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1 - It’s way past time to respect the Titans passing game
Has anyone else had their internal clock completely thrown off from a Tuesday night football game? The only thing normal about the affair was that, as it was an island game, we’ll be tempted to overreact to what we saw. Some would instantly think to turn the glowering eye on Josh Allen. They’re ready to declare the bulk of his 2020 a fluke because he threw a couple of picks last night. Forget all that.
The real story coming out of Tuesday night’s game should be the coming-out party for Tennessee’s passing offense. It’s strange that we need to have such an event, considering Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in adjusted yards per attempt (10.2) last year. However, his 160 total passing yards in the two nationally televised Titans playoff wins last year spun an unfortunate narrative that he’s just a bit player along for the ride.
While Derrick Henry is still the best player on the Titans offense, the 2020 season is showing Tannehill’s true value.
On a night when Henry's meme-able and god-like stiff arm of Josh Norman stole the show, he totaled just 57 yards on 19 carries. The run game wasn’t the dominant force for Tennessee on offense despite Henry’s two scores. Rather quietly, it’s been that way all year.
With some transition and injury spurts on the offensive line, the team hasn’t enjoyed the same rushing success it did in 2019. In fact, the Titans rank 16th in rushing offense DVOA through five weeks but a stunning fifth in passing DVOA. Tannehill and the aerial attack have been the better unit to this point.
Not much regression has hit his play as Tannehill once again ranks top-six in touchdown rate, QBR, and passer rating in 2020. According to SportRadar, he’s been on-target on 77.3 percent of his throws this year. Tannehill has been the same hyper-efficient master of the offense he was during his breakout year with Tennessee.
With Arthur Smith calling plays and a healthy A.J. Brown paired with the explosive Jonnu Smith at tight end, Tannehill has the infrastructure to keep this going. Those guys are legitimate stars. On a night that could have been the coming-out party of the reborn version of Josh Allen, it was Tannehill who wrestled the spotlight away. It’s time we accept this is what he is and pay him the respect he deserves.
2 - Clyde Edwards-Helaire has elite usage
81% of team backfield touches
66% of team snaps
14% of targets
23 routes per game (6th among all RBs)
17 red-zone looks
Kansas City ranks 20th in rushing success rate
It’s not as if Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been a true letdown in fantasy football. However, his current RB13 standing after pushing the top-five picks in August drafts isn’t exactly what you want.
That said, the usage is legitimately everything you could want. It spells out the path of a workhorse running back.
Now, one could be tempted to declare, “Well, he just must not be any good if he’s not producing for my fake team despite this supposed great usage.” I’d argue it’s far too early to make such a declarative statement about a rookie just five games into his career.
And let’s be honest, if he has even just a touchdown or two more tacked onto his total, we aren’t even having this discussion. Add two more scores to his 65.8 points on the year and he’d be a top-10 option at the position; no one would assert he’s been disappointing. A lack of touchdowns is mostly random, especially when, like CEH, you’ve been involved steadily in the red zone and have seven carries inside the five-yard line. The bulk touchdowns just haven’t come yet but — that doesn’t mean they won’t.
The Chiefs have a pretty cake schedule coming up following their first loss of the season in Week 5. They’ll draw the Bills, Broncos, Jets, and Panthers before their bye in Week 10. Not only will the Chiefs be favored in all those contests, but those teams also give up an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and two of the three (Carolina, Buffalo) rank in the bottom five in rushing success rate allowed. Edwards-Helaire’s best days are ahead of him as long as this type of usage keeps up.
This is still a feature back for the Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs. Don’t overthink it.
3 - Jonathan Taylor is not close to a feature back
52.4% of backfield touches
49% of snaps
8.3% of team targets
11.4 routes per game
19 red zone looks
Colts rank 32nd in rushing success rate
If you had asked me after Week 1, not only would I have said that Clyde Edwards-Helaire was going to be an easy top-five to top-eight running back in fantasy football, I would have said Jonathan Taylor was going to join him. Yet, after five weeks, Taylor has also been just all right. He ranks at RB14, ironically just one spot behind his fellow rookie.
The logic for that aggressive prediction was easy. Marlon Mack was sent to IR after Week 1, leaving the uber-talented Taylor the vast majority of the early down rushing work for a team with a hulking offensive line. Add in his six catches from the Colts opener and it looked like a clear path ahead to fantasy stardom. Taylor’s absurd 28 touches in Week 2 against the Vikings, with 20 coming in the first half, only seemed to cement matters.
