 29th in situation neutral pace, so I'm not expecting Broncos to speed up a ton this year.
Courtland Sutton should benefit from Bridgewater's return. Sutton had a 2.28 YPRR entering Week 4. He posted a very poor 1.12 YPRR against the Ravens. He still saw volume, earning a target on 19% of his routes despite a super deep 21 aDOT. But his 49% air yard share led to just 47 receiving yards and 5.9 YPT. He could be in for a much stronger week with better quarterback play. Although, Sutton is questionable with an ankle injury so his status needs to be monitored.
Tim Patrick is locked in as the No. 2 wide receiver here, running a route on 91% of dropbacks in Week 4. But I'm much more interested in Noah Fant. Fant has earned a target on 23% of his routes—an elite mark for a tight end. And he's coming off a season high 41 routes and 86% route rate. He looks like a good bet to out-target Patrick, and obviously has the huge fantasy edge of being a tight end. Fant's only issue has been a poor 6.0 YPT. Entering the season, Fant had a strong 8.3 YPT. He's now running routes and seeing targets at an elite rate. Betting on the talented third-year athlete's YPT to increase is a slam dunk.
Melvin Gordon has a 53% snap share to 45% for Javonte Williams, and the backfield looks likely to remain an even split this week. Melvin Gordon has been better as a receiver with 1.19 YPRR to Williams' 0.98 and he's run a route on 48% of dropbacks to Williams' 34%. Both players can fill in as RB2s, but neither is particularly exciting this week.
Steelers Implied Team Total: 19
Roethlisberger remains terrible as a deep passer. He's 23rd in deep ball rate and 30th in adjusted completion percentage on deep throws. His inaccuracy isn't limited to deep throws either. Roethlisberger ranks 30th in CPOE this season.
Not being able to throw deep and being highly inaccurate is a disastrous combination, so it shouldn't be a surprise that Roethlisberger has fallen to 31st in EPA per play. Still, it's downright embarrassing to see him in the bottom left corner of Ben Baldwin's passing chart, hanging out with rookies, backups and Wentz's.
Roethlisberger is unlikely to reverse course against the Broncos. Denver ranks seventh in EPA allowed per dropback and sixth in PFF's coverage grades.
Poor quarterback play has severely limited this passing game. James Washington leads the team with a 7.6 YPT. Diontae Johnson is still managing a strong 2.12 YPRR, but he's done so only because he has an elite 32% TPRR. Normally that kind of target rate with a poor 6.7 YPT would be a buy signal, but it's a little tougher to get on board here with Chase Claypool returning this week, and with inefficiency baked in due to the quarterback play.
Claypool has also done his best to remain efficient despite Roethlisberger's implosion. The second-year wide receiver has earned a target on 24% of his routes with an aDOT of 12.4. He trails Johnson 33% to 22% in target share but has nearly matched him in air yard share, 40% to 39%. He can theoretically make his day on a few big plays, but those have been few and far between.
JuJu Smith-Schuster got his wish to play less in the slot this season, seeing 76% of his snaps in the slot, down from 85% last year. But he's running fewer routes overall. Smith-Schuster used to be a near every down player, but his route rate is down to 76% this season. He's earned a target on just 17% of his routes at a shallow 6.7 aDOT. He looks like a low probability bet this week with Claypool back.
Najee Harris continues to see enormous fantasy value. PFF measured his workload at 20.2 points last week and he's averaged 23 expected points this season, behind only Derrick Henry's 23.3. Harris did see his snaps dip to 80% in Week 4, with Benny Snell mixing for 13%. And he saw his routes per dropback drop to 64%, which is the first time he's been below 80% this season. I still expect Harris to see a ton of opportunity this week, but it's worth noting that his workload might just be very big instead of league leading. Given his inefficiency, that could hurt. Harris is RB39 in success rate, RB28 in breakaway percentage and RB26 in YPRR. The silver lining is that Harris' inefficiency is likely much more related to his surroundings than indicative of his skill. In addition to having very weak quarterback play, the Steelers rank 32nd in adjusted line yards. Bad quarterback play and bad run blocking is not a great combo for a running back. To Harris' credit he ranks RB4 in elusive rating and could have a big day despite it all, but his most likely outcome is to fall short on a big workload.
Eagles at Panthers, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Eagles Implied Team Total: 21.25
The Eagles rank sixth in situation neutral pass rate, and second in pass rate over expected. They're a pass heavy team in general... but when they get down they're willing to completely abandon the run. This has been great news for Jalen Hurts' fantasy managers. Hurts ranks 12th in pass attempts and leads the NFL in both scrambles (19) and scramble yards (150). He has an additional 15 designed runs for 76 yards, and ranks behind only Lamar Jackson in quarterback rushing yards.
Hurts faces a Panthers defense ranked second in EPA allowed per dropback and sixth in EPA allowed per rush. Although, the Panthers may have been exposed as a paper tiger last week. They ranked 31st in EPA allowed per dropback and 29th in EPA allowed per rush in their Week 4 loss to the Cowboys. The Eagles won't be able to move the ball as easily on Carolina as the Cowboys did, but the Panthers don't appear to be a shutdown defense either.
The Eagles' wide receivers are also benefitting from unexpected pass volume, particularly DeVonta Smith. Smith popped off in Week 4 with 7-for-122 on 10 targets against the Chiefs. His big day was really just a case of him running hot on his deep targets. Smith has an aDOT of 15.8 this season and has been targeted on 18% of his routes, while running a route on 93% of his dropbacks. As a true deep threat, he's liable to disappoint a fair amount, but his role sets him up for additional spike weeks.
It doesn't appear to be happening for Jalen Reagor. He only ran a route on 68% of routes in Week 4, forming a committee with Quez Watkins (60%) for the No. 2 receiver role with Greg Ward mixing in for 33% of dropbacks. Reagor has a solid 9.1 aDOT but has been targeted on just 15% of his routes. That's unideal for a tight end... it's bad for a wide receiver. It's not over for Reagor, Chris Godwin has a very similar profile this year—the season is young. But Reagor is also seeing similar underlying usage to Mecole Hardman and K.J. Osborn, which are probably better indicators of what he's likely to do this week.
