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Friday Walkthrough

Walkthrough Week 16: Ronald Jones Against a Run-Funnel

by Pat Kerrane
Updated On: December 25, 2021, 11:27 am ET

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Welcome to the Friday Walkthrough. Every week I'll be outlining critical fantasy football context for the upcoming slate of games. 

At the end of the article, I've included an extensive list of the stats used as well as what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from.

Byes: None

Already Played: Already Played: 49ers, Titans

Browns at Packers, 4:30 PM Eastern, Saturday

Browns Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 19.5

Baker Mayfield will return on Saturday after missing Week 15 with Covid. Without a doubt, Mayfield gives the Browns a better chance to win than Nick Mullins.

Mullins played well against the Raiders, finishing 11th in EPA* per play (which measures efficiency) and ninth in CPOE (which measures accuracy. But the Browns weren't able to operate their standard offense.

The Browns are typically a run-first team, but with Mullins under center, they had no choice but to lean on the run game more than they have all season. Their -19% pass rate over expected was a season-low and the lowest of a run-heavy Week 15.

Mayfield ranks 17th in EPA per play and 23rd in CPOE, so he's liable to be less efficient and accurate than Mullins was on Monday. But, at the same time, Mayfield offers the Browns the flexibility to open up their passing game against the Packers. This is absolutely crucial for the Browns because the path to beating the Packers is through the air.

The Packers rank sixth in EPA allowed per rush and 15th in EPA allowed per dropback. As a result, teams are attacking them through the air. Packers opponents are averaging a 2% pass rate over expected and a shifting 3% to the pass against them. 

The Browns have a -4% pass rate over expected this season and rank 22nd in situation-neutral pass rate. They are a firmly run-first team with a tilt to the run in 71% of their games. Still, the ability to maintain a semblance of balance will be key to their chances of being productive this week.

Jarvis Landry's return will also be essential for the Browns' passing attack. Landry has been targeted on 25% of his routes, which leads the Browns. He also leads the Browns with a 23% target share. Landry has an 8.5 average depth of target (aDOT), which makes him a true underneath option, and limits his upside to an extent. But Landry is still seeing borderline elite volume and is in play as a FLEX option.

Donovan Peoples-Jones leads the Browns with a 25% air yard share, although he's only slightly ahead of Landry's 24%. He holds some appeal as a splash play option. His 15.9 aDOT is nearly twice as deep as Landry's target depth. So although he has a much lower 14% target rate, he only needs a few plays to pay off as a dart throw.

I don't want to overstate the Packers' run defense strength. They've had a somewhat easy schedule against the run and rank just 14th in PFF's run defense grades. They're a capable unit but not good enough to deter the Browns from their preferred run-first approach—which should mean plenty of work for Nick Chubb.

Chubb played on only 66% of the Browns snaps in Week 14, but he handled 96% of the backfield attempts. That level of usage makes sense. As good as D'Ernest Johnson appears to be, Chubb is clearly better. Chubb ranks fourth in NFL Next Gen's success/attempt metric, ninth in PFF's breakaway percentage, and third in PFF's elusive rating. Johnson leads the NFL in elusive rating, but Chubb provides the same tackle-breaking and yards after contact ability while also consistently picking up chunk gains and breaking long runs. With Hunt out again, he looks like a high-end RB2.

 

*(Expected Points Added, EPA, is an efficiency metric that calculates the expected points of a game situation compared to the previous play. This measures how much each play added or subtracted from a team's point expectation. I exclude garbage time for all EPA data in this article and used adjusted EPA per play, which caps the penalty for negative plays. Data courtesy of rbsdm.com)

Packers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 27

Aaron Rodgers is likely to win back-to-back MVPs, and the metrics approve. Rodgers ranks first in EPA per play and second to Kyler Murray in CPOE.

The Packers understand that Rodgers is the engine of their offense. They have a 4% pass rate over expected and have been run-first in just two games this season. The Packers are willing to run, but they have a clear lean to the pass relative to game situation.

The main issue with the Packers' offense is that they play incredibly slowly. They rank 28th in situation-neutral seconds per play, and as I covered last week, they love to milk every second on the play clock.

The Packers snap the ball with an average of 6.2 seconds left on the play clock, the slowest in the league. They're even slower when winning, snapping the ball with an average of 5.5 seconds on the play clock, the lowest in the league. They speed up slightly to 7.0 seconds when trailing, but that is also the lowest average in the league. They also have the fewest seconds remaining when tied and hilariously, the fewest seconds remaining on their opening drives. The Packers start slow and stay slow, regardless of the circumstances.

This slow pace may be contributing to Rodgers' success somehow. Although I don't know exactly how this would work... perhaps Rodgers achieves some sort of deep meditative state if he says Green-18 a bunch. But I'm inclined to think that Rodgers is simply very good at football and is leaving additional points on the field by minimizing the number of drives he gets per game. 

The Browns have a solid defense that ranks 12th in EPA allowed per dropback, sixth in pass rush grade, and fifth in coverage grade. Although, given that the Browns will still be at less than full strength due to their Covid outbreak, Rodgers shouldn't have too much trouble being highly efficient yet again this week.

Davante Adams is coming off on one of his weaker games, turning "just" seven targets into 6-for-44 and a TD. But Adams remains an extremely strong play, particularly with Marquez Valdes-Scantling out for this game (Covid). Adams has a 33% target share and a 38% air yard share, and is second to only Justin Jefferson in weighted opportunity rating (WOPR). 

With Valdes-Scantling out, Allen Lazard looks to be the next man up in the passing game. He already ran a route on 81% of dropbacks against the Ravens, running one more route than Valdes-Scantling. He'll likely see a small increase in routes, but he was already close to a full-time player. Valdes-Scantling's absence should open up targets more easily. Lazard's main target competition outside of Adams will likely be Equanimeous St. Brown or Juwann Winfree. Although Aaron Jones may see a bigger boost in targets than Lazard.

In Week 8, when the Packers were without Adams, Valdes-Scantling, and Lazard, Jones ran routes on 64% of dropbacks and led the team with 11 targets, good for a 32% target share. The main issue for Jones now is that A.J. Dillon will be more of a factor this week. In Week 8, Dillon had just a 21% route rate. Last week he was up to 31%, and he could see more involvement in the receiving game this week than in Week 14. But even if Dillon is out there, Jones' ability to earn targets downfield isn't something Dillon can compete with. 

Jones is operating as the 1A to Dillon's 1B, with a 54% to 46% lead in snap share over the last two weeks. With a path to increased target volume, Jones profiles as a low-end RB1 this week.

Colts at Cardinals, 8:15 PM Eastern, Saturday

Colts Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 23

The Colts are one of numerous teams that have shifted to the run over the last month. They've had a pass rate over expected of -10% or lower in three of their previous four games. All three of those games were wins (against the Bills, Texans, and Patriots), so it makes a ton of sense that the Colts were run-heavy. But pass rate over expected accounts for game situation... and even factoring in game script, the Colts were operating with a larger tilt toward the run the Titans are averaging this season.

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As you can see above, the Colts had their most pass-heavy week of the season within the last month. Although in Week 12, they also posted an 11% pass rate over expected against the Buccaneers, their highest of the season. That game gives us a potential clue that the Colts are simply playing the matchups. The Buccaneers are the biggest pass funnel in the league, while the Bills, Texans, and Patriots are three of the clearest run-funnels.

Whether the Colts have made an ideological shift or are simply playing the matchups, they're likely to be run-heavy again this week. Cardinals opponents are averaging a -2% pass rate over expected and are shifting 1% to the pass. The Colts may not post another -10% PROE, but they look likely to attack a Cardinals rush defense that ranks 25th in run defense grade.

If there has been an ideological shift in Indianapolis—I get it. Jonathan Taylor ranks first in NFL Next Gen's success/attempt metric, ninth in elusive rating, first in breakaway yards per game, and 15th in yards per route run. In other words... he's consistently delivering chunk gains, breaks tackles and picks up yards after contact, hits big plays, and is a capable receiving back. He's a complete back playing at the top of his game. Taylor should be in for a big day as long as the Colts can hang with the Cardinals as two-point underdogs.

Carson Wentz continues to play below average but non-disastrous football. He ranks 20th in EPA per play and 31st in CPOE. He's actually strikingly similar to Ben Roethlisberger in both metrics. But each quarterback is achieving mediocrity differently. Wentz has been decent on deep throws but highly inaccurate when throwing short; Roethlisberger is the opposite. Limiting reverse-Roethlisberger is another reason for the Colts to lean on Taylor. 

With Colts wide receivers likely to see limited volume, Michael Pittman is the only appealing option this week. Pittman leads the Colts with 1.93 YPRR. Although it's not a perfect comp because he's not a true deep threat, Pittman is similar to DeVonta Smith. He's a No. 1 wide receiver who has played well this season. But as part of a run-first offense, he will be inconsistent week to week. This setup looks particularly boom/bust because the Cardinals are excellent against long passes. Only the Bills have allowed fewer 15+ yard passes this season. And if the Colts can find success on the ground, they're unlikely to spend a lot of time testing a strength of the Cardinals' defense. But if the Cardinals can push the Colts, they'll really have no choice but to target Pittman heavily when taking to the air. 

