Strength in Numbers: Actionable Week 16 Stats

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·10 min read
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  • Philadelphia Eagles
    Philadelphia Eagles
  • Ronald Jones II
    Ronald Jones II

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We are 16 weeks into the longest NFL season in league history. Statistically, most people's season is over. In the majority of leagues, only two teams remain. They will fight it out in Week 17 for eternal glory, a sum of dollars, and perhaps a cheap trophy that your commissioner bought years ago.

Or maybe you're here because it hasn't been a great season, and you need to win next week to avoid public humiliation of the highest order. Whatever the reason, it's critical that fantasy managers who have something to play for next week keep tabs on what happened around the NFL, but that's easier said than done with so many games every weekend. Thankfully, Strength in Numbers is here to break down the most actionable stats from around the league in a concise, numbers-filled format. Let's get right to it.

1. In his first game without Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones played 35-of-67 snaps, ran nine routes on 34 Buccaneers dropbacks (26.5%), and handled 20-of-29 running back carries. Ke'Shawn Vaughn played 24 snaps, ran 12 routes, and got seven carries, while newly signed Le'Veon Bell played three snaps, ran one route, and got three carries.

The Buccaneers' backfield actually played out exactly how most people envisioned. Jones was the primary early-down back and handled the bulk of the rushing workload, but he ceded snaps to Vaughn in passing situations. Bell didn't play much, but that's understandable given he was just signed last Tuesday (plus, it's up for debate how much he has left in the tank at this point). Jones also scored a short touchdown, but Vaughn also got a carry inside the 10-yard line, so Jones may not have an iron grasp on all of the short-yardage work. Still, fantasy managers who picked up Jones got basically what everyone expected, and he remains a strong option next week as the lead rusher on what might be the most potent offense in the league. It doesn't get much better than a matchup against the hapless Jets during fantasy championship weekend. Jones should flirt with top-12 status in a potential blowout victory.

2. The Bengals' passing game was the story of the day, but an underrated aspect of it was that Joe Mixon ran 32 routes on 50 Joe Burrow dropbacks. Meanwhile, Samaje Perine ran nine routes and Chris Evans ran two. Mixon tied his season-high with six targets and set a new personal best with six receptions for 70 yards.

Part of this is because the Bengals were so incredible yesterday that they didn't face many third-and-longs, but it's still a good sign to see Mixon run so many routes compared to Perine, who has frequently been Cincinnati's designated third-down back this season. The rushing workload is never in question with Mixon, but a higher route participation rate is necessary to skyrocket him into game-breaking status. Regardless, Mixon is a must-start as usual next week against the Chiefs, and his passing-game involvement could be critical in a game during which the Bengals may have to play catch-up.

3. Miles Sanders exited the Eagles' Week 16 game against the Giants near the end of the first half with a hand injury, which Nick Sirianni said on Monday is a broken hand that will keep him from playing in Week 17. Jordan Howard also left in the fourth quarter with a stinger. Prior to Howard leaving, he had nine carries (and four targets) to Boston Scott's five. Scott did score on a short rushing touchdown. After Howard left, Scott was easily ahead of Kenny Gainwell.

Underdog Fantasy's Hayden Winks pointed out that Scott played more in passing situations with Howard running between the tackles on early downs.

It seems like Howard's status is still up in the air for Week 17, but he was the main running back for Philadelphia after Sanders left, which aligns with what we saw earlier in the season when Sanders missed time. If Howard is healthy, he'd be the preferred option for fantasy purposes, but it would be a split between Howard and Scott (with Gainwell mixing in some on passing downs). If Howard joins Sanders on the inactives list next weekend, Scott would flirt with must-start territory as the clear lead back.

4. The Jaguars are just about out of running backs now that James Robinson is out for the year with a torn Achilles. Dare Ogunbowale played 61-of-74 snaps without Robinson in Week 16 (Robinson played 11 snaps before exiting). Ogunbowale also had 17 carries. Backup running back Nathan Cottrell had one snap and one carry. Ogunbowale ran 34 routes on 43 Trevor Lawrence dropbacks.

Before Week 16 of the 2021 NFL season, the last time Ogunbowale had at least 17 carries in a game was September 17, 2016. For the Wisconsin Badgers. He then played his last 11 college games with a maximum of 14 carries and went through nearly five professional seasons without hitting 17 rushing attempts in a game.

Ogunbowale was a legitimate workhorse in Week 16. The Jaguars could sign someone – or, more likely, make Ryquell Armstead active next week – given they only have two healthy running backs on the roster right now, but Ogunbowale is likely going to be a solid play for fantasy championship weekend (just as we all predicted before the season, right?). He has a reputation as a primarily receiving-oriented back, so it's improbable he's scripted out despite a potential blowout loss against the Patriots. Fantasy managers will need to monitor news throughout the week to see who the Jags add, but Ogunbowale is on the RB2 (if they add no one or somebody inconsequential) or flex radar (if they bring in legitimate competition). Regardless, Ogunbowale's ascension to workhorse status is a nice reminder that we play a very silly game.

