Strength in Numbers: Actionable Week 8 Stats

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Mike White and Cooper Rush both topped the 300-yard mark (and White topped the 400-yard mark!) in Week 8 victories for the Jets and Cowboys, respectively. In other words, everything is going exactly as expected. In the NFL, chaos becomes the expectation, and it can be difficult to sort through what matters and what doesn't. 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. Michael Carter played 59-of-84 snaps in Week 7, notching 15 carries and 13 (!) targets. Notably, he ran 32 routes to Ty Johnson's 14, a significant change from earlier in the season when Carter would be replaced by Johnson in passing situations. Establish The Run's Adam Levitan pointed out that Mike White has thrown 77 passes, and 23 of them have gone to Carter.

Carter emerged as the Jets' primary early-down back a few weeks ago, but it wasn't until recently that his role grew as a receiver. It makes sense that Carter has the skill set to do so considering his college pass-catching profile and stature as a smaller back, but Johnson opened the season as New York's preferred option in third-down and two-minute situations.

It's unlikely White is actually this hidden gem of a quarterback who slid under the radar for years – especially since he mostly just checked down the whole game (his average depth of target was 4.2), so the offense is likely to be among the worst in the league with or without Zach Wilson. Still, Carter's multi-dimensional usage entrenches him as a fantasy-viable starter. Johnson had six targets in his own right, but that's probably not sustainable if Carter maintains his grasp on the passing-down role.

Underdog Fantasy's Hayden Winks has done some fantastic work on the post-bye bump for rookies, and Carter fits that theory perfectly. Hayden pointed out that Carter's numbers have jumped across the board since the Jets' Week 6 bye.

2. Antonio Gibson does not seem healthy. He played 23 snaps, nine fewer than J.D. McKissic and just seven more than rookie running back Jaret Patterson. In fact, Patterson out-carried Gibson 11-8. Gibson ran 11 routes on 45 Taylor Heinicke dropbacks.

Gibson has not taken the jump fantasy managers expected as a receiver, but that was always within his range of outcomes with a strong pass-catching back in McKissic still on the roster. What was not expected was Gibson ceding work to Patterson, although it's almost certainly because of the shin injury (fracture!) that he's been dealing with. Gibson also didn't play on a 4th-and-short, another telling sign that he really just is not healthy.

In Week 7, Gibson had 14 carries to Patterson's zero, so his injury may have worsened or the team decided to take it easy on him or something happened behind the scenes to induce this kind of change. Regardless, Week 9 will be telling. Will Washington continue splitting work behind Gibson and Patterson, or was Week 8 a minor blip that can be explained away by injury? We don't have an answer for that right now, but Gibson would become impossible to start if it turns out to be the former. It's a situation worth monitoring.

3. Eagles running backs had 25 touches during the first three quarters of Sunday's game. Jordan Howard had 12. Boston Scott had 12. And Kenny Gainwell had one. In the fourth quarter with the Eagles holding a 34-0 lead, Gainwell had 12 touches and neither Howard nor Scott touched the ball. Scott ran nine routes to Gainwell's six. In the first half, Scott played 19 snaps and Gainwell played six.

In perhaps the weirdest usage of the day, Gainwell barely played until garbage time with Miles Sanders sidelined. While 5'9", 201-pound Gainwell had always been a mere complement to early-down workhorse Sanders, it seemed fair to expect a Chase Edmonds-type workload for the rookie (with perhaps slightly less rushing work given how Scott dominated early downs in Week 7, whereas Edmonds and James Conner are basically an even split outside of the red zone).

The takeaway here is that Gainwell's role is basically unchanged (at best) by the Sanders injury, and there's an argument that he's in worse standing with Howard also on the active roster now. Game script favored Scott and Howard to an extent that the Eagles will likely never see again this season, so it's reasonable to expect Gainwell to return to his normal production in the coming weeks with Philadelphia in a worse environment. In Week 7, Gainwell out-snapped Scott and got five carries vs. seven for the veteran. The Eagles were also down big the entire game before making a slight push at the end. That's probably what we can expect from Gainwell moving forward: He'll remain the third-down and two-minute back and be more involved when Philadelphia is trailing. However, anyone who hoped for a more even split on early downs sans Sanders will likely be disappointed. It's also telling that Gainwell, not Howard, was the one getting the garbage-time work with the Eagles up big.

