Strength in Numbers: Actionable Week 2 Stats

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We're two weeks in. The Broncos and Raiders are the only two undefeated teams in the AFC. Tampa Bay sits atop the NFC South, as expected, but they share their throne with the Carolina Panthers. Tony Pollard and James White are both top-10 running backs. Derek Carr leads the league in passing yards. Basically, everything is going exactly as planned.

What matters? What doesn't? Strength in Numbers is here to help sort out what's real and what's not. Every week, we'll break down the most actionable takeaways from the past week in a concise, numbers-filled format. Without further ado, let's get right into it.

1. In Week 1, Rondale Moore ran a route on 14 of Kyler Murray's 36 dropbacks. He had five targets for an (admittedly unsustainable) 0.36 targets per route run. In Week 2, Moore ran 24 routes on 41 Murray dropbacks (58.5%) and saw 0.33 targets per route run.

Christian Kirk is still playing ahead of Moore as Arizona's primary slot receiver, but the Cardinals are making sure they get the ball into the hands of their best post-catch playmaker. Moore is not going to sustain 0.34 targets per route run for the entire season, but he has been impressive enough that the Cardinals could continue to increase his weekly usage. The highlight of Moore's day was an untouched 77-yard touchdown after Kyler Murray embarrassed pass-rushers behind the line of scrimmage, but he also flashed the tackle-breaking ability that made him so productive as a collegiate.

According to the RotoViz WR Prospect Lab, Moore sports the eighth-best breakout age (he broke out at 18.5 using a 30% Dominator Rating threshold) among all FBS wideouts since at least 2006. Questions about his size and ability to stay healthy pushed him into the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but he's one of the most athletic wide receiver prospects of all time and his landing spot is perfect for optimizing his electric skill set. We've basically seen that come to fruition through two games, as the Cardinals have creatively found ways to get Moore the ball. His role is only going to grow.

Rondale Moore athletic profile
Rondale Moore athletic profile

He's not yet a weekly starter for fantasy purposes because he's still playing fewer than 50% of snaps, but the early returns are promising.

2. In 2020, Mike Williams never had a week with an average depth of target below 10. His lowest-aDOT game came in Week 15 at exactly 10.0. This year, he posted a 10.0 aDOT in Week 1 and a 9.7 aDOT in Week 2. He leads the Chargers with 22 targets (25% share) through two games.

In June, Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi told us Mike Williams was going to play the X position that Michael Thomas played under his watch in New Orleans.

We probably should have paid more attention (I know some of you did!). Last year, Williams' aDOT was 15.8 (per Pro Football Focus). In 2019, it was a whopping 18.3. In 2018, 15.6. In other words, Williams had only ever been used as a field-stretcher before this season.

Williams' current aDOT is 9.9. Keenan Allen has been targeted deeper down the field (10.7 aDOT), which would have been unheard of over the past few years. The less confined role has worked wonders for Williams, as he's the WR6 in fantasy through two games. The Chargers aren't going to throw the ball 44 times per game as they have so far, but Williams' 25% target share is among the best in the league. Start him every week moving forward.

3. In Week 1, Carlos Hyde out-carried James Robinson 9-5. In Week 2, Robinson had 11 carries vs. just two for Hyde. Robinson's snap rate increased from 63.5% in Week 1 to 73.2% in Week 2, and he ran a route on 63.4% of Trevor Lawrence's dropbacks. On the season, Robinson has run 62 routes (70.5% of Lawrence's dropbacks) vs. Hyde's 23 (26.1%).

The bad news for Robinson is that after scoring double-digit PPR points in every game he played last season, he has yet to hit that mark in 2021.

He's unlikely to ever return to the unquestionable every-snap role he was in as a rookie – especially with Urban Meyer at the helm – but the good news is the Jaguars did at least give the most talented back on their roster more of an early-down role in Week 2. If the first two games are any indication, Jacksonville will be trailing a lot this season, so Robinson's involvement as a pass-catcher also bodes well. His 70.5% route rate is nothing short of elite. He handled 11-of-13 team running back carries against the Broncos, and Hyde didn't get a carry until midway through the second quarter. There weren't many bright spots for the Jaguars in Week 2, but it was good to see a larger role for Robinson.

4. In Week 1, Tevin Coleman had nine carries. In Week 2, he played seven snaps. His first carry came in the second quarter. Ty Johnson and Michael Carter split snaps (33-33), carries (12-11), and routes run (15-16) evenly. Carter had three targets.

The shift in deployment doesn't appear to be injury-related, as Jets coach Robert Saleh complimented both Carter and Johnson on Monday. It also makes sense for the retooling Jets to see what they have in their young backs, as 28-year-old Coleman doesn't fit their timeline.

