Whew. The NFL dodged any coronavirus-related delays this week, and it’s looking like the league has gotten back on track. For as long as we’ve got a season, I’ll be here on Sundays to give you some instant stat-based insight into NFL offenses. I try to focus on the numbers, but I’ll also break down some of the significant injuries of the day as well.
Story #1: Justin Jefferson exploded for 166 yards and two scores on nine catches.
We knew the Vikings and Falcons would score a lot of points this weekend, but we didn’t know who would do the scoring. For the Vikings, it was Jefferson, and he showed up in a big way. Just take a look at his second touchdown:
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 18, 2020
Jefferson has been historically great in his first season. He posted the most receiving yards by a rookie since 2018 with 175 in Week 3, and he came close to beating that number this week.
Can we expect similar performances moving forward? Perhaps. Atlanta’s defense is one of the league’s worst, but the Vikings may struggle to maintain leads moving forward. Kirk Cousins just hasn’t looked good this season.
That said, the Vikings have an obsession with the running game that may limit Jefferson’s floor. Entering Week 5, the Vikings had attempted the sixth-most running plays and the second-fewest passing plays per game. This week, they moved away from the run, but that was likely due to a combination of Dalvin Cook’s injury and the game script.
Jefferson is a fantastic receiver, and he gives you some massive upside at WR2/3. That said, he doesn’t have much floor each week, and he’s a smart sell high candidate following this week’s enormous showing.
Story #2: Derrick Henry earned 264 all-purpose yards and two scores.
The big guy absolutely manhandled Houston’s defense. His huge performance included a 94-yard touchdown run:
DERRICK HENRY 94-YARD TOUCHDOWN RUN! @KingHenry_2
— NFL (@NFL) October 18, 2020
ProFootballFocus noted that a ridiculous 174 of Henry’s 212 rushing yards came after contact. Henry came into this week ranked third in total rushing yards, but he’s since passed Dalvin Cook (489) and Josh Jacobs (377) for first place. He’s already had his bye week, too.
We all knew that Henry was a locked-in RB1 coming into 2020, but the best argument against him was his lack of a passing-down role. Henry has caught just eight passes all year, which definitely caps his value in PPR formats, but he can still single-handedly win you a matchup. He probably did that for you this week!
This week served as a reminder of how bad the Texans’ rushing defense is. They’re a fantastic team to target with the position, and they’ll play the Packers (Jones) before their Week 8 bye. Then they’ll get the Jaguars (Robinson) and Browns (Hunt/Chubb).
Story #3: Injuries.
Football is a violent game, and unfortunately, that means we’ll lose players to injury each week. While we were lucky not to see any season-enders to fantasy-relevant players, there are still some significant ones to discuss. Mark Ingram, Miles Sanders, Zach Ertz, and Jonnu Smith all struggled with different issues.
#3: Ingram left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, returned, and then left again with the same issue. He had logged just five carries for 20 yards before departing. After the game, head coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t believe it was a “long-term” injury, but it hadn’t been confirmed to him.
The Ravens will have a bye for Ingram to get healthy, and then they’ll take on the Steelers’ strong rushing defense. So unless we find out that Ingram is supposed to miss three or more weeks, don’t target Gus Edwards or J.K. Dobbins on waivers.
#4: Sanders suffered a knee injury late against the Ravens. He had earned 118 rushing yards — including a weird fumble-turned-touchdown — before he left. He went to the blue medical tent and had a sleeve put on his leg before the team ruled him out.
#5: Ertz also left late against the Ravens. He went down with an ankle injury and headed into the locker room afterward. He had caught four passes for 33 yards before he left.
We don’t know a lot for sure about either injury yet, but the Eagles will play the Giants on Thursday, so Sanders and Ertz won’t have much time to get healthy. Backup running back Boston Scott and third-string tight end Richard Rodgers could be viable waiver pickups for this week, although the Giants have been pretty good against tight ends lately. If I had to pick one, I’d roll with Scott. Corey Clement will also play a role if Sanders has to miss time.