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4. Rex Burkhead played 30-of-61 snaps for the Texans in Week 8. Scottie Phillips played 15. And David Johnson played 11. Johnson had two carries for four yards and finished third on the team in routes (six) behind Burkhead (19) and Phillips (seven).

I wrote the Gainwell section before I looked at the Texans' game and would now like to retract my statement about that being the weirdest usage of the weekend. The strangest thing that happened was Johnson easily – easily! – setting a season-low in snaps in his first game without Mark Ingram and the Texans trailing the entire game.

Texans beat writer Aaron Wilson penned that Houston was likely to feature Johnson with Ingram shipped off to New Orleans, but that could not have been further from what actually took place in Week 8. For fantasy purposes, the actionable takeaway is that no running back on this team can be trusted. It'll be a nightmare committee every week on one of the league's worst offenses. You have better options for your fantasy squads.

5. In his first game without Malcolm Brown, Myles Gaskin played 40-of-69 snaps and ran 22 routes on 43 Tua Tagovailoa dropbacks. Salvon Ahmed and Patrick Laird both ran eight routes. Gaskin handled 12 carries vs. seven for Ahmed.

In classic Dolphins fashion, they chose not to feature Gaskin even without Brown and rather increased Ahmed's role and elevated Laird from the practice squad. Ahmed and Laird stole enough routes from Gaskin to legitimately impact his fantasy outlook moving forward, and it's still a split on early downs, although Gaskin did see a small uptick in rushing attempt market share in Week 8. Gaskin remains a semi-viable starting option in fantasy leagues, but the fact that he didn't monopolize pass routes without Brown caps his short-term ceiling.

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:

  • Second-round rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth posted six targets with Eric Ebron sidelined, running 24 routes on 36 Ben Roethlisberger dropbacks. The Penn State product has overtaken Ebron as the Steelers' primary tight end, but it's worth keeping an eye on whether his 4-44-1 line further increased his advantage over the veteran.

  • Carolina running backs ran the ball 38 times in Week 8. Chuba Hubbard got 24 carries, but Royce Freeman and Ameer Abdullah combined for 14 in their own right. Abdullah also ran 11 routes to Hubbard's 12, while Freeman went out on three pass plays. In Hubbard's first game as a starter, Rodney Smith operated as the main pass-catching back. While Hubbard is running more routes than he did then, Abdullah looks like the preferred third-down back right now. Of course, none of this will matter once Christian McCaffrey returns.

  • Kyle Pitts ran 29 routes on 31 dropbacks, an elite number for a wide receiver, much less a tight end. He's Atlanta's de facto WR1 with Calvin Ridley out for the foreseeable future and should be a top-tier tight end rest-of-season.

  • Brandon Aiyuk notched four catches for 44 yards in the 49ers' Week 8 victory, but more notably, it was his best utilization game of the season (according to Dwain McFarland of Pro Football Focus). McFarland pointed out that Aiyuk had very strong numbers in route participation, targets per pass route, target share, and air yards share.

  • Justin Fields had 103 rushing yards on Sunday. Fields now has 24 carries over the past three weeks. It's also interesting – that's the word we'll use – that Fields' best rushing game came in a week in which Matt Nagy could not be involved. Fields is back in the fantasy conversation based on his rushing usage.

  • James Robinson left after just eight snaps in Week 8, allowing Carlos Hyde to take over as the lead rusher in Jacksonville. Hyde also ran 38 routes to Dare Ogunbowale's 12 and got six carries to Dare's one.

  • With Albert O back off of injured reserve, Noah Fant's route participation dropped. The third-year tight end ran 21 routes on 30 Teddy Bridgewater dropbacks, meaning he is no longer in the elite route-per-dropback tier for tight ends. Jerry Jeudy is back too, further hampering Fant's target share.

  • Jerry Jeudy was third among Broncos wideouts in routes, suggesting he's not fully healthy, but it was still solid to see him run a route on 23-of-30 team dropbacks. Jeudy should return to his status as Denver's co-WR1 over the next couple of weeks.

  • Joe Mixon ran 24 routes in Week 8. Samaje Perine ran 11. That's good news for Mixon who was previously losing a more significant number of routes to his backups.

  • Darrell Henderson played 34-of-42 snaps in the first half before the Rams got up by a bunch and benched their starters. Don't worry about Sony Michel's box-score involvement, and his lack of usage in the second half is encouraging if anything.

Thanks for reading! Check back next week for the Week 9 version of Strength in Numbers!