Strength in Numbers: Actionable Week 3 Stats

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The fantasy football industry suffered an enormous loss this weekend when Mike Tagliere passed away after a battle with COVID-19.

I never talked to Mike. But anyone involved in fantasy football in any way knew him or knew of him and respected him. His weekly Primer was one of the best series in the industry. Usually, that’s what I look for first when I discover a new analyst. Quality of work. What can you teach me? And with Mike, he was one of the best. The Primer – as well as his trade charts, evergreen offseason pieces, and everything else he did – was top-notch. He checked that box.

But what stood out to me about Mike Tagliere was how much he loved fantasy football, how much he loved the community, and how much time and effort he put into his job. Again, I never spoke to him. Don’t think I ever interacted with him on Twitter. That’s just the vibe I got from seeing the content he posted, seeing his tweets, seeing how he wrote, seeing how he talked to people. I mean, you have to love this to write 10,000 words per week about every single player in the sport.

Anyone who has done this can tell you how much of a grind it gets to be by midseason. In Week 1, I love digging up my favorite stats and tidbits from every game. Ask me again after Week 10 and you might get a different answer. But Mike did the Primer every week without fail, diving deeper on every player than anyone else in the industry.

It is a testament to the generosity of the community that we have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Tags’ family over the past few days. No dollar amount will ever be enough, but I ask that you donate to the GoFundMe below if you’re able. Most fantasy content is behind a paywall these days. The articles on this site as well as FantasyPros – including every single one of Mike Tagliere’s Primers – are not. If you ever found anything on either site useful, just pretend that paying the GoFundMe is the paywall.

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Now for less important stuff.

1. Najee Harris had 19 targets on Sunday, the second-highest single-game total of any running back since at least 1950 (only behind Alvin Kamara's 20-target performance in 2018). In addition, Harris has played 96.4% of snaps for the Steelers on the season.

Harris is getting a higher market share of team running back volume than any other back in the league, but the inadequacy of both Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offensive line is holding the rookie back.

Still, it's impossible to ignore the raw volume Harris is getting, especially as a pass-catcher. The Alabama product only had eight targets through two games, but he ran a route on a staggering 85.7% of Roethlisberger dropbacks. That type of peripheral usage indicated an uptick in target volume was coming, and he delivered in a big way in Week 3 with the second-highest single-game target total of any running back ever.

The Pittsburgh offense is the only thing between Harris and a truly legendary season. Granted, that's going to continue to be a problem – Roethlisberger isn't getting any younger! – but Harris is a no-doubt RB1 despite that as long as he stays healthy.

2. Ty'Son Williams led Ravens running backs in snaps (29, good for a 50% snap rate), but he only had five carries vs. seven for Latavius Murray. Devonta Freeman also had three rush attempts. Williams also only had one target, although he maintained his role as Baltimore's primary pass-catching back, running a route on a season-high 51.2% of Lamar Jackson's dropbacks.

Williams played 51.5% of snaps in Week 1 and 48.7% in Week 2. He played exactly half on Sunday. With that in mind, this may have been just a fluke week where Williams happened to not get carries despite operating in a similar role. Everything else besides his rushing volume – snaps, routes, etc. – was in line with the previous two weeks. The only change was that Murray and Freeman suddenly took a larger share of carries. That could be by design now that the two veterans are more familiar with the Ravens system, or we could be getting fooled by randomness in a one-week sample. That's something to monitor next week.

If Murray and Freeman continue to take a larger slice of the Ravens' rushing pie, Williams would be almost useless even if he keeps his role as the main pass-catcher simply because Baltimore skews so run-heavy and rarely passes to running backs. Still, everything besides rushing attempts indicates Williams is in the same role, so it's interesting to see that Murray and Freeman combined for 10 carries to only five for the rookie. Hold Williams for the time being, but there's a chance he's almost useless in a week or two. Still, it makes no sense to trade him now because his value is at a local minimum due to the perception that Murray has overtaken him as the Ravens' RB1.

