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Fantasy Football Trends & Takeaways: James Cook, Nico Collins, Zach Ertz (Week 3)

Fantasy Football Trends & Takeaways: James Cook, Nico Collins, Zach Ertz (Week 3)

Hello and welcome to the Week 3 edition of Hoppen to Conclusions! This is where I, Sam Hoppen, will share some of my favorite charts, which are designed to give you an overview of the NFL landscape. These charts, along with the commentary that I provide, aim to help you make start or sit, DFS lineup construction, betting picks, or any other fantasy football decisions. There can be a lot of noise in fantasy football analysis, but these charts have been carefully selected to give you some of the most relevant and useful decision points.

Each of the charts has been designed in a way that you want to target players and teams that are in the top-right quadrant of the chart as denoted by the dotted black lines, which signify the median value for the stat on either the x-axis or y-axis. Before getting to each of the charts and analyses, here are some brief descriptions of what you will find on each chart and how to interpret them.

  • Team Pace and Plays: Compares a team’s average plays per game to its pace over expected, using seconds per play as a measure of pace. On the chart, the y-axis flipped to show faster-paced teams (running plays faster than expected) on top. Simply put, teams (and overall matchups) with more plays and faster pace will offer more opportunities for fantasy point-scoring.
  • Team Pass Rates: Compares a team’s pass rate over expectation (PROE) to its red-zone pass rate. Here we can identify which teams are passing the most when game script isn’t a deciding factor and when they get close to the goal line.
  • Running Back Usage: Compares rushing expected fantasy points per game to his receiving expected fantasy points per game, with the size of the player’s point as his snap percentage. I use expected fantasy points as a measure of one’s workload in that specific area of the game, so it can help us discern which players are getting strong rushing or receiving workloads.
  • Wide Receiver & Tight End Usage: Compares player weighted opportunity rating (WOPR) to his yards per route run (YPRR), with the size of the player’s point as his routes run rate (as a percent of the team’s dropbacks). WOPR weighs both air yards share and target share to evaluate a player’s opportunity, while yards per route run is a measure of one’s efficiency with the routes (and targets) he’s given. The charts show the same information for both the wide receiver and tight end position.

Fantasy Football Trends & Takeaways

Team Pace and Plays

  • Sunday’s AFC East battle between the New York Jets and New England Patriots pits two teams at the opposite end of the pace and plays spectrum. Even though the Patriots have spent much of their season trailing, they still rank first in neutral-script no-huddle rate at 24.4% and leave nearly 14 seconds left on the play clock when it’s a single-possession game. Meanwhile, the Jets look like they want to get in and out of games playing as little football as possible (I don’t blame them). The Jets, with their 23rd-best play success rate should also struggle to move the ball against a Patriots defense that has done a solid job containing some of the league’s top offenses. With just a 37-point game total, this is by far the lowest total this week. Garrett Wilson (30% target share, 100% routes run rate) has a stable enough workload and breakaway ability to keep him in my lineups, but that’s about it. Rhamondre Stevenson also gets a pass with his 18 touches and 5.5 HVTs per game workload.
    • Action: sit all Jets and Patriots players (except Wilson/Stevenson) and fade in DFS
  • Sometimes when the stars align perfectly, it’s for good reason, and that’s what we’re going to have in Minneapolis this weekend as the Chargers face the Vikings. Both Los Angeles and Minnesota rank among the top eight in neutral-script pace and no-huddle rate. The Chargers’ offense has also been exceptional with a 0.098 EPA per play and 50.9% success rate (both 4th in the league). While Minnesota’s offense hasn’t had as much success, the Chargers’ defense has been an absolute sieve, allowing 36 and 24 points (in regulation) during their first two games. Minnesota’s proclivity for passing (see the chart below) matches up well with Los Angeles’ league-worst 0.461 passing EPA per play allowed and 13.6% explosive pass rate allowed. 54 points is a lot, but these teams are primed to create a shootout environment.
    • Action: bet over 54 total points