Travis Fulgham may be the biggest beneficiary of both injuries, as the Eagles will have to feature him more frequently if B.T. Sanders and Ertz miss time. That said, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery will be back soon (Jackson expects to play on Thursday), so we’ll have to see how Carson Wentz’s target distribution plays out.
UPDATE: Both Ertz and Sanders will undergo MRIs on Monday. Per Jay Glazer, Sanders’ injury is more concerning than Ertz’s.
#6: Smith limped off the field in the third quarter with an ankle injury. He was seen sprinting on the sidelines and seemed likely to return, but he failed to do so. The tight end had caught just one pass for 13 yards before exiting.
It’s worth noting that fellow tight end Anthony Firkser had been out-producing Smith before his departure. Firkser caught a first-quarter touchdown and ended the day with eight catches for 113 yards and a score. If news breaks that Smith will miss time, Firkser is worth picking up; if not, don’t. Firkser was averaging 3.67 targets per game before this week, and MyCole Pruitt, another tight end listed above him on the team’s depth chart, is still on the COVID list.
If you’re a Smith manager, don’t let Firkser’s breakout worry you — hold onto Smith and let him get healthy.
Story #7: Marcus Johnson led the Colts in receiving.
Johnson had been back and forth from the practice squad, but the Colts decided to promote him heading into Week 6. Johnson had been used as one of the team’s long-distance threats before now — as of last week, he had the eighth-deepest aDOT in the league (17.3) but only four total targets.
This week, he caught five of his eight targets for 108 yards, including a near-touchdown:
.@Mojomdj is a playmaker.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 18, 2020
He led the team in every receiving category except touchdowns. Although they still had roles, Zach Pascal (7-4-54-1) and T.Y. Hilton (5-1-11-0) were not nearly as effective. So how should we evaluate the Colts’ receiving corps moving forward?
Sorry, but they’re almost all fades. The Colts found themselves in a rare pass-heavy game script this week, likely due to some defensive injuries, and they won’t be in this situation all that often. Through six games, the Colts are averaging just 33.67 passing attempts per game, and that isn’t enough volume to go around.
Zach Pascal and Trey Burton are probably the two best players to roster in this offense due to their consistent target share, although it’s hard to get excited about either of them outside of PPR formats.
Story #8: D’Andre Swift scored a pair of touchdowns.
The Lions’ backfield may be a mess for fantasy purposes, but the team ran for three scores this week. Adrian Peterson got a goal-line carry early in the game, and then D’Andre Swift got a pair of scores later on. He also ran away from the defense on a massive gain late in the first quarter.
FREE D’ANDRE SWIFT pic.twitter.com/tJx4neoBWH
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) October 18, 2020
By the end of the day, Swift led the team in total snaps.
Lions final HB snap count
D'Andre Swift 28
Adrian Peterson 27
Kerryon Johnson 19
Out of 77 plays
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 18, 2020
So how do we evaluate this backfield moving forward? Adrian Petersons should continue to have a high-volume role; he’s the LeGarrette Blount equivalent in this offense. Swift’s stock is rising, however, and he should continue to get more opportunities as the season progresses. Peterson has the look of a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 that’ll need to find the end-zone to hit value, while Swift should be a high-upside flex option depending on the matchup.
The Lions have the Falcons’ vulnerable defense next week (entering Week 6, Atlanta had given up the second-most receiving yards to running backs), so Swift could be worth starting then, too.
Story #9: Ryan Tannehill threw four passing touchdowns.
Entering this season, I ranked Tannehill as a mid-tier QB2. I just didn’t think that he attempted enough passing plays to be a QB1, and he scored once every 13 passing plays last season, which was an absurdly efficient clip.
But Tannehill has remained absurdly efficient. He is scoring once every 13.3 passing attempts this season — if he attempts the 553 passes he’s on schedule for, he’ll score 42.5 touchdowns. That would be the tenth-most by a passer all-time, putting him just behind Drew Bree’ 43 touchdowns in 2012. For some perspective, Brees attempted 670 passes that season — 117 more than what Tannehill is on track to do.