3. Zack Moss was a healthy scratch in Week 1. In Week 2, he played 27.7% of snaps and didn't make an impact until garbage time. On Sunday, he led the Bills' backfield with a 57.0% snap rate. Moss had more snaps (45-33), routes (24-21), carries (13-11), and targets (3-2) than Devin Singletary.

Moss was reportedly separating from Singletary during training camp before he suffered a minor hamstring injury in August. That was likely part of the reason the second-year back wasn't active in Week 1. Moss then didn't make an impact for most of the game in Week 2 before he ran in a pair of scores late in the game. Those touchdowns salvaged his fantasy day, but they didn't do anything to change his season-long outlook because he was still playing behind Singletary for the majority of the game.

Zack Moss RotoViz EP by week
Zack Moss RotoViz EP by week

It was different in Week 3, although game script favored Moss with Buffalo holding a sizable lead the entire game. Moss dominated every volume-based metric and outperformed Singletary from an efficiency standpoint as well. The Bills still had strong passing volume (Josh Allen had 43 attempts) even though they jumped out to an early lead, so it's not like they were just running out the clock the entire game. It's not fair to label Moss the legitimate Bills RB1 after only one game, but this usage is more reflective of how things were trending during the offseason before Moss got hurt. Both Buffalo RBs are difficult to trust in a pass-heavy offense that heavily utilizes Allen near the goal line, but Moss has regained his position as the more valuable back ahead of Singletary.

4. James Robinson out-carried Carlos Hyde 11-2 in Week 2. The gap narrowed in Week 3 with the Illinois State product notching 15 carries and Hyde getting eight. Robinson also ran a route on a season-low 40.0% of Trevor Lawrence's dropbacks, while Hyde set a new season-high by running a route on 30.0% of dropbacks.

Robinson filled up the box score with 21 touches, 134 total yards, and a touchdown in Week 3, but he actually controlled a lower percentage of the Jaguars' team running back volume compared to Week 2. Considering Robinson had fantastic route rates in Weeks 1 and 2, his downtick in that area is likely just a mirage, but it's something to keep an eye on in Week 4. He's the Jaguars' RB1 and has dominated passing downs so far this year – an important distinction since Jacksonville will likely face a lot of negative game scripts this season – but Hyde isn't going away. Jaguars coach Urban Meyer noted that they need to get Robinson the ball more moving forward, although he went on to say that they will continue to get "their running backs" the ball more. It's evident that Robinson has so much more juice than Hyde, but the coaching staff appears determined to keep Hyde somewhat involved, at least for now.

Robinson remains in the RB2 mix for Week 4 and the foreseeable future. Don't overreact to either his huge fantasy day or his decreased Week 3 market share.

5. Brandon Aiyuk ran more routes in Week 3 (44) than Weeks 1-2 combined (35). It appears the second-year pro is fully out of Kyle Shanahan's doghouse. Interestingly, Trent Sherfield – who was splitting snaps with Aiyuk – fell behind Mohamed Sanu too.

It's still not totally clear why Aiyuk went from possible WR1 to fighting for snaps, but that experiment looks like it's over. The same questions from draft season remain with Aiyuk – low team passing volume, concerns about Jimmy Garoppolo's ability to sustain multiple pass-catchers, etc. – but the Arizona State product is back to being an every-snap player. This is a ding to Deebo Samuel's value too, as he now has to compete for targets with a legitimately talented wideout rather than a rotating circus of WR2 hopefuls. Aiyuk is a viable starting option in Week 4.

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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:

  • Joe Mixon ran nine routes on 19 Joe Burrow dropbacks. Chris Evans and Samaje Perine also combined for nine routes. That 47.4% route rate is easily the lowest of the season for Mixon, and it's slightly alarming that Evans handled some third-down work. Given that Mixon had a monopoly on passing-down work for the Bengals before Week 3, it's not time to panic yet. However, this is a situation worth monitoring because Mixon needs a three-down workload to hit his ceiling.

  • Saquon Barkley is all the way back. Barkley played a season-high 85.7% of snaps on Sunday, notching 16-of-17 team running back attempts and all seven targets. The New York offense is his main adversary at this point, but the usage is there.