This will probably be a frustrating backfield on a bad team in the short term, but both Johnson and Carter should be rostered in all formats in case one of them emerges as the clear lead back (whether that be through injury or performance). There was a seismic change in how the Jets used their runners in Week 2, yet it seems to be flying under the radar. If the person who rosters Johnson or Carter hasn't adjusted for what happened over the weekend, it's worth targeting them in trade talks too.

5. Per Pro Football Focus, Robby Anderson's average target has come 22.3 yards down the field. Meanwhile, D.J. Moore's aDOT is 9.5. That's a complete 180 from how the Panthers used their top-two wideouts last season when Moore's aDOT was 13.7 and Anderson's was 9.8.

Moore has always been dangerous after the catch. That was his calling card coming out of Maryland, and he finished with 3.2 YAC per reception above expectation – the best mark in the entire league – as a rookie, according to Next Gen Stats. He was also above-average in that metric in Year 2. The Panthers misused him as a deep threat last year, but it appears they have rectified that mistake in 2021. The change has catapulted his target share back up to 26.0%, a stark increase from the 21.5% mark he posted last year. If this usage holds – and it should – Moore can return to where he ranked in 2019 as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2.

Anderson had a 15.7 aDOT in 2019 and a 14.6 aDOT in 2018, so he's also returning to the role he played before 2020. This is a negative for his fantasy value, as his target share has already plummeted. It's unlikely he continues to average only 4.5 targets per game as he has so far, but it'll be difficult for Anderson to pay off his Round 5 ADP as a pure deep threat with Moore and Christian McCaffrey also commanding a high number of looks.

6. Tony Pollard only played 33.9% of snaps in Week 2, but he recorded 16 touches to Ezekiel Elliott's 18. His 16 touches were the second-most of his career in games for which Elliott was also active. Pollard out-targeted Elliott for the second straight week despite running significantly fewer routes (25 for Elliott, seven for Pollard). Pollard also got 44.8% of Cowboys running back rushing attempts.

Similar to what the Cardinals are doing with Rondale, the Cowboys are finding ways to get Pollard involved. It's not hard to see why – the shifty running back is averaging 7.7 yards per attempt and 8.6 yards per target. Pollard is the most valuable insurance back in the league, but he appears to have much more standalone value this year. His meager snap share and reliance on gameplan mean he's not a viable starter yet unless you're desperate, but the meaningful uptick in usage he had compared to Week 1 may indicate Dallas plans to shift toward a more even split.

Elliott is an interesting evaluation. On one hand, the public's perception of Elliott is at an all-time low. On the other hand, Pollard is not only an important part of the offense, but he's also been the best Cowboys back by almost any efficiency metric through two games (which, to be fair, isn't much of a sample). There's a decent chance he continues to eat into Elliott's role, especially as a pass-catcher, which would nosedive Elliott's value past the low-end RB1 range in which he currently resides. It's especially risky to sell given Elliott is getting the snaps and routes necessary for high-level production, but Pollard truly looks like he's going to take a significant bite out of Zeke's pie in 2021.

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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:

  • Aaron Jones dominated RB usage for the Packers on Monday night, out-carrying A.J. Dillon 17-5 and finishing second on the team in targets. He also maintained his role as the goal-line back, nullifying concerns that Green Bay may prefer the larger Dillon once they got in tight. PFF's Dwain McFarland pointed out that Jones has been a workhorse in neutral game script through two games. Dillon looks like less of a threat to Jones' workload than Jamaal Williams was in 2019 and 2020. Jones is a top-flight RB1.

  • Kyler Murray has gone nuclear. He led all QBs in fantasy points for the second straight week. In 2020, he was averaging 30.2 fantasy points per game before suffering a minor shoulder injury in Week 11. Underdog Fantasy's Hayden Winks pointed out that he had the most fantasy points of any quarterback ever through 10 weeks last season – and he did that in only nine games. Now fully healthy, Murray has picked up right where he left off pre-injury last year.

  • Joe Mixon only had two targets against the Bears, but he ran 25 routes on 35 Joe Burrow pass plays. That 71.4% rate is easily the highest of the past two years for Mixon. His next-closest rate was 60.6% – which he posted in Week 1 of this season. Samaje Perine and Chris Evans combined for five routes against the Bears. The targets weren't there and he didn't find the end zone as he did in Week 1, but the underlying usage still indicates it's all systems go for Mixon in 2021.

