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Friday Walkthrough

Walkthrough Week 5: Nick Chubb, Supercharged

by Pat Kerrane
Updated On: October 7, 2022, 11:55 am ET

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Welcome to the Week 5 Walkthrough, outlining critical fantasy football context for this fifth, glorious week of football. 

At the end of this article, I've included an extensive list of the stats used, what they are, why they're useful, and where they came from. As a heads up, I use some terms interchangeably below: 

  • Routes per dropback = route rate = route % = route participation
  • Targets per route run = target rate

 

Byes: None

Already Played: Colts, Broncos

 

Giants at Packers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Giants Implied Team Total: 16.75

It's hard not to go run-heavy when you literally don't have a quarterback to put under center. With Daniel Jones limping on an injured ankle and Tyrod Taylor being evaluated for a concussion, that's the situation that the Giants found themselves in against the Bears. As a result, the Giants out Chicago-ed Chicago, posting a -17% pass rate over expected. Meanwhile, the Bears posted their highest pass rate over expected of the season with a -11% PROE (which is still extremely run-heavy).

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But the Giants' run-heavy game plan wasn't just a solution for Daniel Jones' ankle injury. The Giants have been responsive to defensive matchups so far this season. And entering last week, I speculated that they might go run-heavy against a Chicago defense that has been a massive run funnel. They certainly did. Only the Bears (Weeks 1, 2, and 3), 49ers (Week 1), and Falcons (Week 4) have been as committed to the run this season. 

This week, the Giants are facing a Packers defense that's nearly as big of a run funnel as the Bears. But the Packers have a much better offense than the Bears, so eventually... the Giants will probably be forced to air things out while playing from behind.

But as I'll get to shortly, the Packers are not maximizing play volume on offense. This should allow the Giants to get away with a run-heavy strategy for longer than you might assume.

And if the Packers don't force the Giants out of a run-heavy game environment, they might not like the results of that script. Although the Packers have an excellent pass defense, they have not been good against the run. 

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As you can see above, while the Giants have struggled for consistency on the ground, they are hitting big plays. Saquon Barkley looks as good as ever, and the Giants' rushing offense is built around his breakaway running style.

Barkley is second to only Nick Chubb in NFL Next Gen's rush yards over expected this season. And he ranks fifth in rush yards over expected / attempt. He's delivering long runs and performing efficiently on a big workload. Barkley hasn't even been inconsistent, at least relative to what's available on a given play; he ranks RB13 in NFL Next Gen's success rate.

Of course, Barkley needs a functional offense to get going this week—which means he needs Daniel Jones to play through his ankle injury well enough to move the chains. But if Jones can tough it out and the Packers don't play aggressively on offense, Barkley should have plenty of opportunities to continue his explosive 2022. 

Barkley leads all running backs with an 88% snap share. He also ranks first in route participation (75%) and third in target share (18%).

Depending on how the Packers play things, this game could be a bit of a slog. But that doesn't mean that Barkley can't have a huge day as the highly dynamic engine of the Giants' offense. Of course, as a big play bet, Barkley's best days will always be somewhat unpredictable, but there is no reason to worry about him here, even if the game as a whole might be a little unappealing. 

Speaking of unappealing, this is not the week to touch anyone in the Giants' passing game. Slot man Richie James has provided some DFS value, but after he ran a route on just 50% of dropbacks last week, he looks like a thin bet in all formats. Early morning showdown sickos should note that TE Tanner Hudson logged an 82% route rate last week, with Daniel Bellinger at just 36%. However, Hudson has been targeted just 5 times on 73 routes this year (7%). As a result, he's off the radar even in tight end premium leagues.

Packers Implied Team Total: 24.75

The Packers seem to have genuinely shifted toward the run this season. In 2021, they tied with the Chargers for the fourth-highest PROE in the league at 4%. But this year, they've flipped to a -4% PROE. 

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The Packers aren't just run-first this year; they're borderline run-heavy. The Packers are also slow. Green Bay ranks 29th in situation-neutral seconds per play. But they're not just slow under normal conditions... they're slow no matter what's going on. The Packers rank 29th in pace when leading by 7+ points and 29th in pace when trailing by 7+ points. You pick the situation; the Packers are going to play slow. This has been a frustrating aspect of the Packers' offense for years.

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Despite getting back-to-back MVP seasons from Rodgers, the Packers have been at their slowest over 2020-21. They've continued that trend into 2022.

Playing slow can make sense. But it's generally a good move as the underdog. Given the Packers' typically huge advantage at quarterback, their approach is hard to understand and has resulted in them playing down to the level of their opponents. If facing a slow run-heavy offense, the Packers' pace does their opponent a favor by keeping overall play volume low. This puts an emphasis on efficiency, which is volatile.