Cardinals Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25

Kyle Murray is coming off a disastrous week where he finished 31st in EPA per play and 22nd in CPOE. This implosion happened against, of all teams, the Lions. Murray was likely feeling the loss of DeAndre Hopkins to an extent. But Week 14 is also the type of outcome that looks unlikely to repeat, given how good Murray has been this season. 

Murray ranks eighth in EPA per play and leads the league in CPOE. As a result, we can expect him to be far more efficient on any given week than he was against the Lions.

This week he gets a Colts defense that ranks ninth in EPA allowed per dropback, 18th in pass rush grade, and 16th in coverage grade. They are a far more capable defense than the one that just stifled Murray. But they're also a sub-elite unit. So Murray should be able to rebound here.

As expected, Christian Kirk has emerged as the Cardinals' top wide receiver with DeAndre Hopkins out. Kirk ran a route on 98% of dropbacks against the Lions. Antoine Wesley was the WR2 with an 83% route rate, A.J. Green was a part-time player with a 68% route rate, and Rondale Moore was a rotational player.

With Moore unlikely to play in Week 16, Kirk has very little target competition. Against the Lions, he was targeted on 23% of his routes and had a 26% target share, which led the team. Kliff Kingsbury appears to be designing the offense around getting Kirk involved, as evidenced by Krik playing 81% of his snaps from the slot. Kirk operates best in the slot, and as silly as it seems for Wesley to be playing ahead of Rondale Moore, that deployment allows Kirk to line up in the slot in 3WR sets. He profiles as a WR2 this week.

Zach Ertz is now the secondary receiver on the Cardinals. He ran a route on 91% of dropbacks against the Lions, which was second on the team and is elite for a tight end. Ertz was also targeted on 23% of his routes, tying Kirk, and barely trailed Kirk with a 24% target share. 

Ertz still profiles as mostly washed up. Since joining the Cardinals, he has just 1.59 YPRR, which is thoroughly mediocre. But there simply aren't that many wide receivers who play tight end. And Ertz's route rate and target share make him a TE1.

In Chase Edmonds' return from injury, James Conner still maintained the lead role in the Cardinals backfield. He led 44% to 39% in snaps, 53% to 40% in share of backfield attempts, 32% to 26% in route rate, and 4% to 2% in target share. Conner was dealing with an ankle injury against the Lions, and it's possible that this 1A/1B split actually understates his role in the offense. It's also possible that Edmonds' role was reduced in his first game back from injury. But given Conner's play with Edmonds out, Conner is the better bet to see his role increase this week. Both players are in the RB2 mix.

Giants at Eagles, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Giants Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 15.25

The Giants plan to start Jake Fromm this week, so we won't have to watch Mike Glennon. Merry Christmas.

We only have a 13 play sample on Jake Fromm, all of which came in garbage time against the Cowboys. Fromm wasn't particularly good in that sample, but he was better than Glennon has been this year. So I say we give the kid a chance.

Giving the kid a chance doesn't mean we're touching any of his wide receivers this week. Kadarius Toney would be a somewhat interesting FLEX option if he plays, but he seems more likely than not to rest again with his oblique injury.

Really the only interesting option on the Giants is Saquon Barkley, who would benefit greatly if Fromm can move the offense even somewhat consistently.

I've defended Saquon Barkley numerous times this season. Still, I am legally obligated to inform you of the very upsetting fact that he is being outplayed by Devontae Booker in some regards. Booker ranks RB21 in success per attempt to Barkley's RB34. Booker also leads Barkley slightly in YPRR, RB33 to RB34. 

Barkley is more elusive than Booker, who ranks RB60 in elusive rating. But that's been a weak spot for Barkley as well, and he ranks just RB45. Barkley has been most impressive this season as a big play runner, ranking RB12 in breakaway percentage. But Booker ranks RB20 in breakaway percentage, so Barkley's big play ability hasn't even been strikingly better. So is Booker better than Barkley? Of course not. But is Barkley good enough to overcome a Jake Fromm offense? The jury is still very much out on that. Barkley is a boom/bust RB2.

Eagles Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 25.25

The Eagles' identity shift has been remarkable this year. They haven't had a positive pass rate over expected since playing the pass-funnel Buccaneers in Week 6. But against Washingtons' pass-funnel in Week 15, they did at least shift closer to balanced, with a -4% PROE. It was their first time being above -13% since Week 6.

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The Eagles are likely to get right back to the ground game against the Giants. In their 13-7 loss to the Giants, the Eagles set a season-low with a -21% PROE. Only the Patriots (-23% vs. the Panthers and -57% vs. the Bills) and Lions (-23% vs. the Steelers) have played more run-heavy games this season.

While the Eagles may have gone a bit overboard in Week 12, it's easy to understand where they were coming from. The Giants rank 17th in EPA allowed per dropback, but dead last in EPA allowed per rush. They're far more vulnerable on the ground than through the air.

So while the Eagles are likely to be somewhat more balanced this week, they're a lock to be run-first. Part of the reason that the Eagles are so run-focused, obviously, is that they have a quarterback who is a true weapon on the ground. 

Jalen Hurst is now tied with Lamar Jackson for the league lead in designed rushing attempts (83). Hurts is also second among quarterbacks in rushing yards with 731. He's a true dual-threat, and credit to the Eagles for deploying him as such.

Hurts ranks 25th in EPA per play, one spot behind Lamar Jackson. And he's only been slightly less accurate than Jackson, ranking 27th in CPOE with Jackson ranked 24th. If the Eagles dial back Hurts' designed runs a bit this week from their previous Giants game plan, he can have a huge game.

If Hurts has a productive passing day on top of a big day as a rusher, he'll almost certainly be funneling that production through DeVonta Smith or Dallas Goedert. Smith has a 23% target share and an elite 38% air yard share. However, he's currently running cold with an 8.7 YPT. Given his 14.9 aDOT, he can be far more efficient on a per-target basis in a given week. 

Goedert is in the opposite situation. He has an 11.8 YPT, which is far higher than expected for his 8.7 aDOT. Goedert is producing on a per-target basis like a DeSean Jackson style deep threat, yet he's a tight end who sees most of his targets underneath. Goedert is second on the team with an 18% target share and has an important role in the offense. But he'll be fighting negative regression going forward.

Miles Sanders did not practice all week with a quad injury but, somehow, doesn't have an injury designation. From what I can tell, this may have never happened before, and it's only about the eighth weirdest thing to happen this week.

Sanders was in a true split with Jordan Howard against Washington, handling 49% of snaps and 55% of backfield attempts to Howards 48% and 45%. Howard wasn't targeted, but Sanders led Kenneth Gainwell just 8% to 4% in target share. Even assuming Sanders is at full health, Howard's involvement makes him a TD-dependent RB2... and Sanders hasn't scored a TD this season.

Rams at Vikings, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Rams Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 26.25

There have been two ultra pass-heavy teams this season: the Chiefs and Buccaneers. The Rams are well behind those teams in pass rate over expected but form a second tier with the Chargers and Bills.

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It's not hard to understand why the Rams are leaning on the pass so heavily. 

Matthew Stafford ranks third in EPA per play this season. Outside of Aaron Rodgers, he's currently leading the league's most efficient passing attack. Stafford has been able to pull this off despite ranking just 21st in CPOE. This discrepancy between his accuracy and efficiency creates the potential for unexpected implosions like we saw against the Titans. But the Vikings have a middling defense that ranks 10th in EPA allowed per dropback, 15th in pass rush grade, and 18th in coverage grade. They've also had a fairly easy schedule that may be propping them up a bit in the metrics. So Stafford is well-positioned for a strong outing this week. 

It's not just Stafford making the Rams passing game go. They also have Cooper Kupp, 2021's fantasy MVP. 

 

 

Kupp has an absurd 3.15 YPRR. I mean, we're heading into Week 16. We've been talking about the potential for him to cool off all season ... and he just ... hasn't. Here's what I wrote in Week 8:

What Kupp is doing is mind-blowing... because it might be sustainable. Yes, Kupp's 10.2 YPT is probably going to regress. Based on his aDOT I'd expect him to be closer to 8.4. But Kupp has a career 9.2 YPT over five seasons. It's not entirely out of the question for him to sustain his per target efficiency, and even if he does regress, he doesn't have very far to go.

More importantly, Kupp's 33% target share is elite, but not a historical outlier. Davante Adams has a higher target share this season, and finished with a 34% target share in 2020. There have also been nine 33%+ target share seasons from 2012-2019: Michael Thomas, 34% in 2019; DeAndre Hopkins, 33% in 2018, and 35% in 2017; Julio Jones, 34% in 2015; Antonio Brown, 33% in 2015; Andre Johnson, 33% in 2014; Anquan Boldin, 34% in 2013; Vincent Jackson, 33% in 2013; and Brandon Marshall, if you want to talk about historical outliers, 41% in 16 games in 2012. What Kupp is doing is rare, but we see this type of season almost every year, and sometimes from multiple wide receivers. 

Kupp currently has a 10.0 YPT... and a 33% target share. To borrow a Levitanism, shoutout to me. More importantly, shoutout to Kupp. His season is going to go down as an all-timer. And he's set up to close out strong here.

