Sleeper Cell: Dameon Pierce, Romeo Doubs

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As I said last week, I have spent about seven or eight years writing an annual list for Football Outsiders Almanac called "Top 25 Prospects." This list of players has a lot of qualifiers -- they have to have 500 or fewer career snaps, they have to be drafted after the second round, and so on -- it's a fun exercise, but to be honest it limits the pool quite a bit. There's not a lot of football to watch of these guys in the pros at 500 or fewer snaps, and the end of the list usually becomes overtaken by players that caught eyes in college or have had major praise about them from their coaches in camps, but who haven't even caught many preseason eyes at the professional level.

So I'm not going to come up with limitations on this column. I'm not going to have snap counts. I'm just going to promise to show you young players who the zeitgeist hasn't settled on yet, and I'm gonna talk about them and why I think they're fascinating.

Week one honesty check: Donovan Peoples-Jones and Treylon Burks. Burks led the team in yards and targets this week as the Titans fell apart. Peoples-Jones had a touchdown taken off the board that would have saved his fantasy day, but surprisingly wasn't involved at all, garnering just one other target as the Browns recalibrated around Amari Cooper.

This week, let's talk about a couple of fourth-rounders from this year's class: Dameon Pierce and Romeo Doubs, who took on plenty of preseason hype and find themselves in vastly different situations coming into Week 3.

Dameon Pierce seizes control of the Texans backfield in Week 2

Lovie Smith was pretty adamant after Week 1 that he wanted to get Pierce more involved in the Texans running game. I thought that Pierce would somewhat gradually cut into Rex Burkhead's trusted role -- no, this was more of a whiplash-type thing. Pierce got every running back carry in the game as the Texans played the Broncos. It's extremely easy to look at the results of the carries and get discouraged, even as I know some of you have had "volume is the key to fantasy" drilled into your head. Pierce has 26 carries for 102 yards after two games. He has just two targets as Burkhead continues to control the passing-down role.

What I want to impress upon you is that Pierce's results of 3.9 yards a carry are -- purely from a football standpoint -- miraculous. Last year's Texans had one back reach 3.5 yards per attempt -- Burkhead -- and he only gets there on account of a 22-carry, 149-yard game against the Chargers. He averaged 2.8 yards per carry before that game, and he averaged 2.54 yards per carry in the two remaining games of the season after it. In their Week 1 tie against the Colts, Burkhead averaged 2.9 yards per carry. The Texans have finished dead last in rush offense DVOA in each of the last two seasons. They've spent this year introducing a bunch of three-tight end and extra heavy sets that harken back to the mid-90s. Non-starting linemen, tight ends, and fullbacks have logged 209 snaps this year for the Texans. Non-starting wideouts have logged 107. It's hard to gain extra yards when you stack the field with big personnel and limit tackle-breaking opportunities against safeties and corners.

I don't think Pierce had a downright excellent run in the bunch, but you can see how slippery he is on his longer carries. He fights for every last yard. The advanced stats aren't kind -- minus-seven rushing yards above expectation per NFL Next Gen Stats. If Kenyon Green -- seen most notably whiffing on a block in the red zone -- develops quickly, there's a chance that both he and Pierce will turn this running game into an average one rather than the cesspool it's been since the David Johnson trade.

Last week was your buy-low window on Pierce from non-savvy fantasy managers. But I do think you can argue that there's some upside to Pierce for the rest of the season as well based on both the volume he projects to carry and the fact that Lovie Smith is a dinosaur who is happy to commit to a run game. This team barely trusts Davis Mills. They've already got Jeff Driskel coming in on third-and-short to do read-option stuff. Mills' only completed pass over 20 yards downfield this season was a flea flicker. They haven't shown any interest in Mills throwing downfield in two-minute drill stuff unless it's absolutely necessary. This team's ideal game script is for each team to have problems cracking 20 points.

Pierce can't be a true RB1 with this offense unless he's literally Adrian Peterson in his prime, but I think a high-end RB2 is a finish that should be considered in play. He's probably a low-end RB2 and/or high-end FLEX play based on the full spectrum of outcomes right now, but the way Aaron Jones just ran over the Bears in Week 2 -- Pierce could absolutely find himself an RB1 week in a run-script heavy carnage game. The way Houston wants to handle this year points heavily to him having boom weeks.

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The Green Bay target situation has yet to settle; can Romeo Doubs will be part of the solution this year?

On the other end of the scale, we have a wideout who is being quickly crowded out of the room. Allen Lazard came back healthy in Week 1, Christian Watson has been digging into the snap counts, and Sammy Watkins looks like the player most on the same page with Aaron Rodgers. Where does that leave preseason star Romeo Doubs?

Doubs was out for just 25 snaps in Week 2, the third-most on the team but just barely ahead of Christian Watson (22) and Randall Cobb (20). It's a slight upgrade from Week 1, where Watson played ahead of him and dropped an easy touchdown catch while Cobb narrowly out-snapped Doubs 37-35. Both Watson and Doubs are being manufactured easier touches as part of a Matt LaFleur short game that he's had little choice but to ride with while Elgton Jenkins (Week 1) and David Bakhtiari (both weeks) have missed time. Aaron Rodgers has taken seven sacks in two games.

Doubs hasn't really done anything wrong, per se, but he's not ahead of the game yet either. He and Rodgers haven't been on the same page on some of his early targets. He also nearly fumbled after his only completion that really looks like it came in contested coverage. The rest of it, well, it's more manufactured than him beating NFL defenders. I'm not saying this to dismiss Doubs as a player -- Cooper Kupp and Amon-Ra St. Brown get plenty of production this way, and production matters more to me than how it happens. But you'd rather have both, right?

I don't actually feel like we've seen the real shape of the Packers offense so far -- I know that Doubs is explosive enough to be a part of it at some point if he cleans up mistakes. How long will it take him to do that? That's the magic question. Easy to give him screen targets against a flailing Bears team, but it's not like he's a rookie who is just jumping off the footage the first two weeks and screaming that he's gotta get more snaps. I believe there could be a point this season where he has redraft-level fantasy value because, truth be told, I don't trust Randall Cobb to do much of anything at his age. I don't trust Sammy Watkins to stay healthy. I like Lazard just fine, but Lazard has missed games in every season since 2020.

But trying to discern if it's going to be Watson or Doubs that takes the leap at this point isn't an easy answer. You probably can't start either of them confidently next week against Tampa Bay unless you're in a three-FLEX league or something with some real depth. And yet at the same time, all it takes is one Rodgers deep ball for them to finish in the top 24 in any given week. I would lean right now towards, in shallower leagues, letting someone else carry Doubs on a roster and waiver claiming him when there's real movement ahead of him -- injury or otherwise -- that shows us the snaps or target share we really want to see. But the upside is such that I also can't blame you for holding on.