Week 16 Fantasy Football Stats Notebook: Can Gardner Minshew keep Eagles WRs rolling?

Jalen Hurts not being able to play this week, and perhaps beyond that, is a massive blow to the Eagles and fantasy football playoff participants alike. Hurts has been one of the best difference-makers in both the real and fake games this year. He’s the central, gravitational force in the Eagles offense. The unit revolves around his skill set.

Luckily, when it comes to projecting the star pass-catchers in Philly, we have film on Hurts’ backup. Gardner Minshew started two games last year and averaged 8.0 adjusted yards per attempt. I’m not some “Minshew should be a starter” truther but he’s without question a capable NFL backup.

Minshew is just quite a bit different stylistically from the Eagles' main man.

Hurts has been on fire as a passer this year, especially on go-routes, where he’s been one of the league’s most productive throwers. As I discussed with A.J. Brown on Ekeler’s Edge a couple of weeks ago, that’s helped reveal a hidden strength in the star receiver’s game:

That cry you're hearing now is the final gasp of a thousand hilariously bad offseason takes about Hurts’ passing ability.

Minshew is a bit more middle-of-the-field focused than Hurts. Fewer than 45 percent of Minshew’s career passes have gone outside the numbers.

Dallas Goedert had his best game of the 2021 season in Minshew’s start against the Jets last year, going for 100 yards and a pair of scores. That middle-of-the-field passing inclination lines up perfectly with the tight end position. Goedert returns this week just in time.

Just because Goedert is back, however, doesn’t mean anything negative for the top two receivers. This is the most heavily concentrated passing game in the league. Last week, both Brown and DeVonta Smith went well over 100 yards; no other pass catcher cleared 10. There’s plenty of room to reintegrate Goedert and get these two wideouts where they need to go.

Even if Minshew doesn’t take as many shots down the sideline to Brown as Hurts does, we have some reason to believe he’ll be efficient when he does take them. Minshew has completed 69.6% of his career throws outside the numbers for 24 touchdowns to just four picks.

That’s a worthwhile stat for Smith, too, particularly against Dallas.

The Cowboys have a huge weakness at the corner spot across from Trevon Diggs. It’s been an issue all season that has become extremely problematic since Anthony Brown went out with a torn Achilles tendon. The Jaguars went after Kelvin Joseph over and over again like he was a game of “Where’s Waldo” last week. Zay Jones really put on display what’s been a problem for Dallas all year: A production imbalance between opposing teams' top receivers.

Smith is such an underrated talent. He’s a 1B receiver to Brown, not second fiddle. We’ve seen him make huge plays for this team on repeat this season. I could see him leading the team in receiving yardage in this crucial NFC East matchup.

All this leads back to the replacement quarterback. Minshew is a different quarterback than Hurts but he’s more than good enough to keep the ship afloat. And this ship is so well-constructed that the skill-position players, offensive line and play-calling can be the waves that crest Minshew into a top-10 fantasy quarterback finish this weekend.

Baker Mayfield had 4.1 adjusted yards per attempt in Week 15

He ranked ahead of only Desmond Ridder, Mac Jones, Tyler Huntley and both of the Cardinals quarterbacks. Hopefully, we don’t have to act like he’s some revelation anymore.

Mayfield driving the Rams down the field for a 98-yard, game-winning drive against the miserable Raiders defense right after he joined the team was awesome. But it doesn’t erase the reality of who he is as a player, nor should it change the narrative on him as a quarterback.

Outside of his stretch in 2020 in a perfectly crafted ecosystem, he just hasn’t been a plus player at the position. Mayfield was a bad quarterback in Carolina this year. He will probably be a bad quarterback for the rest of the season in Los Angeles.

If you want to let your in-laws know how little you value their presence at your holiday gatherings this weekend, keep them glued to the TV during Broncos vs. Rams in the middle of Christmas day.

David Johnson ran more routes than Alvin Kamara last week

It’s not hard to get excited about Alvin Kamara this week. He’s coming off his best rushing performance since Week 6 and few run defenses have been as generous as his week 16 opponent, the Cleveland Browns.

And yet, the fact that the Saints seem so eager to play his backups has me at least raising an eyebrow.

I can get trusted veteran Mark Ingram getting his reps, to some extent, but for the Saints to use David Johnson fresh off the practice squad over Kamara in the passing game is another matter.

That’s right; over Kamara in the passing game. Few backs have been more prolific than him as a receiver over the last five years. Something is off there.