Odell Beckham and Van Jefferson look like co-WR2s in this offense. I slightly prefer Beckham, who has a 19% target rate since joining the Rams, with a 14.4 aDOT. That's a strong target profile and much better than Van Jefferson's 15% target rate with a 13.7 aDOT. If Beckham can improve on his 8.1 YPT, he can distance himself from Jefferson. Jefferson has a 9.8 YPT, which is sustainable but also in the range where Beckham should eventually settle into.

Darrell Henderson has struggled to capitalize against defenses geared toward stopping the pass all season. Henderson ranks RB35 in success/attempt, RB53 in elusive rating, and RB36 in breakaway percentage. Sony Michel isn't a star, but he's been far better across the board as a rusher, ranking 19th in success/attempt, RB11 in elusive rating, and RB22 in breakaway percentage. The only place where Henderson has out-performed Michel is as a receiver... and just barely. Henderson ranks RB57 in YPRR to Michel's RB61. So it's no surprise that the Rams made Michel the starter against the Seahawks.

Michel handled 75% of backfield attempts in Week 15, and he will likely remain in a similar split this week. Michel will probably never have the total lock on the backfield that Henderson did. But he has enough TD equity here to profile as a high-end RB2. 

Vikings Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 22.75

Kirk Cousins is coming off a week where he threw for just 87 yards. But he tossed two TDs and wasn't actually all that bad from an efficiency standpoint. Cousins ranked 17th in EPA per play and 13th in CPOE against the Bears. And he's having a very solid season, ranking 10th in EPA per play and 14th in CPOE. The issue for Cousins is that the Vikings' passing offense can crater even if he doesn't.

The Vikings have a -3% pass rate over expected, ranking 23rd in the league. They haven't been pass-first since Week 11 and are coming off an extremely run-heavy -9% performance against the Bears. 

While the Vikings are almost always run-first, they have been slightly tilted to the pass in a few games where their opponent pushed them, including Week 11 against the Packers—the last time they posted a positive PROE (1%). As 3.5 point underdogs, we can expect the Vikings to be pushed by the Rams, which should help keep them from turning into a shell.

Cousins will have to be at the top of his game against a Rams defense that ranks eighth in EPA allowed dropback, first in pass rush grade, and 11th in coverage grade. But Cousins has played well this season and appears to be better off with a tougher matchup opposite a potent offense than in a good matchup where the Vikings can run to their heart's content.

Justin Jefferson has a 29% target share and an absurd 47% air yard share, which leads the NFL. Jefferson also leads the NFL in WOPR. No wide receiver accounts for a larger share of their passing offense. Jefferson can deliver a big game even when the Vikings are playing poorly. And he could benefit if the Vikings are forced into a pass-heavy script from the jump.

Adam Thielen is due back this week and should help Kirk Cousins keep the offense moving. Thielen is tough to get excited about, but I've played him somewhat often in DFS because he never seems to get played. This seems like another week where I'll end up reluctantly on him. Thielen has a middling 1.60 YPRR, but he has 10 TDs this season to Jefferson's nine. Theilen's goal line role makes him a WR3, as a bet on this game shooting out.

Dalvin Cook is out this week with Covid, leaving Alexander Mattison in line to operate as workhorse once again. We know how this is going to play out.

Mattison is a capable running back. Although he ranks just RB37 in success/attempt and RB39 in breakaway percentage, he's RB12 in elusive rating and RB18 in YPRR. Mattison isn't the star Dalvin Cook is, but he's good in the receiving game and can make people miss. He's essentially a better version of Josh Jacobs. That may seem like Jacobs slander, but he trails Mattison in all four metrics and has a similar skill set. It's meant as a compliment to Mattison.

Bills at Patriots, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Bills Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 20.5

Josh Allen struggled badly the last time he faced the Patriots, finishing 21st in EPA per play and 22nd in CPOE. Before we give Bill Belichick too much credit, the ridiculous winds in that game obviously played a significant role as well. Despite the gale, Allen dropped back 37 times. Mac Jones dropped back just three times... Allen's degree of difficulty was in an entirely different ballpark.

Sunday's game isn't expected to have winds anywhere near Week 13, so we should see a more accurate game from Allen, who ranks ninth in CPOE this season. 

It's possible we see limited passing volume once again, however. The Patriots are a run funnel, with their opponents averaging a -4% PROE and shifting 4% to the run. The Bills faced the Panthers' run funnel in Week 15, and they posted a 0% pass rate over expected. For the Bills, who have a 5% PROE this season, that counts as run-heavy. We could see them with a balanced attack here yet again.

The Patriots have become a run funnel because when teams pass against them, they tend not to like the results. The Patriots rank sixth in EPA allowed per dropback, 20th in pass rush grade, and first in coverage grade. But the Patriots have had an easy schedule, and the Allen should be able to play decently against them.

Allen won't just be dealing with a tough matchup this week; he'll also be shorthanded, with both Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis on the Covid list. 

Davis is now up to 6 TDs this season, despite running a route on just 43% of dropbacks. And his 1.81 YPRR is without shouting distance of Stefon Diggs' team-leading 1.92. Losing both him and Beasley hurts the offense. 

Fortunately, Emmanuel Sanders is due back this week, but he has a poor 1.31 YPRR and is a 34-year-old playing through a knee injury. He might be able to help the Bills offense, but he's a tough start in fantasy. 

One of the key questions for the Bills is who will handle slot duties. Beasley has a 75% route rate this year and is leaving behind a near full-time role in the offense. Isaiah McKenzie is the most likely candidate. He's played 65% of his snaps in the slot and is the next man up for that role. There's some risk with McKenzie not still not seeing a full complement of snaps, but he's a bit of a hybrid Ray-Ray McCloud style player and could get there on a TD even if he's not a 1-for-1 Beasley replacement.

Dawson Knox should also see a boost with Beasley out. He has run a route on 78% of dropbacks this season. His 1.34 YPRR isn't very good, but he could easily have a 90%+ route rate this week, which makes him a TE1.

Devin Singletary has taken over the Bills backfield, with an 81% snap share in Week 14 and a 93% snap share against the Panthers. The Bills backfield doesn't have a ton of value, but the Bills played to the Panthers' run-funnel last week with a 0% pass rate over expected. If they play the Patriots the same way and lean on Singletary once again, he'll be a very solid RB2.

Patriots Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 23

Mac Jones essentially hasn't played the Bills this season. He dropped back just three times against them in Week 13. He may top that on the Patriots' first drive this week.

Although the Patriots won't be dealing with intense winds this week, they're still likely to be very run-heavy. I mean... they did beat the Bills with just three dropbacks. We won't see a repeat of the ridiculous -57% PROE that they posted in Week 13, but they have plenty of headroom before they become pass-heavy.

Even if you remove the Patriots' outlier performance against them, the Bills profile as a small run funnel, with non-Patriots opponents shifting 1% to the run. It makes sense that teams have been attacking the Bills on the ground. They are a strong pass defense that ranks first in EPA allowed per dropback, 14th in pass rush grade, and second in coverage grade. They are more vulnerable on the ground, ranking seventh in EPA allowed per rush and 12th in run defense grade. Plus, the Patriots beat them by dropping back just three times. (I'm clearly not over this).

Of course, the Patriots will need at least one of their 1/2 punch active to implement their desired game plan. Rhamondre Stevenson has already been ruled out, so it will come down to Damien Harris, who is questionable with a hamstring injury. Harris ranks RB5 in success/attempt and RB3 in breakaway percentage. When healthy, he provides an excellent combination of consistency and big play ability. With the backfield to himself, Harris profiles as a high-end RB2. Brandon Bolden is also in play as a FLEX bet that the Patriots trail throughout. 

Mac Jones should handle the Bills' defense if he's allowed to drop back against them. The Bills rate well in the metrics, but they've had an exceedingly easy schedule. Somehow the Bills have gone against the Jets, Panthers, Texans, Jaguars, and Saints, who are five of the six worst passing offenses in the league. They've also played the Steelers, another bottom nine passing offense. Jones won't light up the Bills, but he ranks 13th in EPA per play and third in CPOE, so he's unlikely to collapse under the pressure.

As impressive as Jones has been this season, he's had trouble developing a strong connection with any receiver. He likes to target Jakobi Meyers, who leads the team with a 24% target share, but they're not on the same page; Meyer's has a very poor 6.7 YPT. He's hitting Kendrick Bourne for big plays but doesn't look to him very often; Bourne has just a 13% target share. 

At this point, the most reliable option looks like Hunter Henry. Henry has 1.45 YPRR, which isn't great but isn't bad. And Jones has connected with Henry for nine TDs. Henry was also up to an 83% route rate last week. Full-time usage with a goal line role is enough to put Henry in the TE1 mix.

Buccaneers at Panthers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Buccaneers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 26.5

Week 15 was a true disaster for the Buccaneers passing game. They lost Chris Godwin to a torn ACL and Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette to hamstring injuries. Brady struggled badly, finishing 25th in EPA per play and 29th in CPOE.

The Buccaneers have a 10% pass rate over expected, second to only the Chiefs' 11%. But they may adjust their approach this week, which would make intuitive sense with Godwin, Fournette, and Evans out. It would also be in line with this week's matchup.

The Panthers profile as the league's biggest run funnel. Teams are averaging a -5% PROE against them and are shifting 4% to the run. The Buccaneers have been run-first in exactly zero games this season, but given their injury issues and the matchup, we'll likely see them roll out a balanced attack, or one only slightly tilted to the pass.