Team Pass Rates

  • We shouldn’t have expected anything different, but the Chiefs are slinging it once again with a 14.7% PROE so far this season. For reference, Kansas City was at 11.2% last year, so it’s clear they have no issues with their receiving corps being up 3.5%. Unfortunately, that still hasn’t led to fantasy success for Chiefs wide receivers as Patrick Mahomes has been spreading the ball around and creating the least concentrated passing attack. While Kadarius Toney has only run a route on 29% of the team’s dropbacks, he has a 13% target share ad exceptional 0.38 targets per route run rate. Conversely, Marquez Valdes-Scantling has run a route on a team-high 80% of dropbacks with a 14.6-yard aDOT, but only has five targets to show for it. My favorite of the group (right now, at least), might be Skyy Moore as he’s getting a nice mix of route participation (69%) and target share (13.7%). Mahomes and Moore also connected on a nice back-shoulder throw for a touchdown on Sunday, demonstrating Mahomes’ trust in the 2nd-year receiver.
  • I was shocked to see Detroit with the second-lowest PROE number at -8.5% through two weeks, given the success they’ve had passing the ball. The Lions rank sixth in passing success rate at 53.3% and fifth in explosive pass rate at 8.2%. However, this bodes well for Jahmyr Gibbs this week, who could see a boost to his role as David Montgomery is currently day-to-day with a thigh injury. The Lions also signed Zonovan Knight this week and gave Craig Reynolds 10 snaps following Montgomery’s injury Sunday (compared to 17 for Gibbs), suggesting they still don’t want to give Gibbs a full workload. Against a Falcons defense that allows explosive rushes at the 8th-highest rate, I expect a healthy dose of work for Detroit’s running backs.

Running Back Usage

  • In this column, I typically try to rely on usage for my player takes, but AJ Dillon has forced my hand here as he has been one of the least efficient backs in the game. In the 24 games that Dillon has been given double-digit carries, he’s averaged at least five yards per carry in just six of them. Meanwhile, teammate Aaron Jones has a 5.1-yards-per-carry average on his career — across 1,000+ rushes, that’s particularly impressive. This year, AJ Dillon is averaging -1.22 rushing yards over expected per carry (via NextGenStats) on the 28 carries he’s been given, which ranks 25th out of 28 qualified running backs. Dillon didn’t face much competition in the way of touches against Atlanta with 80% of the running back touches, but managed only 6.8 half PPR points despite that workload. In games that Jones is playing, Dillon isn’t getting close to my starting lineup. In games that Jones is not playing, I’d have to not have one of the top 36 running backs that week to start him.
  • The Seattle Seahawks’ backfield belongs singlehandedly to Kenneth Walker, which is a shock considering the Seahawks spent a 2nd-round pick on Zach Charbonnet not five months ago. So far this season, Walker has handled 72% of Seattle’s running back touches and has 10 high-value touches (HVTs) compared to just four for the rest of Seattle’s backs. While he hasn’t been particularly efficient (just 3.1 yards per carry), averaging 17 touches per game will do just fine for his value right now. I’m still holding Charbonnet, who has only played on a quarter of the team’s snaps so far, but he’s no more than a handcuff until further notice.
  • James Cook fantasy managers were distraught this past Sunday seeing Damien Harris and Latavius Murray rack up valuable goal-line touches. Murray led the way with five green-zone (inside the 10) touches (GZT) with Harris garnering three of his own. The positive, and why I’m buying Cook, is that he still finished with six HVTs (including two GZTs) and 21 total touches in the game for 159 total yards. Cook is the only Bills running back to be running a route on over 50% of the team’s dropbacks. So, though Cook has yet to find paydirt this year, Cook’s usage is as good as you could have hoped for when you drafted him, especially for a Bills running back. Plus, the Bills’ overall team HVT usage is extremely encouraging, we just need more of them to go to Cook.

