PFF Fantasy Factors: Key advanced stats for every Week 2 matchup

By Jeff RatcliffePro Football Focus

Special to Yahoo Sports

Week 1 proved to be a wild ride for fantasy football. In fact, we saw historic offensive production in the NFL’s opening week. The combined 85 offensive touchdowns were the most we’ve seen over the last decade and was only the second time the league has topped 80 touchdowns in Week 1. NFL offenses also nearly cracked 9,000 passing yards with a combined 8,942 for the week. That’s also the most in the last 10 years by 232 yards.

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But here’s the thing about offensive production: The numbers always regress to the mean. In other words, don’t expect this crazy level of output to continue straight on through the season. A lot of what we saw in Week 1 isn’t likely to happen this week and beyond. Temper your expectations for the future, and you’ll be a better fantasy player.

Of course, another way to improve on your fantasy chops is by understanding not just the raw numbers in the box score, but also what went into producing those numbers. Sometimes, the box score tells us a story about a player that isn’t quite true. Using advanced stats can allow us to get a much better picture of player production and we can use that information to make better fantasy decisions.

At PFF, we have several advanced statistics at our disposal. While we can’t use every single one of them for fantasy insights, there are a number of stats that can provide a much more nuanced understanding of player production than what the box score displays. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Week 2 NFL slate and break down one advanced stat that you need to know for each of this week’s contests.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

We can’t put lipstick on the pig that was Jameis Winston’s Week 1 performance. In what was supposed to be a juicy matchup, the Bucs quarterback stunk up the joint and finished the week as the No. 29 fantasy quarterback. This performance led many fantasy gamers to cut bait on Winston, but if you decided to hold tight with him, there is at least one encouraging sign from Week 1. Winston threw three balls to the end-zone against the 49ers. Only three quarterbacks attempted more end-zone throws for the week. Quarterbacks who throw to the end-zone more often tend to have more touchdown passes. While Winston is going to be a bumpy ride for fantasy gamers, don’t be surprised if he’s able to steady the ship. Keep in mind that he was the No. 9 fantasy quarterback from Week 11 on last season.

San Francisco 49ers @ Cincinnati Bengals

In a week with some massive passing performances, Andy Dalton’s stat line stands out. The veteran signal-caller led the league with 418 passing yards, which was a career-high. Dalton also tossed two scores, both to John Ross. While it’s tempting to assume this is a sign of things to come, it’s important to note that Dalton was one of just three starting quarterbacks to not attempt an end-zone throw in Week 1. Long touchdowns are fun to watch, but they’re unsustainable. Quarterbacks have their highest touchdown conversion rates on throws to the end-zone. Expect Dalton’s fantasy numbers to come back to earth unless he starts tossing balls to the end-zone.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Detroit Lions

We have a tale of two backfields in this contest where the fantasy perception did not meet the reality we saw in Week 1. Many expected the Chargers to use a 60-40 split between Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson, but we actually saw more of a 70-30 split with Ekeler racking up 18 touches and Jackson just seven. This distribution mirrors what we saw last season in Weeks 13 and 14, and there’s no reason to thank that it changes. While we can’t expect last week’s massive numbers every week from Ekeler, he’s knocking on the door of weekly RB1 territory as long as Melvin Gordon continues his holdout.

Austin Ekeler looks to be the man in LA (at least until you-know-who comes back). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Austin Ekeler looks to be the man in LA (at least until you-know-who comes back). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

On the Detroit side, many expected Kerryon Johnson to be in a similar situation, but we actually saw more of a committee between Johnson and C.J. Anderson. In fact, it was much closer to that 60-40 split with 18 touches for Johnson and 11 for Anderson. Given that breakdown, it’s tough to trust Johnson as anything more than an RB2 option right now.

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers

The Vikings used CB Xavier Rhodes to shadow Julio Jones in Week 1. Rhodes lined up against Jones on 70% of his routes, and he saw just one target and had no catches in Rhodes’ coverage. This week, we can all but guarantee that Rhodes will be tracking Davante Adams as he did in Weeks 2 and 12 last season. However, unlike Jones, Adams was able to get the best of this matchup, posting a combined 12 catches on 16 targets for 91 yards and two touchdowns. While that isn’t a massive yardage total, it’s an average of 16.6 PPR points per game just in Rhodes coverage. There’s no reason to fade Adams this week.

Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry carried the ball 19 times in Week 1 and faced base defense on zero of those touches. With an extra defensive back or more on the field in sub-package defenses, the running back typically has an advantage. This ratio is a big departure from last season, when Henry saw base looks on 47% of his carries. New Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith looks to be doing things a bit differently from Matt LaFleur last season, and this new approach could prove to be very beneficial for Henry’s efficiency. His fantasy arrow is pointing up.

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins

Not to downplay the Baltimore offense, but the Ravens were certainly helped out by some abysmal play in the Miami secondary. Eric Rowe was perhaps the biggest culprit, allowing all six of his targets to be caught with two of them going for touchdowns. While the “revenge game” narrative might be in play for Rowe this week, he’s going to have his hands full with Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown on the outside. Look for Tom Brady to do what he does and pick on this matchup. Get as much of this New England passing game in your lineup as you can.

Buffalo @ New York Giants

When a player puts up 70 rushing yards on just four carries, you have to take notice. Rookie Devin Singletary did just that in Week 1, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves for fantasy purposes. Singletary played 43 snaps in that contest, but nearly all of that work was as the passing down back. In fact, Singletary was on the field for 38 passing plays. On the other hand, Frank Gore played only 18 snaps, but 13 of them came on run plays. While the passing down work certainly isn’t a bad thing for Singletary, that number will fluctuate based on game script. However, given this usage, it’s clear the Bills still view Gore as the better early down option. That could certainly change as the season progresses, but for now, it’s just too risky to use Singletary in fantasy starting lineups.