There’s an obvious argument for touchdown regression with Tannehill, but he’s kept this pace up since last season, so this may just be how Mike Vrabel’s offense is supposed to work. He looks like a low-end QB1 for the rest of the season.
Story #10: Cam Newton and the Patriots imploded.
Newton threw two picks, fumbled twice, and took four sacks, but it’s not all his fault. Not only was it a tough defensive matchup, but the Patriots were also experimenting along their offensive line. They didn’t have starting right guard Shaq Mason, and they lost right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor to an injury during the game. They also moved left tackle Isaiah Wynn to left guard.
The Patriots are no longer the offensive juggernaut they once were, and they’ll need to get healthier (and better) along the offensive line if Cam Newton is to remain a QB1. They’ll face the 49ers and Bills over the next two weeks. Those two teams have been about as effective as Denver at rushing the passer, they’ve all both better than the Broncos at stuffing the run.
As a result, the Patriots’ offensive line situation is something to monitor for both Newton and Damien Harris managers.
Story #11: Tim Patrick led the Broncos in receiving. Jerry Jeudy busted.
Without Courtland Sutton, K.J. Hamler, and Noah Fant all inactive, Patrick led the team in receiving yards (101), receptions (4), and targets (8). His strong performance included a 35-yard third-down conversion:
Heck of a pass from Drew Lock to Tim Patrick. 3rd and 21 and Patrick gets 35 yards.pic.twitter.com/e9EkxGiXD7
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 18, 2020
The flipside of Patrick’s strong performance is that Jerry Jeudy didn’t do much — he caught just two of his five targets for 32 yards. Jeudy likely underperformed because he drew coverage from Stephon Gilmore, 2019’s Defensive Player of the Year.
While we can expect Jeudy to rebound, we also have to respect what Patrick’s done so far this season. Patrick is now second on this team in targets (29), first in receptions (20), and first in receiving yards (310). His volume could dip somewhat once Hamler and Fant get back, but Patrick wouldn’t be a bad spot starter even with them around. He’s an interesting waiver pickup in deeper leagues.
Story #12: The Browns couldn’t get anything done on offense.
Cleveland totaled just 220 yards and one score against the Steelers. We knew Pittsburgh’s defense was tough, but wow. The Browns are now 0-2 against the top two teams in their division, and they’ve lost those games by a combined score of 76-13.
Now that my obligatory dunk on the Factory of Sadness is out the way, let’s talk about their running back situation. With Nick Chubb sidelined, fantasy managers expected RB1 numbers out of Kareem Hunt, and some players added D’Ernest Johnson in hopes that he’d have a sizeable change-of-pace role behind him. While it’s safe to expect that Hunt will return to RB1 status in a better matchup, what should we do about Johnson?
Browns final HB snap count
Kareem Hunt 30
D'Ernest Johnson 17
Dontrell Hilliard 7
Out of 57 plays
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 18, 2020
He’s still getting his fair share of opportunities in this offense. Even in the worst possible game script, Johnson got four carries and one target (although he only posted one yard on both of them). Dontrell Hilliard was much more effective on his four touches, as he totaled 29 yards.
Johnson isn’t someone you need to hold onto, but he could have some better numbers soon. The Browns get the Bengals and Raiders over the next two weeks, and both teams have allowed opposing rushers to post some solid numbers. You can drop Johnson if you’d like (or if there’s an upgrade available), but I wouldn’t fade him entirely — yet.
The other lesson to learn here is that running backs can’t be trusted against Pittsburgh. Miles Sanders’ breakaway touchdown last week may have distracted us from that reality last week, but it’s something to confront moving forward. Pittsburgh will play the Titans (Henry), the Ravens (Committee), and the Cowboys (Elliott) up next.
Story #13: Tua Tagovailoa played his first downs in the NFL.