At tight end, Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz are cannibalizing each other's route volume. Ertz is up to a 1.55 YPRR, which is out of the benching zone, so I don't expect either player's role to shift this week. Both players look like TD or bust options.
We tilted Twitter by asking the question.
My answer to this was that I expected Miles Sander to outscore Kenny Gainwell the rest of the way... but that Gainwell is the easier weekly start. The vast majority of the Eagles' fantasy value is coming through the passing game. Gainwell has an 11% target share to Sanders' 9% and has a 2.07 YPRR to his 1.18. Miles Sanders still has a significant lead in routes, running a route on 51% of dropbacks to Gainwell's 31%. But Gainwell is coming off a season high 21 routes and 37% route rate. He could eat further into Sanders' receiving role this week.
Sanders leads in snaps 64% to 35% and has 41% of Philadelphia's rushing attempts to Gainwell's 21%. Sanders is far more likely to rack up rushing yards, but with the Eagles likely to pass aggressively once again, Sanders' path to value is increasingly risky—even if Gainwell's role doesn't grow.
Panthers Implied Team Total: 24.25
Sam Darnold continues to impress, and somehow he's now doing it as a rusher. Darnold has 17 designed rush attempts, which is second only to Lamar Jackson's 28. He's averaged a total of 2.1 YPC on his 21 attempts, so he's not exactly a true dual threat, but Darnold's five rushing TDs lead all quarterbacks. Darnold is also continuing to succeed as a passer, ranking seventh in EPA per play and 13th in CPOE.
This week he faces an Eagles defense ranked 24th in EPA allowed per dropback and 23rd in PFF's coverage grades. Darnold shouldn't have much trouble supporting his favorite receiver.
D.J. Moore is having an incredible season. Moore is running a route on 92% of dropbacks, with a target on 29% of his routes and an elite 2.71 YPRR. His YPT of 9.5 is good, but also sustainable and with an aDOT of 10.1 he's operating as a classic No. 1 wide receiver. If Darnold keeps playing well, Moore will continue to smash. He's set up for another big week in a good matchup with the Eagles.
Robby Anderson is still the No. 2 receiver in Carolina. He's in the Reagor-zone with a 15% TPRR, but Anderson's low target rate makes a lot more sense because he's operating as a true deep threat with a 15.5 aDOT. Anderson is a risky option, but he could deliver his first strong game of the season if the Panthers fully exploit the passing game matchup.
The Panthers may opt to play things a bit more conservatively, however. The Eagles defense is also quite poor against the run, ranking 30th in EPA allowed per rush and 30th in PFF's rush defense grades. Even with Christian McCaffrey doubtful for this game, the Panthers could take the air out of the Eagles' passing attack by leaning on a Chuba Hubbard led committee.
Titans at Jaguars, 1PM eastern, Sunday
Titans Implied Team Total: 26.5
I am not a Todd Downing whisperer. But in fairness to me, I've never lost a game to the Jets.
Against the Jets, Derrick Henry rushed 33 times for 157 yards and a TD. Downing must have used this rushing success to run play action at a high rate then, right? All of the team's wide receivers were hurt and his quarterback thrives on play action, so obviously he didn't go extremely run heavy but then not play action, right?
Todd Downing, man of mystery, delivered a game plan that had the Titans pass 9% below expected in Week 4, the third most run heavy attack of the week. Then he ran play action at the 24th highest rate. In Weeks 2-3 while running play action at the league's third highest rate, Tannehill was 13th in EPA per play. Against the Jets, he was 22nd in EPA per play.
Look, I get that Tannehill's efficiency was a lock to be lower without A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, but he was also playing a Jets defense ranked 23rd in EPA allowed per dropback heading into Week 4. The game plan was not optimal.
This week the Titans get a Jaguars defense ranked 31st in EPA allowed per dropback and 28th in EPA allowed per rush. The Titans should be able to have their way. That way, as we know, starts and sometimes ends with Derrick Henry. Henry has 113 rushing attempts this season. He has more than twice as many rushing attempts as Najee Harris. He has one less rush attempt than D'Andre Swift had in 13 games last season. His usage is nuts. We can count on Downing to order up a cornucopia of Henry carries once again.
Henry's targets are less certain. He's seen five targets over the last two weeks after nine in the first two weeks of the season. Henry is still going to have more passing game work than expected, but Jeremy McNichols is preventing him from going completely nuclear. McNichols had 10 targets against the Jets and delivered an elite 2.31 YPRR while running a route on a season high 56% of dropbacks. If you're fading Henry as GPP chalk, or faded him in season long because you wrote a three-part running backs series about why people should fade him, then McNichols' role offers hope.
A.J. Brown is likely to to play this week and his presence should be a big boost to the passing game. Brown hasn't gotten going this season, but that's due to a poor 5.1 YPT. He's been targeted on 21% of his routes with an aDOT of 16.6, showing an elite ability to earn deep targets even in the new Titans offense. Unless the Titans start throwing more, start using play action more consistently, or improve from 24th in situation neutral pace, Brown's deep threat usage will make him inconsistent in a low volume, inefficient passing offense. But Brown's talent and big play usage offer spike week potential against a weak Jaguars defense.
Jaguars Implied Team Total: 22
Trevor Lawrence had his best week against the Bengals in Week 4, finishing seventh in EPA per play and third in CPOE. His success appears to be somewhat matchup based. Lawrence finished Week 4 with the longest time to throw per attempt, yet he faced the pressure at the seventh highest rate. The Bengals defense isn't a disaster overall, they just struggled to pressure Lawrence last week. The Bengals ranked ninth in EPA allowed per dropback entering Week 4.