  • John Daigle noted that Derrick Henry ran a route on 45.8% of dropbacks in 2020. Through two games this year, he has run a route on 42.0% of pass plays. His 0.27 targets per route run mark has propelled him to 10 targets, but his route participation is in line with last season. Maybe the Titans are making a concerted effort to get The Big Dog involved as a receiver this year; it's a situation worth monitoring.

  • In Week 1, David Montgomery and Damien Williams both ran 20 routes. Against the Bengals this past weekend, Montgomery ran 22 routes and Willians ran eight. If Montgomery can regain the passing-game monopoly he had in 2020 once Tarik Cohen went down, he's firmly in the top-12 conversation. It remains to be seen which game is more indicative of how the Bears will use their running backs, but keep an eye on Montgomery vs. Williams in the passing game next week.

  • One week after failing to record a target, Austin Ekeler ran 30 routes on 45 Justin Herbert dropbacks and recorded nine targets for a 22.0% share. He also got a carry from the two-yard line on a two-point conversion. In 2020, Ekeler handled 50.2% of Chargers running back carries and 2/10 goal-line carries in games he was healthy. In two games this season, he has gotten 63.2% of RB carries and both goal-line attempts (in addition to the two-point conversion run on Sunday, which doesn't show up in the box score).

  • Elijah Moore led Jets wideouts in snap and routes and finished second in targets (eight) on Sunday. Zach Wilson's four-interception performance doesn't inspire much confidence for Jets receivers, but Moore had a near-perfect prospect profile and might never be cheaper.

  • The Eagles have a two-man backfield. Boston Scott has yet to play an offensive snap this season. Miles Sanders has played 66.2% of snaps and Kenny Gainwell has handled the remaining 33.8%. Gainwell out-targeted Sanders 3-2 in Week 2, but Sanders ran 19 routes to Gainwell's nine (although Gainwell has played in two-minute scenarios when running backs see a disproportionate number of targets). Sanders is a weekly RB2 and Gainwell should be rostered in every single league.

  • Dallas Goedert has run 44 routes this season. Zach Ertz has run 42. Jalen Hurts has 69 dropbacks. Ertz went on the COVID list today, but he is vaccinated and therefore considered questionable for the Eagles' Week 3 game. As long as Ertz remains in the equation, Goedert's upside is limited compared to the high-end tight ends running routes on the overwhelming majority of their quarterback's dropbacks.

  • Justin Fields had 10 rushing attempts on 42 snaps in Week 2. Andy Dalton's Week 3 status is up in the air after he suffered a bone bruise against the Bengals. The Bears have already said Dalton is still the guy if he's healthy, but Fields is a QB1 on account of his rushing ability if the veteran can't go next weekend.

  • Tyler Higbee and Logan Thomas are the only two tight ends in football who have played every snap this season. Higbee ran 26 routes on 32 Matthew Stafford dropbacks in Week 2. Thomas ran 46 routes on 50 Taylor Heinicke dropbacks last Thursday. Thomas has competition for underneath targets with Adam Humphries in town and J.D. McKissic retaining his third-down role, but he remains a top-12 option at fantasy football's thinnest position. Higbee is also a weekly must-start, and a breakthrough game should come sooner rather than later.

  • Gerald Everett and Will Dissly split snaps evenly (39 for Everett, 38 for Dissly) in the Seahawks' first game. In Week 2, Everett played 43 snaps and ran 30 routes, while Dissly played 26 snaps and ran nine routes. Seattle lacks a proven third option after Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, so Everett could enter fantasy-viable territory if his advantage over Dissly holds.

  • K.J. Osborn has run 78 routes on 87 Kirk Cousins dropbacks this season. With Kyle Rudolph gone and Irv Smith out for the year, the Vikings have used more 3-WR sets this season because they lack a second proven tight end behind Tyler Conklin. Osborn has been the primary beneficiary, as he's played 71.5% of snaps and seen 15 targets through two games.

  • Pat Freiermuth has out-snapped Eric Ebron in two straight games. Freiermuth has run 35 routes (23 in Week 2) total, while Ebron has run 37 (20 in Week 2). Neither player is on the fantasy radar right now, but Freiermuth could extend his lead over the aging Ebron as the season progresses.

  • In Week 1, Adam Trautman out-snapped Juwan Johnson 51-12 and out-routed him 18-10. In Week 2, the difference in snaps tightened to 24-18 in Trautman's favor, but Johnson actually won the routes battle 16-12. Trautman's opening-game usage was encouraging after the Saints utilized him in a blocking role during the preseason, but Johnson could be the preferred pass-catcher after hauling in two touchdowns in Week 1.

Thanks for reading! Check back next week for the Week 3 edition of Strength in Numbers.