After the Dolphins got up huge against the Jets, they put Tagovailoa in the game for his first football action since his college career came to a premature close. After the game ended, he talked to his parents from the field.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sits on the field at Hard Rock Stadium, long after making his NFL debut 📸: Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post pic.twitter.com/5J7LQ1GNSo
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) October 19, 2020
Tua completed both of his passes for nine yards. His debut made for a great football moment, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have much fantasy impact. The 3-3 Dolphins should continue to roll with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter until they’re nearing elimination from playoff contention.
Stories #14-15: Injuries II.
#14: Parker left with a groin injury Sunday against the Jets. He was ruled questionable to return, but with the game safely in hand, the Dolphins had no need to rush him back onto the field. Parker ended the day with three catches for 35 yards on eight targets.
While I doubt that this is anything serious, Parker will get an extra week of rest to recover during Miami’s bye. He should be good to go against the Rams in Week 8.
#15: Mostert was seen limping at the end of the first half, and he had to leave the game early in the third quarter. The 49ers will have more information on the injury’s severity by tomorrow, but the fact that Mostert couldn’t return is concerning.
With both Mostert and Jeffrey Wilson injured, the 49ers turned to JaMycal Hasty late in the game, and he ended up getting nine carries for 37 yards. He was more effective than Jerick McKinnon, who turned his eight touches into just 28 yards, but it’d be hasty to get excited about him after one game.
If Mostert has to miss time, look for McKinnon to see the bulk of the workload again with Hasty serving as a change-of-pace back, similar to the role Wilson played alongside him a few weeks ago. The 49ers will get the Patriots next, which isn’t the greatest matchup for running backs, but McKinnon wouldn’t be a bad volume-based option.
Story #16: Jaire Alexander held Mike Evans to one catch.
Alexander shut Calvin Ridley down a few weeks back, but his strong showing this week makes him a corner to avoid for the rest of the year. So how good has Alexander been thus far?
Highest-graded CBs in single coverage:
1. James Bradberry – 91.4
2. Jamel Dean – 90.3
3. Jaire Alexander – 87.8
4. Xavien Howard – 86.9 pic.twitter.com/hSaInYqCXY
— PFF (@PFF) October 17, 2020
He’s right there alongside James Bradberry, who I wrote about last week, as one of the league’s best in single coverage. That’s impressive stuff from the third-year player. The Packers will play the Texans (Fuller) and the Vikings (Thielen) up next, and those guys may post below-average fantasy numbers as a result.
Story #17: The Buccaneers limited Aaron Jones to just 15 rushing yards.
Tampa Bay has been one of the league’s best defenses against the run over the past few years, so why is this a story? Two reasons: first, they just lost defensive tackle Vita Vea for the season last week. Second, news broke that they traded for a new defensive tackle, Steve McLendon, not long after their game ended.
So not only did the Buccaneers remain stout against the run without Vea, they’ll also get an upgrade over Rakeem Nunez-Roches in the trenches starting next week. That’s terrifying.
We should continue to fade running backs against Tampa Bay moving forward. They’ll play the Raiders (Jacobs) and Giants (Freeman) over the next two weeks,
Story #18: Breshad Perriman led the Jets in receiving yards.
After consecutive strong performances from Jamison Crowder, Perriman came back and stole some of the slot wideout’s thunder this week against the Dolphins. Perriman caught four passes for 62 yards, while Crowder could only turn his seven receptions into 48 yards.
Perriman works well with Joe Flacco’s gunslinger playstyle — that’s why the Baltimore Ravens took him in the first round back in 2015. But Flacco probably won’t be the starter for much longer, and since Perriman only caught five passes for 29 yards with Sam Darnold under center, it’s hard to get excited about him as a waiver-wire pickup.
The Jets will likely find themselves in a bunch of pass-heavy game scripts now that they’re embracing the rebuild, but until Adam Gase gets fired, none of their playmakers will have much upside. Denzel Mims’ impending return will also limit Perriman’s utility, too.
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