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Wide Receiver Usage

  • In the game of “one of these receivers has to catch the ball,” several Houston Texans wide receivers have stepped up to carve out a role for himself. Starting with Nico Collins, who has earned 20 total targets so far this season and is averaging an incredible 2.86 yards per route run along with a 0.61 WOPR thanks to his 13.5-yard aDOT. This past week, Tank Dell was worked in much more heavily as he led the team with 10 targets and ran a route on 86.5% of Houston’s dropbacks. Finally, Robert Woods is currently leading the team in route participation overall and has just one fewer target than Collins. I was trying to find something negative to say about Woods, but all of his peripheral stats are more encouraging than I would have expected. Still, though this appears to be a bit of a crowded room, I’m more willing to go in on the younger wide receivers and sell the aging veteran.
  • When the Giants traded for Darren Waller, everyone expected him to act as New York’s true WR1 and, well, that seems to have been the case as there isn’t a single wide receiver with a target share above 20% (Waller is at 20.3%). Truly, it’s bleak for Giants wide receivers because there also isn’t a single one running a route on more than 80% of the team’s dropbacks. The only one I’m holding out some hope for is Darius Slayton who has commanded 34.7% of the team’s air yards and, with his 172% target share, has a modest 0.48 WOPR. Isaiah Hodgins does have the team’s only two end zone targets this year (both came in Week 2), but with just eight total targets the volume isn’t there for me to want to burn a roster spot on him. Jalin Hyatt may be the only one I consider keeping an eye on based on his one deep reception Sunday, but I need to see more than just a 26% routes run rate before he clogs up a roster spot.
    • Action: hold Darius Slayton and play him only as a deep flex option, drop all other Giants wide receivers
  • Today’s theme is wide receiver corps with ambiguous situations entering the season and our final group under the microscope is that of the Carolina Panthers. Both Adam Thielen and Jonathan Mingo look to be the two primary receivers in this group, as they’re the only players to have run over 90% of routes in both games this season. Mingo appears to be operating as the team’s deep threat, with a 14.8-yard aDOT and 43.7% of the team’s air yards. Regrettably, that resulted in Mingo catching just three of his eight targets for 26 receiving yards. Terrace Marshall, who was at a 95% routes run rate in Week 1, was seemingly replaced by *checks notes* DJ Chark in Week 2, but Chark only got one target. If it were me, I’d be trying to evaluate my young receiver than give fruitless snaps to a journeyman receiver, but I suppose that’s why I’m writing this in my mom’s basement and not in an NFL front office. Unfortunately, Bryce Young‘s accuracy (59.2% completion percentage this year) and overall decision-making are keeping the ceiling on these receivers at about the same height that Young is. Mingo’s 0.60 WOPR is enough to keep me interested with the hope that, as Young develops, he continues to build a chemistry with his fellow rookie.

Tight End Usage

  • Before this season started, I was convinced that a 32-year-old tight end coming off of a torn ACL would have little-to-no impact on his offense. Well, Zach Ertz has proven me wrong so far through two games. Ertz leads all tight ends in targets per game (9), target share (31%), and WOPR (0.64). Not to mention, he’s running a route on 85% of Arizona’s dropbacks (of which there are a plethora). You’d think this blurb was from 2017, but here we are again with Ertz being a valuable TE1. His competition, Trey McBride, who I thought would be more involved is running a route on just 35% of the team’s dropbacks and has earned only 5 targets.
  • David Njoku fits perfectly in the “mid” tier of tight ends. On one hand, he has run a route on 81% of Cleveland’s dropbacks, which is second on the team only to Elijah Moore. That’s really about all he has going for him, because his season-long stat line of six catches for 72 yards is what you might have been hoping from him on a weekly basis. But, Cleveland has a -4.9% PROE through two games (though it was -0.1% after Nick Chubb‘s injury in Week 2) and Njoku’s aDOT is just 2.3 yards. I’d have no issues with dropping Njoku given Deshaun Watson‘s completion percentage over expectation is currently an abysmal -7.4%.

Quick Hops

  • Alexander Mattison has run a route on 57% of Minnesota’s dropbacks so far with 10 total targets earned. He’ll need to convert those into more than just 21 receiving yards, but the workload for him is extremely strong, making him a buy.
  • Kyren Williams is a stud. He got every running back rush on Sunday and all but one of the running back touches. With Cam Akers seemingly on his way out, he’s a top-20 RB rest of season.
  • Marvin Mims feels like a trap. His two long receptions were fun, but he still ran just six total routes, putting his season-long total at 16 routes run. You can spend your waiver priority and FAAB in better places.
  • The Bills’ tight end usage is mildly frustrating. Both Dalton Kincaid and Dawson Knox are running a route on around 70% of dropbacks and have a target share of at least 12%. While these numbers would be solid for a tight end in a vacuum (especially on a heavy-passing team), it’s clear they’re cannibalizing each others’ potential ceiling.
  • You can’t drop Kyle Pitts (yet) as he’s running a route on 92% of Atlanta’s dropbacks, but the Falcons’ -12.2% PROE will keep me from starting him until further notice

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