The Titans defense meanwhile... might actually be a disaster. Facing Zach Wilson in Week 4, they ranked 25th in EPA allowed per dropback. They now rank 27th in both EPA allowed per dropback and EPA allowed per rush this season. Even better for Lawrence specifically, they just let Zach Wilson get away with holding the ball for nearly as long Lawrence did. Wilson ranked second in time to throw per attempt in Week 4, but he faced pressure at just the 18th highest rate. Lawrence has a big arm and is willing to throw deep—as evidenced by his 13th ranked deep ball rate. If the Titans let him sit back and throw the long ball, like they did with Wilson, Lawrence is likely to make them pay.
Lawrence will be playing without a strong deep threat this week, and for the rest of the season. D.J. Chark fractured his ankle in Week 4. But Lawrence will have Marvin Jones, who leads the Jaguars in target share (23%), air yard share (30%) and routes run rate (94%). Jones has an aDOT of 12.2, but over the last two weeks his aDOTs have been 7.5 and 6.3. Target depth bounces around somewhat from week to week, but it's possible Jones won't be a true deep threat, as originally indicated by his Week 1 and 2 aDOTs of 13.1 and 16.8. The ability to see targets at multiple depths should help Jones deliver value more consistently, and makes him an intriguing option this week.
While Jones' aDOT is falling, Laviska Shenault's may be rising. Shenault got open deep on a broken play, and turned in an ADOT of 13.4, but per Ben Gretch he had an aDOT of 8.3 on his other six targets. Ben also notes that Shenault was more or less in the same role as usual, but saw more target volume. With Chark out, that additional target volume could be sticky, and we've now seen that Shenault's role won't always leave him with a RB-esque aDOT. And by the way... Shenault saw a lot of target volume last week. He was targeted on an elite 32% of his routes and produced an elite 33% target share. Shenault now leads the Jaguars with a 22% target per route run this season, and all of the sudden his 7.2 aDOT looks pretty normal for a player who has seen 82% of his snaps from the slot.
Shenault now has a path to additional upside the Jaguars plan to use him as an outside wide receiver in 2WR sets. On Thursday, OC Darrell Bevell said that's exactly what they plan to do.
(Click play, the video starts at the relevant question and question/answer lasts 14 seconds.)
Shenault has run a route on 79% of dropbacks this season. If he operates on the outside in 2WR sets, he could he his route rate jump to around 90% this week, which would help him earn targets, and also make it more likely that he continues to see targets at a variety of depths. Jones looks like a safer bet this week, but I think Shenault is the higher upside option.
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Browns at Chargers, 4:05 PM eastern, Sunday
Browns Implied Team Total: 22.25
The Browns have clearly been protecting Baker Mayfield. They beat the Vikings 14-7 last week, despite an implied team total of 26.75. In that effort they had a pass rate over expected of -7%. Only the Saints, Bears and Titans were more tilted toward the run. On the season, the Browns rank 29th in pass rate over expected, ahead of only the Bengals, Titans and Saints. The Browns are also one of just three teams (along with the Titans and Saints) to have passed below expectations in all four of their games this season.
The Browns revealed Thursday what must be a factor in this consistent approach: Baker Mayfield is playing through a partially torn labrum after suffering the injury in Week 2. The Browns' matchups have also set them up with the option to be run heavy, and they've taken that option. The Chargers are likely to offer up the run on a silver platter.
The Chargers rank eighth in EPA allowed per dropback, but just 21st in EPA allowed per rush. They rank fifth in PFF's pass rush grades and 12th in coverage, but just 26th in run defense. The Chargers essentially dare teams to run against them, which tends to limit passing volume—which is usually a good bet to limit points. The Browns are one of the few teams that may be able to beat them at their own game.
The Browns rank third in EPA per rush, and they have two running backs playing at an elite level with an elite run blocking line. Kareem Hunt ranks RB3 in success rate; Chubb is RB10. Hunt ranks RB2 in elusive rate; Chubb is RB5. Hunt ranks RB3 in breakaway percentage; Chubb is only RB24 but was RB3 in 2020. The Browns also rank second in adjusted line yards. The only team who can even argue that they're better set up in the run game is the Cowboys, who also have two high end running backs and the top ranked run blocking unit. The Cowboys of course, defeated the Chargers 20-17 in Week 2 with Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott combining for 180 rushing yards and 248 yards from scrimmage. Both Chubb and Hunt look like strong plays this week in a matchup that could allow the Browns to lean on their running backs as much as want to.
As I'll get to however, the Browns defense may have trouble stopping the Chargers. If so, the Browns will be forced out of a comfortable run heavy script. Their backup plan is named Odell Beckham.
In his two games this season, Beckham has accounted for 49% and 48% of Cleveland's air yards. His 19.1 aDOT is absurdly deep, and will regress even if Beckham remains in a clear deep threat role. But Beckham's 24% target per route run combined with his aDOT is absolutely elite. Beckham only has 6.5 YPT, partly due to Mayfield missing him badly for a wide open deep touchdown last week. His underlying usage indicates a huge ceiling if Mayfield can play a little better. Beckham is particularly appealing as a game stack option. His best outcomes are correlated to the Chargers dictating script to the Browns, which they're likely to do through the air.
Chargers Implied Team Total: 24.75
In their loss to the Cowboys, the Chargers were unable to implement a key piece of their overall team strategy... scoring enough points so that the opponent's ability to run doesn't cost them the game. But, bizarrely, the Cowboys' defense has been quite a bit better than the Browns'. The Cowboys rank fifth in EPA allowed per play, while the Browns are 13th. And the Cowboys rank third in EPA allowed per dropback, while the Browns are 20th. The Browns have a distinct advantage in their rush defense, ranking third, while the Cowboys rank 14th. But the Chargers will happily make that trade for a weaker pass defense.
Only the Buccaneers, Eagles and Chiefs have a higher pass rate over expected than the Chargers this season. And only the Bills, Giants and Eagles have a higher pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10. The Chargers strongly prefer to pass, which could eventually force the Browns to begin throwing more than they'd like to.