The Panthers are a run-funnel for a reason. They have a high-end pass defense that ranks seventh in EPA allowed per dropback, seventh in pass rush grade, and 14th in coverage grade. They're decidedly more vulnerable on the ground, ranking 19th in EPA allowed per rush and 20th in run defense grade. 

I'm as tied to Ronald Jones as anyone in the industry, perhaps because I posted daily about him in 2019 using #DailyRojo, but it could be any number of reasons, really. In all honesty, I wasn't as heavily invested in him this season as in previous years. But he still made up a significant portion of my best ball exposure, and I'm massively overweight in dynasty. So, yes, I'm pretty excited about Rojo week.

The only issue with Rojo-week is that Jones hasn't been very good this season. He ranks RB47 in breakaway percentage, RB51 in elusive rating, and RB57 in YPRR.

Fortunately, Fournette hasn't been particularly good either, ranking RB31 in breakaway percentage, RB34 in elusive rating, and RB41 in YPRR. Fournette has outplayed Jones, but he's also thoroughly a product of the offense. And when I say offense, I don't just mean Tom Brady. The Buccaneers rank first in adjusted line yards (Football Outsiders' run blocking metric). Tampa Bay's lead running back benefits from strong quarterback play, early-down check-downs and screens, and top-end run blocking. 

The best comp for this situation is to think of the Buccaneers as a version of the Rams. The Rams rank sixth in adjusted line yards and have a similarly high-powered passing attack. Rojo is a version of Darrell Henderson that the team has less faith in, and Fournette was a version of Michel that the team had turned the keys over to.

Paths to failure are kind of Rojo's thing, so tread carefully playing a popular Jones in DFS. But Jones' appeal is easy to see as a two-down workhorse on a 10 point favorite, facing a run-funnel.   

If Jones is the new Darrell Henderson, Antonio Brown may be the new Cooper Kupp. Among wide receivers with a 60%+ route rate, only Cooper Kupp has a higher YPRR than Brown's 2.82. The issue for Brown this season has been a much lower route rate than truly elite wide receivers. Kupp has a 96% route rate this year; Brown is at just 66%. But Brown's ankle is reportedly back to full health and is a very strong bet to be a full-time player this week. His 28% target rate gives him potential to soak up available targets from Godwin and Evans.

Rob Gronkowski is also going to be a critical piece of the offense. Gronkowski is locked in as a full-time player, with an 85% route rate in Week 15. In addition, he has an outstanding 23% target rate and remains an elite tight end play. 

Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, and Scotty Miller will also help fill in. Johnson is likely to run the most routes and is, therefore, my favorite of the bunch. But Johnson has 0.97 YPRR and isn't a great dart throw.

Tom Brady is in a tough spot in this matchup. Brady ranks seventh in EPA per play and 16th in CPOE. He's having a very good season, but he's going against a Panthers defense that leads the NFL in getting pressure in 2.5 seconds or less. He's unlikely to be dealing to anyone and everyone this week. Instead, I expect him to be more dialed in than usual to his familiar targets.

Panthers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 16.5

The Panthers quarterback situation is a full-blown disaster. After being benched twice in Week 14, Cam Newton avoided being benched against the Bills—but he finished 29th in EPA per play and dead last on the week in CPOE. 

The Panthers now get the league's biggest pass funnel. Buccaneers opponents are averaging a 9% pass rate over expected and are shifting 9% to the pass. For context, there's a 9% PROE gap between the Bills and Broncos. There's also a 9% gap between the Rams and Browns and between the Cowboys and Titans. A 9% shift is massive. 

And the Buccaneers' defense is creating a shift far more dramatic than other pass funnels. The next tier of funnels, Washington, the Ravens, Titans, Dolphins, Packers, Bengals, and Jaguars, are all moderately influencing their opponents to the tune of a 2-3% shift in PROE. The Buccaneers are on a different level. 

The Buccaneers aren't a pass funnel by accident. They rank first in EPA allowed per rush. Of course, they've had an easy schedule against the run, so that ranking is somewhat inflated, but they should be able to handle Chuba Hubbard.

Hubbard ranks just RB48 (dead last) in success/attempt, RB41 in breakaway percentage, and RB54 in elusive rating. He'd be a TD-dependent option in the best and matchups, and this is close to the worst.

Ameer Abdullah is in play again as an RB2 fill-in. Since joining the Panthers, he has a 1.70 YPRR and could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of increased passing volume.

The Buccaneers pass defense is getting tested constantly, but it's not a terrible unit. They rank 20th in EPA allowed per dropback, 21st in pass rush grade, and third in coverage grade. Cam Newton ranks 37th in EPA per play and 38th CPOE this season, ahead of only Zach Wilson and Trevor Siemian in efficiency and just Siemian in accuracy. More passing attempts could be a disaster for the Panthers.

On the other hand, more passing attempts could be a life raft for the fantasy value of D.J. Moore. Moore's YPRR has fallen to 1.95, but he has an elite 26% target rate for his 10.9 aDOT. Moore's 7.6 YPT could theoretically regress positively, but that's tough to bet on with Cam Newton under center. But against the Buccaneers, we can count on additional passing volume. Moore will probably need to wait until 2022 to regain an elite YPRR, but he can still post an elite fantasy week with a volume boost.

Jaguars at Jets, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Jaguars Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 19.5

In his first game without Urban Meyer, Trevor Lawrence looked like he has all season—bad. 

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Lawrence ranks 33rd in EPA per play and 35th in CPOE. Only Zach Wilson, Taysom Hill, Cam Newton, and Trevor Siemian have been less accurate this season. But if Lawrence is ever going to flash the skills that made him the No. 1 overall pick, this is the week for him to do it.

The Jets' defense is absolutely atrocious. They rank 32nd in EPA allowed per dropback, 17th in pass rush grade, and 29th in coverage grade. But it's not enough to simply look at their season-long ranks because the Jets have also had an easy schedule. They've had the benefit of playing the Panthers, Texans, Saints, Eagles, and Dolphins (twice), who all rank bottom 14 in EPA per dropback. The most efficient passing offense they've played all season has been the Falcons. And yet, the Jets have been the least efficient pass defense in the league. Lawrence is probably not the generational talent we thought he could be, and he's certainly limited by his situation, but this is the week for him to show off his raw talent.

This is so gross that I immediately took it back on A Good Football Show, but when you consider how the Jets are letting up passing production... Marvin Jones becomes mildly interesting. The Jets have allowed 99 15+ yard passes, the most in the league. Then again, Jones has a rough 1.20 YPRR this season and is not the type of player that will be fun to play in 95% of Boxing Day sims.

Laquon Treadwell ran a route on 95% of dropbacks last week and has a less atrocious 1.42 YPRR. So he's probably the vomit stack partner here.

Although, that changes if Dan Arnold is not activated from injured reserve this week. If Arnold is active, he's likely to run ahead of James O'Shaughnessy, but O'Shaughnessy could steal enough routes to make both players flop. If O'Shaughnessy has the job to himself, he looks like a very viable punt play.

Not that you need this warning... but there's still a clear path to failure here for the Jaguars' passing offense. Despite being atrocious against the pass, the Jets are not a pass funnel. Because... the Jets are also extremely weak against the run, ranking 29th in EPA allowed per rush and 32nd in run defense grade. As a result, the Jets' defense isn't causing any shift in their opponents. Teams can do whatever they want against the Jets, so they do what they're best at.

The Jaguars are best at running the ball, and they've shown a clear preference for the run all season. Jacksonville has a -2% PROE and ranks 24th in situation-neutral pass rate. So they're likely to deploy a run-first attack unless the Jets unexpectedly push them off-script.

James Robinson finished fourth in PFF's expected fantasy points against the Texans and will be in for a huge workload once again this week unless things go completely off the rails. Robinson handled 84% of snaps and 95% of backfield attempts in his first game without Urban Meyer, so it seems clear that Darrell Bevell plans to lean on him in a big way. He profiles as a locked-in RB1.

Jets Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 21.5

Zach Wilson has been even worse than Trevor Lawrence, ranking 38th in EPA per play and 36th in CPOE. But he has a similar setup to Lawrence this week. If he's going to deliver on the arm talent that made him the No. 2 pick, this is the week to do it.

The Jaguars rank 31st in EPA allowed per dropback, 25th in pass rush grade, and 26th in coverage grade. Like the Jets, the Jaguars are also very vulnerable on the ground, ranking 24th in EPA allowed per rush and 30th in run defense grade.

Interestingly, Jacksonville is a clear pass funnel. Teams have shifted 3% to the pass against them, and even run-heavy teams like the Broncos and Titans have had pass-heavy games against them. Of course, you don't have to beat the Jaguars through the air, but most teams prefer that approach.

At first glance, the Jets are a pass-first team, with a 2% pass rate over expected. But that is a bit misleading. In Wilson's first five starts, the Jets had a 0% pass rate over expected. Then in Mike White and Joe Flacco's starts, they jumped to a 4% PROE. Since Wilson's Week 12 return, they've dropped to -1%.

The Jets aren't necessarily a run-heavy team with Wilson at the helm, but they have shown a slight preference for the run. Still, if they follow the established book on beating the Jaguars, we could see Wilson dropping back more than usual this week.