Of course, the Packers have usually been highly efficient, especially when Rodgers had Davante Adams to throw to. And so, in most cases, they easily won the efficiency battle. But efficiency can swing against you quickly in the NFL, which is partly how the Packers lost a home playoff game to the 49ers. It also helps explain how they ended up in overtime against Bailey Zappe.

Combined with their slow pace, Green Bay's run-centric approach is significantly limiting play volume this season. In London, plays will be further limited by a Giants offense that is likely to run the ball as much as they can get away with while hiding an injured Daniel Jones

Given that the Packers' defense is a run funnel and that the Packers just posted a -10% PROE against the Patriots... there could be quite a bit of running in this game.

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But running heavily on the Giants could create problems for Green Bay. The Packers' defense is much stronger against the pass than the run. Letting New York hang around in a run-heavy game environment is dangerous because it positions the Giants' offense to be able to play to the weakness of the Packers' defense. On the other hand, the Packers are much better positioned on defense if a hobbled Daniel Jones is forced to pass. From that perspective, it's a no-brainer for the Packers to put together an aggressive game plan.

But from the perspective of a run-first, conservative team, this week's matchup might not look like one to attack through the air. 

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Given Green Bay's long history of overly conservative play, combined with their recent trend toward run-first game plans, I think this matchup will be too tempting for them to pass up.

A run-first game plan would at least set up Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon for productive mornings. Jones leads the backfield with a 61% snap share and ranks third in RYOE / attempt and first in success rate. He's a good bet for long runs against a weak run defense, which is important, given that overall game volume is likely to be low.

Dillon has a 55% snap share and leads 56% to 51% in red zone snap share, so he's a decent bet for a TD. But Jones looks like a significantly stronger play here.

Meanwhile, Packers pass catchers don't look like great options this week. Certainly, one of them could get there. But even if the Packers play aggressively and put up points early, the Giants' inability to keep pace will likely cause the Packers to lean on a slow run-heavy strategy to salt away the game.

But if you're going to play anyone, it should be Romeo Doubs. Doubs ran a route on an elite 95% of dropbacks against the Patriots, his second straight week at 90%+. Doubs has also been targeted on 22% of his routes. In other words, he is getting the chance to operate as the Packers' No. 1 receiver. The rookie could make a name for himself in London.

Chargers at Browns, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Chargers Implied Team Total: 25

Justin Herbert looked pretty healthy against the Texans, finishing third in EPA per play on the week and 10th in CPOE. A healthy Herbert should be able to handle a Browns defense that is solid but hardly a shutdown unit.

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As far as the passing game goes, the crucial question no longer appears to be about Herbert's health. Instead, the key matchup seems to be the Browns' defensive line against the Chargers' offensive line. Even with Myles Garrett (shoulder) missing Week 4 and unlikely to play this week, the Browns have a solid pass rush. They rank third in pressure rate this year and ranked first last week without Garrett. So the Browns' pass rush could give Herbert some trouble. That is... if LT Jamaree Salyer doesn't play like an All-Pro again this week. 

I don't tend to spend much time on individual offensive linemen in this article. But I need to highlight that the Chargers lost Pro Bowl LT Rashawn Slater to a torn biceps in Week 3 and replaced him with a sixth-round rookie against the Texans. That... was not expected to go well. But Salyer was not a liability—at all

Salyer led all players in PFF's Week 4 pass-blocking grades. We can't expect that kind of performance again from the rookie, but it's a great sign for how the Chargers can protect without Slater.

Even if Salyer does take a step back this week, the Chargers will be able to pivot to the run against a defense that has been very weak on the ground this season.

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The Browns look like a major run funnel, but that is partly because they've played four teams in the Panthers, Jets, Steelers, and Falcons, who aren't going to turn down the opportunity to game plan for a one-score game. 

The Chargers can be expected to be more aggressive here. They should be effective on the ground, but they probably won't lean on it. With a 6% PROE, the Chargers have been the third-most pass-heavy team this year. 

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As long as Herbert is well-protected, it would make a ton of sense for the Chargers to remain aggressive through the air against a middling matchup. An effective passing game will force the Browns to lean on Jacoby Brissett rather than their elite running game.

Obviously, the Chargers may simply attack the Browns where they're weakest. That would make the passing game a little less exciting. But with Keenan Allen likely to miss the game, Mike Williams should see plenty of volume either way. His 19% target share is a bit disappointing this year, but with a 34% air yard share, he can have a big day even on limited targets. If he's the engine of an effective passing game, it could be a big week for Big Mike. 

Gerald Everett looks shakier; he's only run a route on 68% of dropbacks this season and was down to 63% last week. But his 1.80 YPRR looks sustainable, making him a solid low-end TE1. He would have borderline elite upside with increased routes.