The Chargers can also keep the pressure on with pace. The Browns' last three opponents—the Vikings, Bengals and Texans—all play slow, as does Cleveland. The Chargers meanwhile, operate at the fifth fastest situation neutral pace. Justin Herbert ranks 14th in EPA per play; he's been good but not elite. But the Chargers are getting the most they can out of him by maximizing passing volume through play selection and pace.
Keenan Allen feels like a bit of a disappointment so far, but stick with him. Allen has just one TD through four games and has just a 7.0 YPT. He's run a route on 91% of dropbacks, which leads the team. He's also been targeted on 26% of his routes with a 9.2 aDOT, true No. 1 usage. He has a strong 27% target share and 33% air yard share as well. If Allen gets in the end zone here he he could have a big week.
Mike Williams had some mildly concerning usage last week. He had an aDOT of 18.0 and was targeted on just 5% of his routes. It was the type of deep threat no-show game that we were used to last year, but weren't supposed to see anymore from the 2021 version of Williams. Williams still has a target on 22% of his routes with a 10.3 aDOT and a 2.07 YPRR. He's coming off a dud but his full season profile still looks very much like a WR1. I'm going back to him this week.
Austin Ekeler has run extremely hot on fantasy points. PFF values his workload at 63.1 PPR points this season, yet he's scored 84.4. Through Week 4, the only players with more points over expected were Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Lockett, Ja'Marr Chase and Tyreek Hill. Ironically, Ekeler is a regression candidate partly because he's now too good at the thing we didn't think he'd get a chance to do: scoring TDs. Ekeler has four total TDs this season. He's also averaging 5.7 YPC and 7.4 YPT, which are both very strong for a running back. Ekeler can still be counted on as a clear RB1, and has upside for numerous quick passes against the Cleveland pass rush. But given the matchup, and how hot he's been so far, Ekeler likely to see some regression as a rusher.
Bears at Raiders, 4:05 PM eastern, Sunday
Bears Implied Team Total: 20
Justin Fields just faced an extremely soft Lions defense that can be run or passed on. The Bears largely chose the former, passing the ball 13% below expected. Only the Saints were more run heavy last week. Bizarrely, that attack did not include Fields. The mobile rookie had zero designed rush attempts, excluding his two kneel downs to close out the game. He ran some zone reads but handed off on all of them... to the point that while watching the game I became suspicious that these were actually option plays and not just weirdly designed draw plays. Fields' only involvement as a rusher came on a 11 yard scramble. Matt Nagy has committed to Fields as his starter, but I'm taking a wait and see approach at this point until the Bears actually start using him as a rusher.
Fields was excellent against the Lions as a passer, leading the NFL in Week 4 in both EPA per play and CPOE, excluding garbage time. But this was a small sample against a very poor defense. This is why Fields' rushing usage is key. He's about to face a much more difficult opponent than the Lions. The Raiders rank 12th in EPA allowed per dropback; the Lions rank 32nd.
Fields' Week 3 debut as a pure pocket passer against the Browns' pass rush was a disaster. Cleveland's pass rush ranks fourth in PFF's pass rush grades. This week he get PFF's top graded unit. I wish I could say I'm optimistic that the Bears will have a better game plan for Fields this week, but I can't stop thinking about the fact that they called zero runs for him in a plus matchup that they were trying to win with the run game. They must have their reasons. I'm just not sure they're good reasons.
With Fields likely to struggle this week, I'm skeptical about the value of Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney. Robinson has seen a target on 20% of his routes with an aDOT of 9.2 and is getting mixed into the slot for 41% of his snaps. All of that is pretty solid. The problem is that he has just a 6.5 YPT, but that should increase once his quarterback play improves. He looks like a better buy low than Mooney, who has a 9.0 YPT and is running hotter in efficiency than the quality of quarterback play should be able to support. But Mooney also has impressive underlying volume. He has earned a target on 21% of his routes with an aDOT of 11, which is very strong. I'd be excited about both players if I thought that Fields was set up for success. Nagy-stans can consider contrarian double stacks. I'll be revisiting this situation in Week 6.
With David Montgomery out, Damien Williams looks like a strong season long play. Williams has a 1.03 YPRR, which isn't great but is far better than Montgomery's 0.63. The new backup is Khalil Herbert, who hasn't seen a target all season, is a rookie, and wasn't considered a pass catching prospect. Williams should lock up most to all of his former receiving workload and add the majority of Montgomery's workload. PFF values Montgomery's workload at 12.8 PRR points per game and Williams' workload at an additional 6.4. Williams won't see 100% of the combined value, but 90% of their combined workload would still be more expected points than Alvin Kamara is averaging this season. The Raiders rank 11th in EPA allowed per rush, and given how they attacked last week, I'm expecting a slew of goofy draws to Damien Williams this week.
Raiders Implied Team Total: 25.5
Derek Carr had a rough Week 4, finishing 30th in EPA per play. It wasn't a total meltdown though. Carr still managed to retain his accuracy, finishing 10th in CPOE. And for the season, Carr is ninth in EPA per play. Week 4 was a setback, but not bad enough to believe that Carr's run of good play is over. This week he faces a Bears defense than ranks ninth in EPA allowed per dropback, just behind the Chargers defense that foiled him last week. But the Bears are far less battle tested. After giving up 34 points to the Rams, the Chicago faced Joe Burrow in his second game back, Baker Mayfield in his first game playing through a partially torn labrum and Jared Goff is his 73rd professional game of being Jared Goff. Derek Carr could easily expose the Bears defense here.
One issue for this game is that the Bears play slow, ranking 28th in situation neutral pace this season. Chicago is also run heavy, which could further reduce volume. The Raiders are league average in pace, but they could go run heavy as 5.5 point favorites. Luckily, the Bears' defense is ranked fourth in EPA allowed per rush. The Raiders may find it easier to score points through the air, which should be good for overall play volume.