Seattle Seahawks @ Pittsburgh Steelers

James Washington has been a popular sleeper name throughout the offseason, and that buzz continues now into Week 2. While Washington certainly has some big-play upside, the Steelers had him clearly positioned as their No. 4 wide receiver in Week 1. Donte Moncrief led the Pittsburgh wide receiver corps in routes run with 44, JuJu Smith-Schuster was right behind him with 42, and Ryan Switzer was third with 37. Washington’s 30 routes run ranked fourth, which is extremely important to note for fantasy purposes. It’s nearly impossible for the No. 4 receiver on any NFL roster to produce consistent fantasy number. There just aren’t enough reps to do so. Washington isn’t a player to target in fantasy unless he can crack the top-three on the Pittsburgh depth chart.

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins

Heading into 2019, many pegged Dak Prescott as an early season fantasy option thanks to a favorable schedule. So far, so good, as Prescott went off against the Giants in Week 1 and finished as the No. 2 fantasy quarterback for the week. Prescott’s schedule is just as juicy over the next two weeks with matchups against Washington and Miami on tap. There’s a strong chance that Prescott finishes the first month of the season as one of the top fantasy quarterbacks, but be careful if you’re rostering him. Despite throwing four scores through the air in Week 1, only one of them came on an end-zone throw. That’s what the kids like to call unsustainable production.

Arizona Cardinals @ Baltimore Ravens

It’s easy to fall in love with big stats, but be careful with Marquise Brown. The rookie wide receiver went off in Week 1 with a massive 147 yards and two scores on four catches. However, he did so on just eight routes run. That was behind Seth Roberts (18) Willie Snead (17), and Chris Moore (14). Routes run are an often overlooked stat in fantasy football, but you can’t get targeted if you aren’t on the field. And you can’t score fantasy points as a wideout if you aren’t targeted. Expect heavy regression from Brown in the short-term, but he’s still an intriguing player for the long haul in 2019.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

The highly anticipated shadow coverage matchup between Jalen Ramsey and Tyreek Hill was over almost as soon as it began last week, and Ramsey proceeded to get torched by Sammy Watkins to the tune of three catches for 61 yards and two scores. Looking forward to this contest, expect Ramsey to shadow DeAndre Hopkins. While Ramsey’s name certainly comes with a certain cachet, this isn’t a matchup to be intimidated by for fantasy purposes. Ramsey tracked Hopkins in both matchups between the Texans and Jaguars last season. In those two meetings, Hopkins racked up 11 catches on 18 targets for 172 yards and a score.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders

Travis Kelce posted a solid stat line in Week 1 with 88 yards on three catches, but the stud tight end didn’t get in on the scoring action against the Jags. Gamers rostering Kelce should have no worries on that front, as the Chiefs tight end led the league in end-zone targets with three. While he didn’t convert any for touchdowns, that sort of usage in the red-zone means the touchdowns are going to come in bunches for Kelce this season.

Chicago Bears @ Denver Broncos

There wasn’t much to get excited about on the offensive side of the ball for the Bears in Week 1, but Allen Robinson certainly got the fantasy juices flowing. The veteran wideout went over 100 yards, which was just the second time he did so in a regular season game with Chicago. He also led all receivers with five deep-ball targets, which we define at PFF as any target that travels at least 20 yards in the air. Robinson ranked 20th in the league last season with 20 deep-ball targets. But in his breakout 2015 season, he led the league with 46. It’s unlikely that we see a return to his 2015 numbers, but Robinson’s downfield use in Week 1 is certainly an encouraging sign.

New Orleans Saints @ Los Angeles Rams

A lot of the eyes in the fantasy community were on Todd Gurley last week, and some of them may not like what they saw. Gurley looked spry on his 14 carries, racking up an impressive 97 yards with 73 of them coming after initial contact. Only Marlon Mack had more yards after contact on the week. But that wasn’t the concern. Rather, it was the fact that Malcolm Brown saw 11 carries in the contest. While this split does have the look of a full-blown committee in the Rams’ backfield, a deeper look at usage yields more insight.

In the first half, Gurley was on the field for 27 snaps, while Brown played just seven snaps. While Brown did play a significant stretch in the third quarter, the Rams went back to Gurley and did not use Brown at all in the fourth quarter. This usage doesn’t paint the picture of a committee. Rather, it looks like the Rams were giving Gurley a quasi-preseason treatment in terms of workload. As the season moves forward, look for Brown’s touch share to decrease. At this point, he’s best viewed as Gurley’s handcuff and not a startable fantasy option.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones didn’t exactly have the biggest Week 1, ranking just 30th among wideouts in PPR scoring for the week. Of course, his production was certainly hampered by tough coverage from Xavier Rhodes in that contest. This week, he’ll see the exact opposite, as Jones will face a trio of Philly corners in Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddux, and Rasul Douglas, who surrendered a combined 14 receptions in their coverage last week. Douglas was one of just three corners on the week to allowed two receiving touchdowns. He also surrendered a massive 21.3 yards per catch. In other words, Jones is going to go off on Sunday night.

Cleveland Browns @ New York Jets

Le’Veon Bell didn’t necessarily have the most efficient debut with the Jets, but the veteran back did rack up 23 touches. He also posted a league-high nine forced missed tackles to go along with 3.5 yards after contact per attempt. That ability to make defenders miss shows Bell hasn’t lost a step after sitting out all of last season. Bell’s elusiveness coupled with the Jets’ willingness to feed him the rock bode well for his fantasy outlook in 2019.

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