And like the Jets, the Jaguars defense is susceptible to deep passes, allowing 15+ yard passes at the seventh-highest rate. Wilson was billed as a deep passer coming into the NFL, with high-end arm strength. And, that is, in fact, the one thing that he is good at. Wilson ranks 13th in adjusted completion percentage on deep passes and is willing to throw deep, ranking 12th in deep ball rate. If Wilson somehow develops into a capable starter in future seasons, his ability and willingness to throw deep as a rookie may be something we look back at as a sign that he had raw (extremely raw) talent. 

Like Lawrence, the problem with Wilson is that even if you are broken enough to fire him up in DFS, it's not clear who to stack him with. Keelan Cole somehow looks like the most explosive option. He has a poor 1.22 YPRR, but his 13.9 aDOT sets him up to deliver value on just a few plays, and he ran a route on 76% of dropbacks last week.

Braxton Berrios is also in play with Jamison Crowder out. Berrios has a 5.0 aDOT, so he'll need a consistent day from Wilson, which is a scary bet. But Berrios has a 1.57 YPRR, which is damn-near elite for a Jet.

Last week, Michael Carter disappointed, producing just 3.0 PPR points on a 7.1 expected points workload. Tevin Coleman had a similar workload of 6.7 expected points and tied Carter with eight attempts. Carter remains in play as an RB2, but he's pretty uninspiring, given that the Jets may be in positive game script for once, which could mean more Coleman.

Lions at Falcons, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Lions Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 18

Jared Goff exploded against the Cardinals, finishing second in EPA per play and seventh in CPOE. But he'll be out this week with Covid, leaving Tim Boyle in place as the Lions starter. 

The Falcons have a very weak pass defense that ranks 28th in EPA allowed per dropback, 32nd in pass rush grade, and 28th in coverage grade. They've also had the third easiest schedule in the league in terms of opposing passing offenses.

However, Boyle was absolutely atrocious in his one start this year. Even in a good matchup, he's unlikely to support anyone in the passing game. And Boyle will ultimately go down as a reason for me to hype the Bills against the Falcons in next week's Walkthrough.

Amon-Ra St. Brown has 33 targets over the last three weeks, with target shares of 32%, 31%, and 40%. But he still has 1.41 YPRR, which is not good, and he has now lost the quarterback who was peppering him with targets. St. Brown will likely lead the Lions in target share, but he's a perilous, low-upside play.

Even if Goff was playing, the Lions would likely have run the ball at a high rate. The Lions rank 31st in situation-neutral pass rate and have a -5% pass rate over expected. They are a run-heavy team that would likely be extremely run-heavy if they were better. With Boyle out, they'll likely run heavily throughout the game.

D'Andre Swift got in three limited practices this week and seems to have a real shot at playing. Obviously, Swift is in a rough spot with Boyle at the helm. But Swift ranks 14th in breakaway percentage and 13th in YPRR. He can hit big plays even if the offensive environment is a disaster.

Falcons Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 24.5

Matt Ryan is having a solid season overall, ranking 13th in EPA per play and 17th in CPOE. But he's been struggling as of late. From Weeks 1-9, Ryan ranked sixth in EPA per play and 12th in CPOE. Since Week 10, he's 32nd in EPA per play and 23rd in CPOE. 

Fortunately, Ryan has sustained his accuracy has during his slump. And recently, he's been less efficient than we'd expect given his accuracy. This week looks like a get-right spot.

Despite stunning Kyler Murray and the Cardinals, the Lions' defense is not good against the pass. Detroit ranks 29th in EPA allowed per dropback, 31st in pass rush grade, and 31st in coverage grade. The Lions are also giving up 15+ yard passes at the second-highest rate. 

Matt Ryan isn't really testing offenses deep. He ranks 32nd in deep ball rate. But that likely has more to do with Ryan losing Julio Jones in the off-season and Calvin Ridley in-season, leaving a rookie tight end as his primary deep threat. Ryan has actually been highly effective on deep throws, ranking first in adjusted completion on 20+ yard throws. 

Kyle Pitts is the most likely receiver to benefit if Ryan is willing to sling it this week. He leads full-time Falcons receivers with an 11.3 aDOT. Pitts also leads the Falcons with 1.92 YPRR. That is key because even if Ryan can beat the Lions deep, that doesn't mean he'll throw deep at a high rate. The Lions are vulnerable against the pass at all depths, so the fact that Pitts is the Falcons' best pure receiver is ultimately more important than his depth of target.

Russell Gage is also in play this week. His 1.78 YPRR is very solid, and he led the team in Week 15 with an 87% route rate. He looks like a WR3/4.

The Lions are actually quite capable against the run. They rank 18th in EPA allowed per rush. And while they rank just 31st in run defense grade, they have had the second most difficult rushing schedule in the league. They're not an elite run defense, but they're not pushovers either.

Cordarrelle Patterson is still somewhat of a hybrid player, but it's clear that's he's now a running back first. He's handled 58% of backfield attempts over the last three weeks to 30% for Mike Davis. 

Meanwhile, Patterson's receiving snaps have tailed off.

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Patterson's new role gives him some appealing TD upside but also makes him more TD-dependent in terms of accessing a ceiling. He looks like a high-end RB2.

Chargers at Texans, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Chargers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 28.25

Justin Herbert has been slightly confounding this season, bouncing around wildly in EPA per play.

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Herbert's unpredictability goes beyond his efficiency. It extends to his throw selection as well. Herbert ranks fourth in adjusted completion percentage on 20+ yard throws; he's an excellent deep thrower. 

The problem is, Herbert doesn't attack deep all that often. He ranks just 29th in deep ball rate and throws between 0-9 yards at the seventh-highest rate in the league. He's attempting short throws at a higher rate than Mike White, Andy Dalton, and Ben Roethlisberger. Despite having a huge arm, Herbert has seven games this season where he's thrown for less than 50 yards on deep passes. But Herbert is far more dangerous than most other shallow aDOT quarterbacks because he can eviscerate defenses that don't respect his deep ball ability. As he's reminded the league by going off for 150+ yards on deep passes in two games this season. Herbert may be unpredictable, but the combination of a strong deep ball and the ability to carve up defenses underneath gives him an elite ceiling.

The Texans defense isn't terrible, ranking 21st in EPA allowed per dropback. But their 32nd ranking in coverage grade is another reminder of Herbert's ability to deliver elite weeks. 

Herbert will be without one of his biggest weapons, with Austin Ekeler on the Covid list. And Ekeler's absence could have a material effect on the Chargers' offensive approach.

The Texans' defense is a clear run funnel. Opponents are averaging a -4% PROE against them and are shifting 3% to the run. The Chargers have a 5% PROE and rank fifth in situation-neutral pass rate. So, on the one hand, they're not the type of team to force the run game. On the other hand, Austin Ekeler is telling us to play Justin Jackson.

So we should probably consider doing that.

Chargers passing volume may be limited, either by the Texans' run-funnel or by game script as 10.5 point favorites. So it would be nice to bet on a downfield target this week, which can generate points without a ton of passing volume. However, Mike Williams is getting challenging to trust. After ranking WR10 in Weeks 1-7 with 2.45 YPRR, Williams is down to WR42 since Week 8, with 1.56 YPRR. Still, Williams has an appealing profile here with an 11.1 aDOT. Mike Williams' profile provides spike week upside if Herbert delivers elite efficiency.

Keenan Allen is the safer bet. He leads Williams slightly in YPRR, 1.94 YPRR to 1.92. But Allen has a 25% target rate to Williams' 20% and a 27% target share to Williams' 20%. Williams can make his day without a ton of targets... but he's also very unlikely to see a ton of targets. Allen has upside for a big workload by dominating target volume, even if passing volume overall is limited.

 Texans Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 18

The Texans are terrible at running the ball, ranking dead last in both EPA per rush and rushing success rate. When you're highly inefficient at something and consistently fail at it, you generally stop doing it. But the Texans aren't just continuing to run the ball; they've built their identity around it. Houston has a -3% pass rate over expected and ranks 29th in situation-neutral pass rate.

With the Chargers on tap this week, Houston is lock to attack on the ground, at least for as long as they can get away with as 10.5 point underdogs. The Chargers aren't quite the run funnel that they were to start the season, but teams are still shifting 4% to the run against them, and along with the Patriots and Panthers, they are in the top tier of run funnels this season.

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The Texans doing something they're bad at a bunch of times isn't going to lead to a ton of fantasy production. But if you're desperate, you can play Rex Burkhead. With David Johnson held out of practice this week, Burkhead may have the backfield mostly to himself. But for the most part, the Texans rushing attack's biggest impact will be to put Davis Mills in obvious passing situations, with a lot of yards to pick up.

Mills has been respectable in his last two starts, but he has been shaky over the entire season, ranking 34th in EPA per play and 26th in CPOE. The Chargers' defense is built on letting defenses run and stopping the pass. And while that has occasionally backfired, the Texans are perfectly tailored to fall into the Chargers' trap.

Brandin Cooks had 7-102-2 in Week 15 but is now on the Covid list, leaving a massive hole in the Texans' offense. Cooks leads the Texans with a 28% target share and an elite 41% air yard share. Nico Collins is the best bet to slot into Cooks' role, but the rookie has just a 1.10 YPRR. He's a thin bet, given that the Texans will likely be attempting to run as much as humanly possible.