If the Raiders are attacking successfully through the air, they'll likely be running things through Darren Waller. Waller has run a route on 91% of dropbacks, which leads the team by a wide margin. And he's been targeted on 23% of his routes with a 10.4 aDOT, an elite combination for a tight end. His 25% target share is tied with Travis Kelce for the best in the NFL among TEs and his 27% air yard share leads all TEs. Waller only has a 7.0 YPT, which has kept his YPRR to just 1.61. He's a spiked YPT week away from a huge game, as he is every week with this level of underlying usage.
The Henry Ruggs breakout looks imminent. He has a 2.34 YPRR this season, and while that's driven partly by a spicy 12.4 YPT, he's seen a strong 19% TPRR with an ADOT of 18.1. He's showing an impressive ability to consistently draw deep targets. And last week, his route rate spiked to 83% of dropbacks. Ruggs has only run a route on 68% of dropbacks this season. If he starts consistently running routes at an 80%+ rate, then he'll be in position to consistently deliver fantasy value.
Bryan Edwards looks much riskier. He has a target on just 10% of his routes this season with a 15.7 aDOT. Edwards has flashed some ability this year, but he's a thin play this week.
Josh Jacobs went from a major injury question mark to suddenly looking quite valuable. With Peyton Barber injured, Jacobs should have his normal lead back workload. And as a home favorite, he has a solid chance of getting in the end zone here. Jacobs has a 0.51 YPRR this season, so he's as TD dependent as ever, but this isn't a terrible setup for the early down back.
49ers at Cardinals, 4:25 PM eastern, Sunday
49ers Implied Team Total: 21.75
Trey Lance debuted last week for an extremely fun half of football.
This week, Lance will get to play two halves, so we should confidently expect him to score at least 40.76 fantasy points. That's just math.
I'm kidding, I just wanted to tilt Hayden.
Although... jokes aside, I do think Lance's half was bullish. Not because of what did as a passer. His success was big play driven and he looked inconsistent and uncomfortable in the pocket. And he left us with too small of a passing sample to make anything of statistically. But Lance scrambled 5 times for 36 yards and had two designed runs that he took for four yards. Lance now has 44 rushing yards on just 18 snaps. Justin Herbert has 31 rushing yards all season. Lance isn't going be in the Lamar Jackson / Jalen Hurts tier of rushing quarterback, but he could be in the ball park. That lowers the bar considerably for what we need from him as a passer. That low bar will come in handy this week, because Lance faces a Cardinals defense that ranks sixth in EPA allowed per dropback, third in PFF's pass rush grades, and fifth in coverage grades. There's a good chance that Lance struggles here as passer. He can still have a good fantasy day anyway if he's what we're hoping as a rusher.
Of course, there's more at stake here than just Trey Lance victory laps. We have receivers we need him to support. Deebo Samuel had a beyond-elite 3.55 YPRR in Week 4, which is literally an average game for him this season. He has a 3.55 YPRR on the year, driven primarily by a target on 30% of his routes. Through four weeks, only Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp have a higher target share than Samuel's 33%. He remains a true No. 1 option.
George Kittle is doubtful for Week 5 with a calf injury and could have a limited role even if he unexpectedly plays. The backup tight end is Ross Dwelley, but he's barely been involved as a receiver. Instead, Kittle's absence is more likely to help revive the value of Brandon Aiyuk.
Even if Kittle doesn't play, Aiyuk will still be a leap of faith. He was targeted on just 9% of his routes in Week 4. Aiyuk had a 15.3 aDOT, so we can semi-excuse his lack of targets due to a pure deep threat role. But this is part of a larger pattern of low target volume, and comes alongside a decrease in routes. Aiyuk ran a route on 89% of dropbacks in Week 3, but that dropped to 69% in Week 4. Trent Sherfield jumped from 5% back up to 27%. Assuming Kittle is out, I'm willing to roll the dice with Aiyuk, but he's far from a sure thing.
The Cardinals rank 16th in EPA allowed per rush. So with Eli Mitchell returning this week, the 49ers are likely to attack through the running game as much as the score allows them. Lance's mobility could be an asset in opening things up. In fact, in his first start it's quite possible that Lance's biggest positive impact is on Mitchell and Trey Sermon's rushing efficiency.
Cardinals Implied Team Total: 26.75
Kyler Murray ranks fourth in EPA per play and first in CPOE. The league's most accurate quarterback is also averaging over 27 yards per game as a rusher. This week he gets a 49ers defense that ranks 19th in EPA per dropback. It's not a bad unit by any means, but it's unlikely to slow Murray.
That's partly the case because the Cardinal are recovering some of their 2020 pace. They climbed from 14th to 11th in situation neutral pace after last week. Up-tempo play is very helpful for the Cardinals, because they're, frankly, too good. Arizona is passing 2% over expected, but the 4-0 Cardinals haven't need to pass nearly as much as in past seasons. Murray ranks just 19th in pass attempts this season. We could to see a similar level of volume against the 49ers with the Cardinals as 5 point home favorites. But if the 49ers can push Arizona, the Cardinals' pace could help Murray support additional weapons this week.
DeAndre Hopkins' target rate is getting a little concerning. He has a target on just 15% of his routes. At an 11.3 aDOT, that is well below the target volume we'd expect to see from a player of Hopkins' caliber. I just watched Robert Woods explode on Thursday Night Football, so we know that things can change in a hurry, especially for good players who simply started the season slowly. But even Woods had a 20% TPRR entering Week 5. Hopkins has run a route on 97% of dropbacks, and while there's nothing in the numbers I can point to that would indicate a Week 5 breakout... he's DeAndre Hopkins.
A.J. Green not being bad has been bad. Green is seeing a target on 18% of his routes which isn't strong, but is siphoning off value from Hopkins. Green has run a route on 88% of dropbacks and has a nearly sustainable 10.3 YPT. He'll likely cool off a bit but I don't think he's going away any time soon.