5. Sony Michel is a top-flight RB1 play for Week 17. Cam Akers is on the active roster but seems like a long shot to contribute next week (although he's destroying every prior we have about Achilles injuries, so who knows?) and Darrell Henderson suffered a knee injury against the Vikings on Sunday. Even with Henderson healthy last week, Michel dominated carries all game long and Henderson didn't get a rushing attempt until the fourth quarter. In total, Michel played 63-of-70 snaps and ran 29 routes on 38 Matthew Stafford dropbacks in addition to his monstrous 26-carry workload.

The Ravens are beatable through the air – not so much on the ground – but Michel is a workhorse in every sense of the word right now and can thrive despite playing more of a pass funnel defense next weekend. It could be Jake Funk backing up Michel against Baltimore, which would open the door for Michel to inherit a true every-snap role. Rams coach Sean McVay didn't close the door on Akers playing next week when asked on Monday, but it's tough to imagine him truly pushing Michel for work in his first game back five months removed from a torn Achilles (at the same time, I'm a little scared to even say that since he has already torched everything we thought we knew about Achilles injuries, but to come back in five months and get a significant amount of work would be a legitimate medical miracle).

Given the depleted state of the running back position, Michel is as good of an option as anyone in Week 17.

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Quick Hits

This section will be used for stats I think are worth mentioning (and for which the takeaway is fairly intuitive) but aren't important enough to write up fully. Let's get to it:

  • Justin Jackson had an awesome role with Austin Ekeler out due to COVID protocols, playing 45-of-62 snaps, running 28 routes on 40 Justin Herbert dropbacks, and out-carrying Joshua Kelley 11-5. Ekeler has a shot to be back for Week 17, but it would presumably be the Jackson show again if he misses.

  • With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin out, Antonio Brown dominated the Buccaneers' passing offense with 14 targets. Cyril Grayson actually was second among Bucs wideouts in both routes (25) and targets (only three), beating out both Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller. Johnson was the third wide receiver for Tampa Bay with Miller only playing three snaps.

  • Mike Davis played more snaps than Cordarrelle Patterson against the Lions (26-25), equaled his carries total (seven), and ran one more route (13-12). Since returning from injury, Patterson has been less involved as a receiver, and now Davis is vying for more rushing work as well.

  • Rex Burkhead had a massive game, but he still split work with Royce Freeman. Burkhead is the lead back given his 42-of-68 snap share (24 for Freeman), 15 routes on 28 dropbacks (seven), and 22 carries (12), but don't go crazy after his massive Week 16 performance. He's still better left on fantasy benches for Week 17.

  • Michael Carter is still splitting rush work with Tevin Coleman (16-14 lead in rushing attempts for the rookie), but he has marginalized Ty Johnson and turned himself into a solid flex because of it. Carter played a season-high 74.1% of snaps in Week 16. Coleman played 19-of-58 snaps, and Johnson was in for just one play. Unfortunately, the North Carolina product has a brutal matchup against the Bucs' fearsome run defense next weekend, but he could post a solid fantasy game regardless due to his involvement as a pass-catcher.

  • Amon-Ra St. Brown is on an absolute tear right now. For the fourth straight game, the USC product had at least eight catches and 73 yards, and he found the end zone for the third time in the past month. St. Brown is one of the bright spots in a brutal year for the Lions, and his enormous volume recently vaults him into WR2 territory in PPR formats.

  • Zack Moss played more (26-of-79 snaps) than Matt Breida had been when he was the preferred option at RB2, but Devin Singletary still dominated the fantasy-relevant utilization metrics. Singletary had 12 carries to Moss' three, and Singletary also ran 33 routes on 49 dropbacks for a stellar 67.3% rate. Singletary remains a viable option in Week 17.

  • It wasn't an efficient day for David Montgomery – 21 carries for 45 yards – but he is a total workhorse for the Bears right now. Damien Williams had one carry and Khalil Herbert had two, plus Montgomery ran 27 routes on 40 Nick Foles dropbacks. He is getting elite RB1 volume right now.

  • Chase Claypool's route participation has been volatile lately – with the second-year wideout running fewer routes than Ray-Ray McCloud multiple times in recent weeks – but he ran 34 routes on 46 dropbacks for a decent 73.9% rate against the Chiefs. That's still not a great mark, but it is trending upward compared to where Claypool had been a couple of times recently.

  • Nick Chubb and D'Ernest Johnson both ran 17 routes on 42 dropbacks, and Johnson played in the two-minute to Johnson's four.

Thanks for reading the Week 16 edition of Strength in Numbers! Check back next Tuesday for the Week 17 version.