Ravens at Bengals, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Ravens Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 20

Tyler Huntley looks likely to fill in again for the Ravens. He's coming off a very impressive showing against the Packers, where he ranked fourth in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE. Huntley now ranks higher in CPOE (18th) than Lamar Jackson (24th). Although Jackson still has a healthy lead over him in EPA per play, ranking 23rd to Huntley's 31st. I'm not on the hUnTleY iS bEtTeR bandwagon, but I think Huntley is a quite capable fill-in.

The Ravens seem to think so as well, as they appear to be running their normal offense with Huntley.

The Ravens are a balanced team; they have a -1% pass rate over expected and rank 11th in situation-neutral pass rate. The willingness to run their offense through Huntley should keep passing volume reasonably healthy. 

That's great news this week because the Bengals are slight a pass-funnel. Opponents are averaging a 2% PROE and shifting 2% to the pass. If the Bengals push on the other side, the Ravens could have increased passing volume against a good but not great Bengals pass defense. 

Mark Andrews has been the star of the Huntley show, with a 10-136-2 line against the Packers on 12 targets. Marquise Brown saw 14 targets against the Packers, however. He oddly had a 4.4 aDOT, but otherwise, it was a strong showing for Brown in terms of target volume. He now trails Andrews 1.78 to 2.07 in YPRR, but he remains a vital piece of the offense.

Rashod Bateman actually led the Ravens in routes in Week 15, which is very bullish considering his part-time role in the offense over the previous few weeks. However, he was targeted just twice. Bateman has a poor 1.39 YPRR this season, which is in line with his target profile. If he's going to break out, he needs to earn targets at a higher rate. In the meantime, he looks like a dart throw bet that this game shoots out.

Latavius Murray reemerged in Week 15, which is great for him and all, but it absolutely crushes the value of this backfield. Murray had a workload of 9.2 expected points, with Devonta Freeman at 6.4 expected points. Neither back is talented enough to be usable with a sub 10 expected point workload.

Bengals Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 24.5

Joe Burrow ranks 11th in EPA per play and fifth in CPOE. He's having a good season. But Burrow has been very mediocre over the last three weeks, ranking just 24th in EPA per play. That includes his least efficient week of the season, just three weeks ago. 

Burrow's slump has coincided with the Bengals returning to a run-heavy attack. The Bengals' run-first approach probably isn't helping Burrow. But it's their shift on 1st-and-10 that's likely doing the most damage.

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This offensive shift provides the Bengals with the worst of both worlds. Running on 1st-and-10 at a high rate lets defenses off the hook in a situation where they have to account for Burrow. That sacrifice might make sense might make sense if the Bengals had an efficient run game; they do not. The Bengals rank 25th in EPA per rush and 21st in rushing success rate. As a result, a higher dose of early-down runs will lead to a higher quantity of sub-optimal passing situations.

To some extent, I understand the Bengals' reluctance to pass. The Bengals offensive line ranks 24th in pass blocking grade. The last thing they want to do is get their franchise quarterback hurt gain. But by forgoing passes on 1st-and-10, the Bengals are setting Burow up for a higher rate of obvious passing third downs. That's the most dangerous situation for Burrow to be in and something that the Bengals should be looking to avoid. But they do not seem to be on the same page.

This dynamic makes it difficult for the Bengals to push opposing offenses into shootouts. Burrow has gone for over 300 yards in two of his last three games, but both came in losses. Burrow hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards in a win since Week 7.

But... and it's a big but... Burrow's 416-yard outing in Week 7 came against the Ravens. And the Ravens have emerged as one of the league's biggest pass funnels. Opponents are averaging a 4% pass rate over expected against the Ravens and are shifting 3% to the pass.

The Bengals are still likely to put Burrow in sub-optimal passing situations, but he'll likely get more opportunities overall. He'll also be in the perfect matchup for his skillset and weapons. 

The Ravens blitz at the sixth-highest rate in the league, but Burrow is deadly against it. Burrow has a 10.8 YPA against the blitz, which leads the league, and he ranks fifth in passer rating against the blitz.

Even better, the Ravens are vulnerable to the deep pass. They're allowing 15+ yard passes at the fourth-highest rate, behind only the Jets, Lions, and Falcons. When Burrow faced the Ravens in Week 7, Ja'Marr Chase went for 201 yards, and Tee Higgins led the team with 15 targets and 177 air yards. If Tyler Huntley can push the Bengals like he did the Packers, Burrow is set up to deliver a big game for both of his elite deep threats.

It may seem like hyperbole to call Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase elite deep threats, but there's no doubt that they are. Chase has a 14.5 aDOT and elite 2.14 YPRR and leads the team with a 40% air yard share. Chase's per-target efficiency has finally cooled off enough that his YPRR is a strong indicator of what we can expect from him going forward. Meanwhile, Tee Higgins has a 12.2 aDOT, an elite 2.12 YPRR, and leads the team with a 25% target share. Higgins is more of a classic No. 1 than exclusively a deep threat. But he has the same aDOT as Marquise Brown and Stefon Diggs, so he's hardly an underneath option. Things probably need to go perfectly for Burrow to support big days for both of his top receivers, but he looks poised to deliver a spike week for at least one of them.

Tyler Boyd is up to 1.62 YPRR but is still well behind the top two options. He's also running hot with a 9.1 YPT for his shallow 7.8 aDOT. He'll likely be less efficient as an underneath option going forward and looks like a WR3/4.

One of the interesting things about offenses that are overly dependent on the run... is that it's not even necessarily good for the running back. If this was a Jonathan Taylor situation where the most efficient path was the ground game... sure, let's do it. But that is not what's happening here.

Joe Mixon ranks just RB29 in expected points over the last three weeks. Ultimately, running backs are more efficient when running against lighter fronts will do better in high-scoring offenses. So the Bengals' run-heavy approach has been bad for everyone in the offense, including Mixon.

Mixon has an 8% target share and has handled 73% of red zone attempts. He's an RB1 who could deliver an elite ceiling if the Bengals' offense optimizes for scoring points.

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Bears at Seahawks, 4:05 PM Eastern, Sunday

Bears Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 17.5

Nick Foles will be the Bears' starting quarterback this week because, of course. He will be going against a Seahawks defense that ranks 19th in EPA allowed per dropback, 29th in pass rush grade, and 30th in coverage grade. Foles is a lock to make me regret writing this, but he could actually be decent this week. 

Darnell Mooney is the primary option in the receiving game with a 25% target share and 34% air yard share. He's getting a healthy share of volume. Mooney has a poor 8.1 YPT for his 12.4 aDOT, however. If Foles isn't a disaster, it'll likely be because he has a connection with Mooney, who shapes up as a WR3.

Cole Kmet had an 87% route rate against the Vikings, putting him in an elite tier of pure route opportunity among tight ends. And Kmet has an impressive 19% target rate. He's in play as a punt tight end as a bet on Foles to find some efficiency as a passer. 

The Bears are likely to limit Foles' volume as much as possible, though. They have a -2% pass rate over expected and rank 27th in situation-neutral pass rate. They are a bit like the Lions in that they're a run-first team who would likely be very run-heavy if they were in better game scripts.

As 6.5 point underdogs, the Bears may not spend a ton of time in positive game script, but they could keep things close throughout the game. If so, David Montgomery could be in for quite a bit of work. Montgomery has a 77% snap rate and has handled 82% of the Bears' backfield attempts.

The Seahawks have a capable run defense that ranks 11th in EPA allowed per play and third in run defense grade. But the Seahawks aren't a shutdown unit. The Bears are likely to operate with their preferred run-first approach, making Montgomery a volume-based RB2. 

Seahawks Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 24

Russell Wilson returned from injury and clearly wasn't himself. Wilson was highly accurate to start the season, as he's been his entire career. But his accuracy was concerningly bad in his first three games back from mallet finger. Then he was highly accurate against the 49ers. And although his accuracy dropped off again against the Texans, he had his most efficient game of the year... so I wasn't worried. After the Rams game, I'm thinking I should have been.

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Wilson is 30th in EPA per play and 19th in CPOE in his six games back from injury. Still, I don't want to overstate how badly Wilson is playing. Kyler Murray is 29th in EPA per play over that stretch and has been even less accurate. It's possible we see vintage Russ this week. It's also possible that Wilson won't look like a star again until he's in a different city.

One of the issues with Wilson is that when he's struggling, the offense tends to shift heavily to the run in neutral situations. If the Seahawks had Jonathan Taylor... that would make sense. But the Seahawks have a mediocre run game that is setting Wilson up for more difficult throws on later downs. With Wilson struggling against the Rams, the Seahawks dropped to a -10% pass rate over expected on 1st-and-10, their second time falling to -10% since his return.