Alvin Kamara #41 of the New Orleans Saints still has fantasy value
Alvin Kamara's fantasy ceiling would be greatly hampered if the Saints reduce his passing-game role. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

You can still project Kamara for a solid outing against the Browns in a bad weather game because he should moonwalk into 18 to 20 carries at a minimum. However, there’s something else going on between the Saints and their star back. At least, that’s what their usage of the player all season suggests.

Drake London leads all pass catchers since Week 13 with a 46% share of team targets

Yes, he has the benefit of only playing two games in this stretch but we’ll take what we can get with positive volume stats.

I think Arthur Smith has gotten too much heat from fantasy managers this year. He’s designed a really nice passing game with good, efficient plays; it's just been hampered by bad quarterback play. Still, I’ll admit I wanted to see London featured more consistently throughout the season after a strong start but we’re back at that point here in the final weeks.

London looks like he’s ready to thrive this week as well if the volume holds up. The Ravens ruled out veterans like Marcus Peters and Calais Campbell and already allowed the fifth-highest yards per attempt on throws to receivers lined up out wide.

Desmond Ridder remains a massive question mark but this game should remain close with Baltimore’s offense unable to mount many scoring drives. That should keep Ridder in neutral or positive game scripts and allow the Falcons offense to operate on schedule. When they put the ball in the air, it will be going to No. 5.

Geno Smith ranks 15th in EPA per dropback since Week 10

It feels like things are coming a bit undone for the Seahawks over the last month. Geno Smith deserved his Pro Bowl nod and his regressing from one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL to merely about average is hardly a big shot.

However, we’ve seen of late that when the Seahawks' passing game isn’t white-hot, the rest of the roster isn’t ready to elevate the operation. The run game has really stalled out ever since Kenneth Walker hit a wall and then got hurt. The defense never found its footing. It’s hard to imagine the passing game getting back to its most efficient self if Tyler Lockett isn’t on the field.

The Seahawks now have a 31% chance to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. That feels about right. This has been a successful discovery season for Seattle in the first year without Russell Wilson but it doesn’t look like it will end in a magical playoff run.

Jahan Dotson leads Washington with a 28% target share in the last two weeks

He ranks second in target share at 22.4% behind only Pro Bowler Terry McLaurin. It’s going to be tough to play Dotson — or almost any Commander — this week in a difficult matchup against the 49ers but he’s played fantastic of late.

I personally love that Dotson is just sticking it to everyone who has size-based biases about the receiver position.

If I told you a receiver was a downfield merchant who was dominant on contested targets, especially in the red zone, you might think of some big 6-foot-3, 220-pounder. Nope. It’s just good old sub-6-foot, 180-pound Dotson. What an awesome player.

JK Dobbins leads the NFL with 245 rushing yards in the last two weeks

The Ravens running back has said he doesn’t have his explosiveness all the way back but he’s been stuffing the stat sheet nonetheless. Dobbins is still splitting carries with Gus Edwards and is flanked by a bad passing game that hasn’t stopped him. It won’t slow him down this week either.

Dobbins got a gorgeous matchup in Week 15 against Cleveland but this week’s runout against Atlanta is just as smooth. The Falcons rank 31st in rushing success rate this year. The passing game might even be able to find some open lanes against this defense. That will also help Dobbins’ efforts as he looks to punch in his third rushing score of the year.

Saquon Barkley’s 50% rushing success rate last week was his best mark of the season

The Giants offense is just so much more functional when Barkley can operate as the engine. When he’s firing on all cylinders the whole unit becomes that much more dangerous.

The Giants passing game is in a great spot this week. The Vikings' secondary has been one of the most exploitable units all year long. We know the Giants' pass-catching corps isn’t littered with talent. They’ll find their jobs much easier if Barkley can have a repeat of his Week 15 performance.

Jerick McKinnon is averaging 6.4 yards per touch

Only Breece Hall checks in higher among running backs and he only played seven games before getting hurt. McKinnon has been legitimately good all year.

Now the veteran back has been placed into an excellent role. He’s not pigeonholed as some late-down, two-minute drill back. He gets early-down rushing and receiving work. It’s hard to imagine him not continuing to produce excellent numbers this week against a flailing Seattle run defense.

Dawson Knox has the 4th-most targets among TEs since Week 14

I’ve been begging the Bills to get something out of a non-Stefon Diggs passing attack all season. Don’t hold out hope it comes from the receiver room — those guys are what they are — but I’ll at least be cautiously optimistic Knox’s recent play is sustainable.

Knox is a guy this team extended in the offseason. He has all the talent to be a big-time tight end and we saw flashes last year. I’ve admittedly been burned by him in fantasy all season; I can never get the weeks right to start him. But I think I’m buying a strong finish for the Bills tight end.

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