Christian Kirk has seen his TPRR drop to just 16% after opening the season with target rate of 23%, 13% and 30%. That's what a 3% TPRR in Week 4 will do. Kirk still leads the team with a 28% air yard share, and his 15.2 aDOT is a reminder of his weekly upside. But he's run very hot with a 13.6 YPT this season, and now his underlying usage has taken a hit. He's a boom/bust option this week.
Rondale Moore is still very much a part time player. He's run a route on 44% of dropbacks this season. He has a 3.16 YPRR, which is driven largely by a 27% TPRR. His aDOT of 2.2 indicates highly specialized usage however. He's explosive enough to consider as a dart throw, but he's a thin option based on his workload.
Chase Edmonds is a game-time decision this week with a shoulder injury. He and James Conner are the only running backs to see a snap this season. Conner would have upside for an every down role in his absence. If Edmonds plays, he looks like a strong RB2 option. Conner would then be a bet on an easy Cardinals victory.
Giants at Cowboys, 4:25 PM eastern, Sunday
Giants Implied Team Total: 22.75
Daniel Jones proved me wrong last week. I assumed he'd struggle to connect with John Ross and Kadarius Toney downfield and be forced to check down to Saquon Barkley instead. Luckily he did throw to Barkley six times. But he also connected with John Ross for 77 yards and TD, and hit Toney for 78 yard. Jones finished 13th in EPA per play.
This week he'll be without Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton once again, facing a Cowboys defense that has been unexpectedly strong. The Cowboys rank third in EPA allowed per dropback and eighth in PFF's coverage grades. It's actually a pretty similar setup to last week however. The Cowboys, like the Saints, have a weak pass rush. Dallas ranks 27th in PFF's pass rush grades; the Saints ranked 31st entering Week 4. Jones is unlikely to have a huge day as a passer, but if he can hit some big plays and/or his playmakers come through for him again, he can efficiently move the Giants' offense.
Jones can also add value with his legs. He ranks third in rushing yards among quarterbacks this season and is tied with Kyler Murray for sixth in designed rush attempts. Even a mediocre passing day could be enough for a big fantasy day if Jones keeps running like he has so far this season.
Barkley handled 89% of snaps in Week 4, even with Devontae Booker active. He's now up to a 77% snap rate on the season. He's also moving into elite usage as a receiver. Barkley ran run a route on 75%+ of dropbacks for back-to-back weeks and is up to a 66% routes run rate on the season. He's averaging 19.6 expected points per game over the last two weeks, and looks like an elite running back once again. This isn't a perfect matchup, but as an every down player with a strong receiving role, Barkley can have huge weeks even when everything doesn't line up perfectly.
I'm not ready to buy into Kadarius Toney just yet. He has a 16% TPRR this season on an aDOT of 4.9. He did have a nice Week 4 however, with 2.23 YPRR. If he has another strong week, I'll begrudgingly get on board. He's a worth a preemptive add in any shallower leagues where he wasn't picked up though.
This week, I'm more interested in Kenny Golladay's resurgence. Golladay was up to a season high route rate of 95%, which was nice to see after the Giants were nursing his hip injury throughout Week 3. Golladay has been targeted on 19% of his routes with a deep threat aDOT of 15.2. His 1.97 YPRR looks fairly sustainable, and he looks like an interesting spike week bet in a matchup where Jones should again have time to throw.
Cowboys Implied Team Total: 29.75
Dallas conned us. They opened the season with a 22% pass rate over expected. Only the Patriots' 23% against the Buccaneers has topped that rate. Since then Dallas has been at -11%, -4% and -5%. Now they face a Giants defense that they can attack either way. New York ranks 23rd in EPA allowed per dropback and 20th in EPA allowed per rush. If this were Week 2, we'd be beside ourselves imagining the Cowboys lighting up the Giants through the air. But we've now seen the Cowboys run their way to three straight victories. If the Giants offense can't push them, the Cowboys could limit Dak Prescott's volume once again.
Prescott had 58 attempts in Week 1, which matched his career high from Week 4 last year. Yet the Cowboys have been so run heavy since that he ranks 20th in attempts this season. This is a problem, because while Prescott has been good this season, he hasn't been spectacular. Prescott ranks 15th in EPA per play, between Justin Herbert and Tom Brady. If he was passing at the volume of Brady (first in attempts) or Herbert (fifth in attempts) the Cowboys passing attack would be unstoppable in fantasy. Instead, it's begun to feel like a guessing game.
CeeDee Lamb looks like the best bet this week. Lamb has run a route on 87% of dropbacks and has a route rate between 93-96% since Week 2. Like Amari Cooper, he's now a near every snap player. Lamb has also been targeted on 24% of his routes with an aDOT of 10.8. His 8.5 aDOT isn't terrible, but he could easily deliver a spike week in per target efficiency. Combined with his underlying usage, that would generate a huge game.
Amari Cooper is a very similar play, provided he plays through his hamstring injury. He has a similar 10.2 aDOT and has seen a target on 21% of his routes. Like Lamb he has a good but not great YPT of 8.9. It's probably too much to ask the Cowboys to pass enough for both Lamb and Cooper to hit, but both players look ready for big games in the right environment (if healthy).
I'm in on Dalton Schultz. Schultz ran a route on 76% of dropbacks last week. If that usage continues, it's a big deal. That would put him in the George Kittle / Tyler Higbee range of routes run, and set him up to be a reliable option at a position that sorely lacks them. The counter to Schultz's emergence is that he's simply a product of Michael Gallup missing time. That may have been true at first, but Schultz's additional routes are coming from Blake Jarwin, not Cedrick Wilson. Wilson ran a route on 76% of dropbacks in Week 4, which was up from just 41% the week prior. Jarwin's route rate dropped from 63% to 36%, while Schultz jumped from 63% to 76%. This is a one game sample, so Schultz's increased role could just be a blip... but I'm willing to buy here because of how good Schultz has been this year.