As much as I'd like to tell you otherwise, we'll likely see that dynamic again this week. The Bears aren't a great pass defense; they rank just 26th in EPA allowed per dropback, 22nd in pass rush grade, and 24th in coverage grade. But they're even worse against the run, ranking 28th in EPA allowed per dropback and 27th in run defense grade. The Bears have also had the most difficult schedule of opposing passing games in the league. They've played the Packers (twice), Rams, Cardinals, 49ers, Buccaneers, and Vikings, who are all top eight passing offenses. Given their schedule, it's remarkable that teams are actually shifting 2% to the run against the Bears. This is an indicator that their pass defense is likely underrated by the metrics, which isn't great news for Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

Lockett will be back in the lineup at least, after missing Week 15 with Covid. Lockett has an elite 2.46 YPRR, and with his 16.0 aDOT, he can deliver a big day on limited targets, which is precisely what we need this week. But Metcalf has a very similar profile. He has a 13.4 aDOT and a 24% target rate to Lockett's 21%. However, Metcalf has just an 8.0 YPT to Lockett's 11.5, which is absolutely torching his fantasy value. Metcalf is the type of player where betting on talent in the face of a poor YPT is very often a winning play. So although he doesn't have a great matchup this week and will be part of a low-volume attack... if Metcalf gets on the same page with Wilson again, he can deliver a spike week despite it all.

With the Bears being a small run funnel, we should see plenty of rush attempts. DeeJay Dallas led the Seahawks in snaps against the Rams, but that was a function of game script. Rashaad Penny handled 58% of backfield of attempts on just 42% of snaps. With the Seahawks as 6.5 point favorites, they should be in neutral or positive game script for most of the game. Penny handled 57% of snaps against the Texans, and he profiles as an RB2 option this week as a bet that the Seahawks control the game.

Steelers at Chiefs, 4:25 PM Eastern, Sunday

Steelers Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 18.25

Ben Roethlisberger ranks 26th in EPA per play and 30th in CPOE. He is the last of the semi-competent quarterbacks in the EPA rankings before things fall off into Sam Darnold, rookies, washed-up vets, and backups.

Roethlisberger is getting a Chiefs defense that has improved significantly since early in the season. To be clear, the Chiefs aren't a great pass defense. They rank 24th in EPA allowed per dropback, 22nd in pass rush grade, and ninth in coverage grade. They're still vulnerable through the air. But the Chiefs were getting shellacked early in the year, and that's no longer the case.

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Chiefs opponents have been balanced in terms of pass rate over expected, and the Steelers are a balanced team. But with Pittsburgh getting 8.5 points this week, we could still see increased passing volume based on the game situation.

Passing volume is Diontae Johnson's lifeblood. He has an elite 30% target share and an elite 0.70 WOPR. Despite not being the deep threat in the Steelers' offense, he leads the team with a 37% air yard share. Johnson also has an elite 2.12 YPRR, so he's not simply getting empty targets. If the Chiefs push the Steelers, Johnson has a high PRR floor and a borderline-elite (even if volume-based) ceiling.

Chase Claypool has a very impressive 2.00 YPRR, and with a 12.7 aDOT, he's technically the deep threat in this offense. If this game really gets going, Claypool can have a big day. But he lacks the high floor that Johnson provides.

The Chiefs are also a below-average defense on the ground, ranking 23rd in EPA allowed per rush and 24th in run defense grade. But the Chiefs might still be more capable at stopping the run than the Steelers' offensive line is at blocking for it. The Steelers rank 31st in adjusted line yards this season. Only the Texans are a worse run blocking unit.

Ultimately this adds up to more of the same for Najee Harris. The rookie ranks third in expected points per game, behind only Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara. But Harris has left 46 points on the field this season for an average of 3.3 per game. For context, only two running backs have left more points on the field over the last three years: Ezekiel Elliott (2020) and Leonard Fournette (2019). Harris' inefficiency doesn't mean that he's bad. But it probably does mean that he's not good enough to overcome a bad situation. In fairness, very few running backs are. His workload remains elite, and if he can perform to expectations in a good matchup, he can deliver a high-end RB1 week.

Chiefs Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 26.75

Patrick Mahomes ranks fifth in EPA per play this season and is coming off a strong two-game stretch. 

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Unfortunately, two-high safety was invented this year. Otherwise, Mahomes would be in the MVP discussion again. 

Of course, we have major red flags this week. With both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce on the Covid list, we're looking at a potential supporting cast of Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Josh Gordon, Mecole Hardman, and Noah Gray. Hardman leads the group with a 1.41 YPRR. Considering he's essentially been benched over the last few weeks, that tells you all you need to know about how uninspiring this group is. Gray is in play as a punt option, simply because I'm not sure who else could even run tight end routes this week. Hopefully, we get Kelce back from the Covid list, though. In which case, he's a smash.

Targets are likely to be spread out among the Chiefs wide receivers. They all look too thin for my tastes with their talent in question.

Even if the Chiefs weren't likely to be without both of their top weapons, the Steelers don't set up as an ideal matchup for the passing game. Pittsburgh ranks 14th in EPA allowed per dropback. They continue to profile as a good version of Washington's defense, ranking second in pass rush grade but just 27th in coverage grade. A fully loaded Chiefs offense could light them up, but this version may want to lean on the run game.

The Steelers are much worse against the run than the pass, ranking 30th in EPA allowed per rush. As a result, the Steelers are a clear run funnel, with teams shifting 3% to the run against them. 

Keep in mind that the Chiefs lead the league with an 11% pass rate over expected, and they have yet to go run-first a single time this season. But given the matchup and their personnel issues, we could see them operating more like the Packers. Meaning, a pass-first team, but one that is willing to run the ball heavily for stretches, particularly when ahead. 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is in a near-perfect setup for his skillset. Oddly, that skill set is not catching the ball. Edwards-Helaire has a pitiful 0.75 YPRR and, at this point, is starting to look like a less elusive Sony Michel. Meaning, his ceiling is dependent entirely on rushing workload and touchdown equity. He has upside for high-end volume here and maintains a lead on goal line usage, making him a TD-dependent RB2. 

Broncos at Raiders, 4:25 PM Eastern, Sunday

Broncos Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 21

We have a limited sample on Drew Lock this season, but what we've seen has not been good. Lock ranks 41st in both EPA per play and CPOE this season.

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Fortunately for the Broncos, they're going against a Raiders defense that is a major run runnel. Raiders opponents are averaging a -3% pass rate over expected and are shifting 4% to the run. The Broncos won't need to be asked twice. They have a -4% PROE this season, and that was before they turned things over to their backup quarterback. 

Over the last two weeks, Melvin Gordon has averaged 14.8 expected points per game, and Javonte Williams has averaged 13.3. Gordon led with 62% of backfield attempts in Week 14, but he split evenly with Williams against the Bengals. With an even split potentially on tap again, Williams is more appealing. He ranks RB6 in success/attempt, RB19 in breakaway percentage, and RB2 in elusive rating. He's flashing the talent needed to overcome an extremely poor team situation.

When the Broncos do pass, it could get ugly. The Raiders are exploitable through the air, ranking 23rd in EPA allowed per dropback. But they have an excellent pass rush that ranks fifth in pass rush grade. They rank 14th in getting pressure in 2.5 seconds or less, despite ranking 32nd in blitz rate. The Raiders are also allowing 15+ yards passes at the fourth-lowest rate. Highly competent quarterbacks have had big days against them, but it will be a tall order for Drew Lock to be productive.

Jerry Jeudy can still be considered the top receiving option for the Broncos, but his 1.79 YPRR isn't ideal for a low-volume passing offense. He profiles somewhat similarly to DeVonta Smith in that regard, except Smith has the advantage of being a deep threat, while Jeudy has a shallow 9.1 aDOT. Jeudy is a bet that Lock finds some consistency this week, which makes him a low probability bet.

Raiders Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 20

Derek Carr nearly lost a game to Nick Mullins... but he's still having an impressive season. Carr ranks 10th in EPA per play and 11th in CPOE.

He's going up against a mediocre-poor Broncos defense that ranks 15th in EPA allowed per dropback, 30th in pass rush grade, and 21st in coverage grade. The Broncos are also somewhat vulnerable against the deep ball, allowing 15+ yard passes at the 10th highest rate. So perhaps the Raiders can be a bit less one-dimensional this week.

Since losing Henry Ruggs, and especially since losing Darren Waller, the Raiders offense has been built primarily around shallow targets to Hunter Renfrow. To Renfrow's credit, he has 2.00 YPRR, which is impressive considering his extremely shallow 6.2 aDOT. But as good as Renfrow has been, the Raiders would be far more dangerous if they also had someone who could challenge downfield.

They're currently relying on Zay Jones as their primary downfield weapon, and it's going about as well as you'd expect. Jones has a 1.14 YPRR. But he's a full-time player and is second on the team to only Darren Waller in air yards. He's highly uninspiring but also the most likely beneficiary if Carr finds some success deep against the Broncos. 

The Broncos are also mediocre-poor against the run, ranking 22nd in EPA allowed per rush and 17th in run defense grade, which set gives Josh Jacobs a promising setup.

Over the last two weeks, Jacobs has a 70% snap share, 77% of backfield attempts, and a 13% target share. He's a volume-based RB1, given the plus matchup.

Washington at Cowboys, 8:20 PM Eastern, Sunday

Washington Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 18.5

Washington gets Taylor Heinicke back from the Covid list this week, just in time for a rematch against Dallas. When he played them in Week 14... it did not go well.

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In fairness to Heinicke, the Cowboys have emerged as the league's best pass defense. They rank second in EPA allowed per dropback and have had a much more difficult schedule than the first ranked Bills. They also rank 10th in pass rush grade and eighth in coverage grade. Heinicke will probably be able to avoid another meltdown, but he's unlikely to find a ton of success this week.