It hasn’t been so exciting since. Taylor hasn’t cleared 18 touches since Week 2 and has gone under 15 twice. Peeling back the layers to the more advanced usage numbers only serves to heighten the alarm. The Colts have basically split the backfield three ways. We expected Nyheim Hines to be involved and have a clear role, but he’s run more routes per game (15) than Taylor and has 44 touches on the year, with 13 coming in the red zone. However, seeing Jordan Wilkins chip in with almost 10 touches per game between Weeks 2-4 was unsettling. We did see Wilkins fade to the background in Week 5 with just a single carry but Taylor not dominating the workload here has been a big problem.
Perhaps even more concerning for Taylor’s rest-of-season outlook is that the Colts just straight-up don’t look like a good offense. Their 32nd ranking in rushing success rate shows they’ve had trouble moving the ball and that doesn’t even touch on the fact they have a Philip Rivers problem. If Rivers is going to be a liability — and to this point, he has toed that line — the rest of the skill-position group beyond Taylor just doesn’t have enough juice to keep the scoring unit in favorable positions.
4 - Packers are still the NFL’s best offense coming off their bye
1st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA
1st in yards per drive
1st in points per drive
1st in turnovers per drive
1st in time of possession per drive
1st in drive success rate
The Packers will take the field in Week 6 fresh off a bye and with their second-best player in the fold. It’s astounding Green Bay has managed to be the NFL’s most efficient offense despite only getting Davante Adams on the field for 39 percent of the team’s snaps.
It just goes to show how well Aaron Rodgers is playing. He’s firmly back to the territory where he’ll elevate anyone placed into the lineup. Now, he’s about to get his star No. 1 wideout, a true coverage-dictating difference-maker, back into the mix. That’s scary.
While the Packers’ Week 6 opponent in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had their moments on offense, the gap between these two units could not be more apparent. Tampa ranks 25th in yards per drive and 19th in points per drive. On the other hand, their defense has generally put them in a position to play in positive game scripts. The Bucs have an average lead of 1.7 points when they start their drives, the ninth-highest mark in the league.
That defense will have to be the key to staying competitive in this spot. On balance, they’ve been the better side of the ball in Tampa. Stopping the best offense in the NFL, however, is another story.
5 - Chase Claypool is bound to shake up Steelers WR corps
Claypool’s routes run (per team dropback) by week
15%, 31%, 82%, 69%
Claypool’s snap rate by week
30%, 37%, 76%, 69%
Claypool’s target share by week
7%, 7%, 11%, 32%
Obviously, Chase Claypool got a boost in playing time in the last two games because of Diontae Johnson’s mid-game injuries. It’s unlikely he sees the type of target share as he did in Week 5 if Johnson doesn’t go down with a back injury. That being said, you can see the Steelers were already excited to boost his playing time. His snap share and route rate bumped from Weeks 1 to 2 while Johnson was healthy.
Now that Claypool has enjoyed his breakout game there’s exactly a zero percent chance the Steelers go back to having him be a sub-50-percent snap player. The team is already using him in an optimal manner. While some wanted to see Claypool as a move tight end-type in the NFL, he’s more of a Vincent Jackson talent with the release moves and vertical speed to win outside. So far, he’s averaged just 5.8 routes per game from the slot as a rookie. He’s had some advantageous matchups when moved inside, including snagging two of his touchdowns last Sunday inside with Eagles linebacker Nathan Gerry in coverage (per PFF).
Pittsburgh uses three wide receivers on 67 percent of their plays this year. Claypool can easily assume one of those outside spots. If anything, he should probably get a bump over James Washington, who has not cleared 40 yards in a game this year. His snap rate dropped 10 percent from Weeks 1 to 2 when Claypool got the first bump.
Considering they throw the ball at the seventh-highest rate when the game is within three points, there should be enough volume for JuJu Smith-Schuster, Johnson (when healthy), and Claypool to put up good numbers this year. That is a really dangerous wide receiver trio.
From a fantasy angle, these guys are all going to eat into each other. You’ll probably want to rank them between WR20-35 on a weekly basis based on matchups and such. That would indicate you should break ties in favor of starting any of them while accepting the volatility between the three.
For example, Smith-Schuster has been painfully disappointing this year; we know that. He ranks 63rd in yards per game with an average depth of target south of 6.0. However, he’s still the primary slot receiver for the team and the Browns give up the most yards and catches (57-738) to slot players this year. He has the best matchup so he might be closer to WR20 while Claypool and Johnson (if he plays) should still be in starting consideration, just with tempered expectations outside the top-30 ranked players.