Schultz has been targeted on 24% of his routes, which ties CeeDee Lamb for the team high. The tight end has an aDOT of 4.5, making it considerably easier to earn targets than Lamb's 10.8 aDOT does, but still. Schultz also has a good 9.1 YPT, which is sustainable but also strong enough that it could be helping to earn him playing time. With a 2.16 YPRR, Schultz looks a lot like previous tight end breakouts—which often do not come from the players we were expecting them from. Schultz looks locked in as a TE1 this week.
Bills at Chiefs, 8:20 PM eastern, Sunday
Bills Implied Team Total: 26.75
Josh Allen has been surprisingly inefficient this season. He ranks just 24th in EPA per play after finishing fifth last season. But if we're going to get a peak Allen performance this year, this looks like the spot.
The Chiefs rank 29th in EPA allowed per dropback. They rank 22nd in PFF's coverage grades and 28th in pass rush. Allen may not be able to carve up their secondary as easily as he did against Washington's even weaker unit in Week 3, but he won't have to worry about a pass rush here either. And with the Bills' offensive approach, we could see a bounty of deep balls. Buffalo leads the league in situation neutral pass rate and in pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10. If this is the back-and-forth shootout the betting market expects, Allen could be throwing at a very high rate. Allen and his receivers will also benefit from the Bills' fast paced approach. Buffalo ranks second in situation neutral pass rate. Overall, with the Chiefs offense being one of the few teams that that can easily best a very strong Bills defense, this game has all the ingredients for a true arial shootout.
It's time for Stefon Diggs to hit his ceiling. Diggs has been targeted on 26% of his routes with a 13.0 aDOT, showing an elite ability to earn downfield targets this season. He's had just a 7.6 YPT and run a route on only 88% of dropbacks due to not playing in garbage time wins. A full slate of routes is on tap this week, and Diggs can easily spike in YPT. If he does, his underlying usage in a ballooning passing attack offers a level of upside that is difficult to comprehend. The mind reels.
Emmanuel Sanders has more of a boom/bust setup. He has a 17.4 aDOT this season, operating as a true deep threat specialist. He's been targeted on 16% of his routes, which is solid, but is running hot with an 11.2 YPT. We're due for some regression from Sanders, but at the same time, I think the Bills could be quite successful attacking deep this week. Regression will have to wait.
Cole Beasley has a very poor 6.8 YPT, but that's a reason to be excited. YPT is not sticky, and Beasley has been targeted on a strong 22% of his routes, which is sticky. Beasley has an aDOT of 5.0, and needs high volume to deliver significant fantasy value, but he has a good chance of getting that here.
Dawson Knox ran a route on 45% of dropbacks to start the season, since then he's been at 74-78%. With a 17% TPRR he's going to be shaky week to week, but this is the exact game environment where it makes sense to take a stand on ancillary Bills receivers.
You never want to the be running back playing with Mitch Trubisky. And as we covered on A Good Football Show (at 1:02:48), Singletary was the one playing in pure garbage time after fumbling. He also trailed Moss in goal line usage. Singletary could be back in the lead role after his Trubisky penance, but both running backs look like RB2 dart throws to me, and I slightly prefer Moss this week.
Chiefs Implied Team Total: 29.75
The Bills defense ranks first in EPA allowed per dropback, second in EPA allowed per rush and first in EPA allowed per play. In PFF's grades they rank first in coverage, eighth in pass rush and eighth in run defense.
Patrick Mahomes ranks first in EPA per play and third in CPOE. The Chiefs are pressing their advantage at quarterback, ranking third in pass rate over expected, passing at least as much as expected every single week.
What will happen when the unstoppable Mahomes meets the immovable Bills? I can't say exactly... but I'm pretty sure the Bills defense is about to rank a lot lower in a bunch of metrics.
For one thing, the Chiefs can score points on just a few snaps with Tyreek Hill on the field. Hill is running hot this season in YPT. But given that he has 25.3 PRR points per game, I'd expect him to have a YPT of 14 or something. He's at 11.9, which is very good and not sustainable, but his per target efficiency isn't about to fall off a cliff. Hill's production this season has been largely opportunity based. With a true deep threat aDOT of 14.1, he has a target on an elite 27% of his routes. And Hill has a 47% air yard share this season. Considering those air yards come from the best quarterback in the league... that's pretty... pretty good. Hill has seen 52% of his routes from the slot this season, so he's moving around the formation and seeing targets and various depths. It's really a perfect setup. And while Hill is far more inconsistent than the prototypical elite wide receiver, he can hit a massive ceiling in the blink of an eye.
Travis Kelce is continues to be at another level. He's run a route on 86% of dropbacks and has a target on 23% of his routes. He once again has an elite YPRR for a tight end, of 2.28. He's been overshadowed by Hill's absurd 3.24, but Kelce is having a very strong season and could easily deliver a big week here.
We'll likely get Josh Gordon's Chiefs debut on Sunday night, which will make Mecole Hardman extremely difficult to trust. I expect that Gordon will be in a part time role to start, but even still, Hardman can't afford to give up any routes. He's run a route on 71% of dropbacks, but has a target on just 15% of his routes. That might be acceptable if he was operating as a deep threat, but with an aDOT of 7.3, this usage isn't it. Hardman's 1.09 YPRR is not what we signed up for. Hopefully he'll improve on his 7.2 YPT this week and Gordon's routes will come purely at the expense of Demarcus Robinson. But because he's already a thin play without additional route competition, I'm holding off on starting Hardman until we see how Gordon is incorporated into the offense.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire appears to be in a time-share. He had 52% of the Cheifs snaps in Week 4 to 36% for Darrel Williams and is at a 63% snap share for the season. Sam Hoppen made an excellent bull and bear case for Edwards-Helaire this week.
What jumps out to me is that Edwards-Helaire's snaps appear to be on the decline, and that he does not have a lock on touches inside the 10 yard line, seeing just one more green zone touch than Williams this season.