Terry McLaurin is down to 1.75 YPRR this season, and as a result, he looks like one of the most obvious positive regression candidates in the league. McLaurin has a 25% target share and an elite 42% air yard share. With a 14.2 aDOT, he has the high upside profile of a deep threat who is also his team's WR1. But McLaurin is running very cold with an 8.0 aDOT, well below expected for a deep threat. As a talented young wide receiver, we can confidently bet on McLaurin to eventually deliver better per-target efficiency. It just might not be this week. McLaurin has a low floor in a tough matchup, but he also has enough of a ceiling to be in the WR2 conversation.

The Cowboys are more vulnerable on the ground than through the air, ranking 15th in EPA allowed per rush and 29th in run defense grade. Surprisingly, they haven't been a run funnel this year. But Washington is very likely to be run-first for as long as game script allows. They have a -2% PROE this season and posted a -4% PROE in Week 14. The problem is that they'll likely be using backup running backs.

Antonio Gibson is dealing with a toe injury that Ron Rivera has compared to the one he suffered last year. He's listed questionable but could ultimately miss the game. Even if he goes, Gibson has a clear path to failure, which you can literally watch by queuing up Washington's Week 14 game tape. If Gibson doesn't play, Jaret Patterson and JoNathan Williams will likely split the workload, rendering each as desperation-only RB2 fill-in. 

Cowboys Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 28.5

The Cowboys have had a pass rate over expected of at least 3% in four straight games. They may not be living up to the dreams that Week 1 put in our heads, but they're still a solidly pass-first team. If Washington can push back a bit more this week, they have potential for a big day through the air.

Washington ranks 27th in EPA allowed per dropback and 25th in coverage grade. They're also down to 12th in pass rush grade, so they're not even getting after the quarterback like they were early in the season with Chase Young healthy. The biggest limiting factor on Prescott his week is likely to be Washington's offense. As 10 point favorites, the Cowboys may not need to keep their foot on the gas.

CeeDee Lamb's fantasy managers are set up for another frustrating week if the Cowboys don't have passing volume. Lamb is having a tremendous season with 2.19 YPRR, which is fully supported by his target profile. But Lamb is also playing fully behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cooper and Gallup were at route rates of 98% and 95% against the Giants, and they were at 98% and 89% in Week 14. Lamb had an 80% route rate in Week 14 and then fell to 70% in Week 15. At this point, Lamb is essentially playing the Antonio Brown role in the Cowboys' offense. He's a highly efficient and heavily targeted... part-time wide receiver. Unlike Brown, his star is on the rise. So for the life of me, I can't explain this usage. But Lamb is out of the WR1 conversation until he reemerges with a full-time role.

Cooper has 1.63 YPRR, and Gallup is at 1.30, but Gallup actually has a slightly better target profile with a 19% target rate to Cooper's 18%. Cooper is the squeaky wheel this week, having gone public about his desire for more targets. With these two as a coin flip, we might as well buy the narrative. Both players are running more routes than Lamb but are significantly less appealing bets.

Dalton Schultz had a 90% route rate against the Giants and has reemerged as a factor after falling out of the rotation for a couple weeks. Schultz looks fairly TD-dependent this week, but he could certainly get there with the Cowboys likely to put up points.

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard have some appeal with a game script that could favor a heavy dose of the run. Pollard returned from injury in Week 15 and... looked like Tony Pollard. He played 41% of snaps and handled 43% of backfield attempts. Ezekiel Elliott led the way with 62% of snaps and 53% of backfield attempts, but his value is severely impacted if Pollard is going to see that kind of workload this week. Elliott looks like a TD-dependent RB2; Pollard is in the RB2 mix as well but will need to deliver big plays to pay off. That's fully in play, as Pollard ranks RB3 in success/attempt, RB11 in breakaway percentage, RB5 in elusive rating, and RB5 in YPRR. But you may have a starting option with a far more secure workload.

Dolphins at Saints, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday

Dolphins Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 20

Tua Tagovailoa is having an impressive season, ranking 14th in EPA per play and sixth in CPOE. But Tagovailoa is coming off an extremely easy stretch of pass defenses, including Houston, Baltimore, and two matchups against the Jets. He's also been in positive game scripts against the Panthers and Giants.

This week, he gets a tough Saints defense that ranks fourth in EPA allowed per dropback and sixth in coverage grade. The Saints don't have much of a pass rush, ranking 28th in pass rush grade, but that hasn't stopped them from being an elite pass defense.

The betting market has enough respect for the Saints defense that they have them as only 2.5 point underdogs, despite the Saints being on their third-string quarterback. Tagovailoa could be in for a long day against this defense if playing from behind.

Fortunately, Tagovailoa will have Jaylen Waddle back. Waddle leads the Dolphins with a 24% target share and has a solid 1.75 YPRR. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a ton of upside with just a 6.8 aDOT. But Waddle could see plenty of work as Tagovailoa's underneath option, assuming the Saints are blanketing his options downfield. 

The Saints are also an elite defense against the run, ranking second in both EPA allowed per rush and run defense grade. In fact, the Saints are arguably the best overall defense in the league, although I have them slightly behind Dallas. Either way, it's going to be quite a change of scene for Duke Johnson, who exploded for a career day against a hologram Jets defense.

As fun as it was to see Duke Johnson finally deliver on his talent, much of his success was situation-based. Johnson had 18.8 expected points against the Jets, the second-highest total of the week. He added 6.9 points in efficiency, but Johnson still benefited immensely from the Dolphins being able to dictate to the Jets on the ground. The Dolphins will not have the same success against the Saints defense, especially since their offensive line ranks just 30th in adjusted line yards. Johnson and Myles Gaskin will likely form a committee, and both backs look like low ceiling RB2 fill-ins.

Saints Implied Team Total (from PointsBet): 17.5

I was tempted to make up the name of the Saints starter this week to see if anyone would notice. But even if I had, there's no way I'd come up with a better name than Ian Book. Book is a rookie, so we have no real idea how he'll play. I am, however, delighted to learn about Book, as he means we won't be watching Trevor Siemian this week.

Book could be in for a long day against a Dolphins defense that leads the league in blitz rate. Not that there's anyone on this passing offense who you're sad not to be starting, but Book is unlikely to support anyone this week. 

Alvin Kamara remains the only truly fantasy-relevant player in the offense. Kamara disappointed in Week 15 but had a solid 16.4 expected points workload. He disappointed because he left a brutal 11.3 points on the field. The Dolphins are a solid run defense that ranks 16th in EPA allowed per rush and fifth in run defense grade. Kamara is unlikely to go berserk against them, but he's a volume-based RB1. 

 

Sources

To write this article I relied on the following stats, metrics and grades.  

  • Implied Team Totals are calculated using the lines at PointsBet.
  • Expected Points Added per Play (EPA/Play).
    • Efficiency metric based on how much a play improved a team's likelihood of scoring. 
    • I use this metric primarily for QB efficiency, but also for defensive efficiency.
  • Completion Percentage Over Expected
    • QB accuracy metric
      • Data from rbsdm.com 
        • All CPOE referenced in this article has garbage time filtered out.
          • I do this by setting win probability filter to between 10-90%.
  • Pass Rate over Expected
    • Measures passing decisions against what would be expected given the game situation.
  • Situation Neutral Pass Rate
    • Measures pass rate on downs and in situations when a team truly has the choice to pass or run.
  • Situation Neutral Seconds per Play
    • Seconds between plays in neutral game script.
    • Faster play generally means more plays, which provides more opportunity for fantasy scoring.
  • Adjusted Line Yards
  • Snaps and Snap Share
    • Probably the single most important stat for running back opportunity.
      • Teams check in and out of runs with only one back on the field. Being on the field is critical.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus, AddMoreFunds and RotoViz
  • Target Share and Air Yard share
    • The combination of these is called WOPR. Created by Josh Hermsmeyer, this metric scales from 0-1.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus and RotoViz
  • Routes run per dropback
    • Snap share for receivers... since I'm not concerned with who is playing run-blocking snaps.
      • Data from Pro Football Focus
  • Yards Per Route Run
    • A YPRR of 1.8+ is good and anything 2+ is very good. 
    • This metric is particularly useful for young wide receivers whose role could grow as a result of strong play.
    • It can also help identify truly elite wide receivers.
    • It filters out in-game injuries and blowouts much better than target share does.
      • Data from PFF 
  • Target per Route Run
    • TPRR and Yards per Target combine to make up YPRR. 
    • TPRR is especially useful for tight ends.
      • Some offenses and quarterbacks prioritize throwing to the tight end much more than others.
      • Some tight ends are far better at getting open than others.
    • TPRR is much more stable than YPT, so in small samples especially, I'd rather know who is drawing targets than what happened afterward.
  • Expected Fantasy Points. 
    • Both RotoViz and PFF have similar Expected Points metrics that adjust opportunity based on the context of each play.
      • I am referencing PFF's metric unless otherwise stated.
  • A number of other PFF stats including Time to Throw, Play Action Rate, Pressure Rate, Screen Passes and Defensive Grades.
Pat Kerrane

Pat Kerrane is the co-host of Ship Chasing, an avid high stakes player and a full blown "dynasty guy." He can be found on Twitter @PatKerrane.