  • Damien Williams looks like nothing more than an insurance policy for David Montgomery. In Week 1, each back ran 20 routes (note that Montgomery missed part of the game with a minor injury). In Week 2, Montgomery ran 22 routes and Williams ran eight. This past weekend, Montgomery ran 25 routes and Williams ran five. All indications are that Montgomery has maintained the featured role Chicago used him in at the end of 2020. Williams has negligible standalone value.

  • Stefon Diggs has yet to top 69 yards in a game, but he has amassed 31 targets in three games. It's unlikely anyone is actually looking to sell, but the 27-year-old stud will never be cheaper. Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley stole the show in Week 3, but there is no question Diggs is the alpha in Buffalo. It's worth checking if the person who rosters him in your league is open to selling.

  • Javonte Williams had four targets to Melvin Gordon's one, but the veteran ran 16 routes to Williams' nine. They split rushing work fairly evenly, but Gordon has run more routes in all three games and still appears to be the preferred pass-catching back right now, even if Williams had the edge in targets in Week 3.

  • Pat Freiermuth scored a touchdown, but Eric Ebron regained his advantage in the routes department after being out-routed by the rookie in Week 2. However, the veteran failed to haul in any of his three targets. Neither tight end is on the fantasy radar in season-long leagues, but Freiermuth remains a trade target in dynasty. He didn't run a route on as many of Roethlisberger's dropbacks in Week 3, but the fact that he's already a major threat to Ebron's role – and performing well on limited opportunity – bodes well for the future.

  • Peyton Barber had 23 carries. The Raiders gave Kenyan Drake a two-year, $15m contract but are inexplicably using him as their RB2/change-of-pace back even without Josh Jacobs. Drake lacks upside since the Raiders refuse to use him as a three-down back. Barber is a flex candidate in positive matchups if Jacobs misses more time.

  • DeSean Jackson ate into Van Jefferson's role a little bit, but he still only ran 16 routes on 39 Matthew Stafford dropbacks. Jefferson's Week 3 usage indicates he may no longer be an every-snap player, but neither Jackson nor Jefferson is really on the fantasy radar anyway. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee will command most of Stafford's targets.

  • Sony Michel played 48-of-65 snaps (73.8%) without Darrell Henderson. He bested Jake Funk in snaps (48-14), carries (20-1), routes (22-12), and targets (4-0). Start Michel with confidence if Henderson misses any more time.

  • Kenny Stills played the second-most snaps (29) among Saints wideouts in his first game back in New Orleans. Marquez Callaway is still the WR1, but the Saints are rotating their wideouts a good amount in what has been the lowest-volume passing offense in the league.

  • Brandon Bolden ran 23 routes on 56 Mac Jones dropbacks, potentially signaling he would be the primary beneficiary of James White's hip injury. J.J. Taylor also ran eight routes. Bolden and Taylor likely would not have the same hold on the pass-catching back role that White has when healthy, so don't get overly excited about them.

  • Rondale Moore played 22-of-66 snaps for the Cardinals and ran 14 routes on 37 Kyler Murray dropbacks. It's the same story as last week: The rookie is dynamite with the ball in his hands, but he's not getting enough snaps to make him a viable starting option in fantasy leagues. He remains a hold in hopes that he can steal more slot snaps from Christian Kirk as the season progresses.

  • Gerald Everett and Will Dissly split snaps and routes evenly in Week 1, but the former ran 30 routes in Week 2 to Dissly's nine. That trend held in Week 3 with Everett running 27 routes and Dissly running 10. He has established himself as the TE1 in Seattle.

  • Kyle Juszczyk out-snapped Trey Sermon 48-41. The fullback handled the majority of passing-down snaps, and the two players split short-yardage work. In essence, that means low-value early-down touches comprised most of Sermon's workload. Even if Elijah Mitchell can't go in Week 4, Sermon is a risky touchdown-reliant option who is likely better left on the bench.

  • D'Andre Swift leads the Lions with a 19.2% target share. Detroit has been bad – although perhaps not as bad as expected – but Swift might be the single most involved pass-catching running back in the league. In PPR, he's a rock-solid RB1.

Thanks for reading this week's edition of Strength in Numbers! Check back next week for the Week 4 version.