Edwards-Helaire also has just a 5% target share. And despite a strong 7.1 YPT, he has a very poor 0.60 YPRR. Put simply, Edwards-Helaire's role is not what we were hoping. Yet somehow, the bad news doesn't end there. Because CEH has also run hot on his workload. Per PFF his workload has only been worth 11.1 PPR points per game, yet he's delivered 13.3. So CEH doesn't just need to stop the bleeding on his volume, he actually needs to increase his workload in order to battle the coming regression. Edwards-Helaire looks like a solid start in a shootout, but he has a far lower floor than is ideal.
Colts at Ravens, 8:15 PM eastern, Monday
Colts Implied Team Total: 19.5
One of my favorite subplots of 2021 is how aware the Colts are that Carson Wentz is bad. Wentz ranks 30th in EPA per play this year and 26th in CPOE. It's kind of amazing that Wentz can be generally erratic, while making egregious mistakes—the man through an interception on a shovel pass—and yet somehow, a team is sticking with him as their starter. That somehow is named Jacob Eason.
The Colts are in a situation where Wentz is losing them games, but also where starting him is their only chance of winning games. I feel bad for the Colts coaches and fans, but I'm also fascinated by this situation. All in all, I think the Colts are handling it well. Indianapolis ranks 12th in pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10, while ranking 20th in pass rate over expected, overall. They're willing to let Wentz pass on 1st down when the defense has to play the run. Then, whenever they're in shouting distance of a first down, they establish. The Colts have literally yet to pass the ball on 2nd-and-2 or less.
This creates upside for the Colts' running backs, who are in a semi-functional offense despite very poor quarterback play. Despite being in a true timeshare, Johnathan Taylor (50% snap share) and Nyheim Hines (42%) both have had solid fantasy value this season.
Taylor has averaged 15.7 expected points per game, and has left 2.6 points per game on the table due to inefficiency. As Week 4 showed, he has spike week potential when things break his way. Given the Ravens' ability to score points however, this is not an ideal setup. Per Dwain McFarland, Taylor has played just 5% of the Cots' 2-minute snaps and 36% of their long down and distance snaps. He could see a curtailed workload the seven point underdog Colts can't keep this game close.
Hines has averaged 8.9 expected points per game, offering usable RB2 production. He has a strong 1.7 YPRR this season, and this week looks like a good setup for him with the Colts likely to pass more than they'd like to.
Negative game script could also be good for Michael Pittman. Pittman has run a route on 97% of dropbacks this season and has a solid 1.79 YPRR. His YPT of 8.5 is sustainable, and Pittman is seeing a healthy 21% TPRR with an aDOT of 11.4. He's the only wide receiver or tight end of note in this offense, but he's been very solid this season, and this matchup sets him up for a strong game.
Ravens Implied Team Total: 26.5
In my writeup of the Dolphins this week, I criticized them for allowing their poor running game to limit their use of play action passing. If they're looking for a team to emulate, they should queue up some Ravens tape. Chargers HC Brandon Staley has publicly stated that play action works without a strong run game, but the Ravens are making their statement on the field. In a game where Latavius Murray led the rushing attack while averaging just 3.3 YPC, Lamar Jackson ran play action on 43% of his dropbacks. Jackson trailed only Taylor Heinicke and Patrick Mahomes in Week 4. And despite dealing with a devastating slew of backfield injuries, Jackson leads the NFL with a 38% play action rate. The Ravens get it.
And as if I wasn't already in rooting for them, the Ravens also seem much more willing to pass this season. The Ravens are up to 18th in situation neutral pass rate and 22nd in pass rate over expected. Over the last two weeks they have a pass rate over expected of 6%, which matches the Patriots full season rate. The Patriots rank fifth in pass rate over expected this season. Obviously the Ravens can't be counted on to keep up their pass rate from the last two weeks, but the fact that they even have this gear is astounding.
This week they face a Colts defense that ranks seventh in EPA allowed per rush but just 21st in EPA allowed per dropback. The path of least resistance is again through the air. If the Ravens take advantage of the matchup, Lamar Jackson just needs strong receiver play to break the week.
Marquise Brown has a 25% target share and a 34% air yard share this season. He's been targeted on an impressive 24% of his routes with an aDOT of 16.6. Brown doesn't have a true every snap role, however. Brown has run a route on 78% of dropbacks this season and his route rate has declined every week (87%, 82%, 73%, 71%). It's not like Brown is being phased out of the offense, he's the No. 1 option. But he's allowed Devin Duvernay to have a major role, and Jame Proche to mix in as well. Duvernay ran a route on 70% of dropbacks last week. Considering that he has a 0.77 YPRR this season, he's likely just keeping Rashod Bateman's routes warm.
Given that the Ravens play Monday night, we likely won't know Bateman's status soon enough to play him in leagues this week. But I'm still hopeful he debuts and am excited to see him play. Bateman is an elite wide receiver prospect who accounted for 34% Minnesota's receiving yards and 35% of their receiving TDs over his three year career and has the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. The first round pick's only red flag was the perceived lack of passing volume in Baltimore. And while Baltimore still isn't Buffalo, that concern looks far less dire now.
If Bateman indeed debuts it will be interesting to se how Sammy Watkins' role changes this week. He has played just 18% of snaps from the slot, while Duvernay has seen 46% of his snaps there and Brown has seen 41%. My expectation is that Watkins sees his slot snaps increase slightly, but that Batman works in the slot as well as on the outside. Watkins would do well to have his role remain mostly unchanged. He has a 1.99 YPRR this season and has nearly matched Brown with a 24% target share. He's a risky option this week with Bateman potentially in the mix, but the rookie could start slow even if active, so Watkins is in FLEX consideration.
Mark Andrews has an 18% TPRR, which is good but not elite. He also has a 11 YPT, which he won't be able to sustain. You are very unlikely to have a better option at tight end, but with potential for additional target competition and with the Ravens potentially regressing towards their run heavy mean, he looks more like a mid-low TE1 this week, rather than a borderline elite option.
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 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.