Austin Ekeler proved he still has elite upside with 28.9 PPR points against the Texans. He's set up for another strong game here. Ekeler ranks RB3 in expected points per game and should have no trouble being efficient against this rushing defense. But Ekeler will still be better off if the Chargers are aggressive about passing the ball.

As Kevin Cole illustrates above, Ekeler is the poster boy for an elite receiving workload this year. Ekeler only has 48% of the Chargers' rushing attempts. That's not terrible, but it ranks only RB20. If the Chargers establish the run against the Browns, we'll likely see a heavy dose of Sony Michel, who has seen 24% of the Chargers' attempts. For comparison, Michel is seeing only a slightly lower percentage of team attempts than Isiah Pacheco (27%) for the Chiefs. 

However, if the Chargers run efficiently as part of an overall pass-first attack, Ekeler is set up for a huge day. His 19% target share trails only Christian McCaffrey (20%).

Browns Implied Team Total: 22.5

Passing the ball is more efficient than running. As a result, it's generally impressive if an offense can produce positive EPA per rush. And this season, only 10 teams have managed to do that.

But the Browns are in a different tier of rushing offense. The Browns lead the league in EPA per rush, but that understates their running game's effectiveness. Not only are they producing positive EPA per rush, but they're producing the efficiency of a strong passing attack. The Browns' rushing offense is currently tied with the Jaguars' passing offense in EPA per play.

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This week, the Browns get a Chargers run defense that ranks 28th in EPA per play and just gave up this TD run last week.

 

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The best thing the Chargers do is rush the passer. And they haven't lost the ability to get to the quarterback without Joey Bosa in the lineup. Last week, they ranked third in pressure rate and fourth in quick pressure rate. 

With that in mind, the Browns can be expected to build their game plan around the run. That plays to their own strengths and should help mitigate the Chargers' biggest strength on defense.

Normally, when a team goes run-heavy, it tends to suck volume out of the game, making a high-scoring game environment less likely. But as noted above, the Browns are a special case.

Nick Chubb ranks RRB4 in RYOE / attempt, RB11 in success rate, RB3 in elusive rating, and RB12 in breakaway percentage. He's spelled by Kareem Hunt, who ranks RB14 in RYOE / attempt, RB17 in success rate, and RB14 in elusive rating. Hunt hasn't been the big-play threat that Chubb has, ranking RB28 in breakaway percentage. But the Browns' one-two punch is still absolutely deadly. 

Both Browns running backs look like strong plays and should help the Browns keep within striking distance of the Chargers for most of the game. If so, the Browns can pass from a position of relative strength, allowing them to further mitigate the Chargers' strong pass rush.

And the Chargers can be passed on. 

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In fact, despite their weak run defense, the Chargers have been one of the biggest pass funnels in the NFL. Granted, they've played the Chiefs, which tends to skew things. But they've also played three balanced opponents in the Raiders, Jaguars, and Texans. All three teams had at least a 4% PROE against Los Angeles. All told, opponents are averaging an 8% PROE against the Chargers, which is the highest in the league.

I don't think the Browns will follow suit here. You can run on the Chargers if you want... and the Browns are the Browns; they want to run. But the Browns could be at least within shouting distance of balanced this week and should be efficient when they do drop back.

And so, as the clear No. 1 option in the passing game, Amari Cooper looks poised for a bounce-back after going for just nine yards last week. Even with a dud in Week 4, Cooper's target volume looks extremely valuable.

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We can probably expect Cooper to have below-average per-target efficiency with Brissett. But his efficiency could spike this week, and he looks like a decent bet for increased volume.

David Njoku also looks like a good option, given that he ran a route on an elite 87% of dropbacks last week. Njoku's route participation is now up to 79%. As you can see above, he's overperforming a bit on a per-target basis. But he still seeing solid per-route volume and is running a lot of routes for a tight end. In what could be a high-scoring game environment, Njoku should be in lineups.

Steelers at Bills, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Steelers Implied Team Total: 16.25

Last week, I gave the Steelers grief for not moving to Kenny Pickett at quarterback before their game against the Jets. With 10 days to prepare, it would've made sense to give Pickett his first start against a weak Jets secondary. That looks like an even bigger missed opportunity now that the Steelers switched to Pickett mid-game. The rookie will now get his first start against a challenging Bills defense.

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One small silver lining here is that the Bills don't blitz. While veteran quarterbacks can often pick apart the blitz, additional rushers sometimes trip up rookies. But Pickett won't have to worry about that because the Bills have the lowest blitz rate in the league.

However, this is a very small silver lining. The Bills have the highest-rated pass rush in the NFL and are second in quick pressure rate. Not having to deal with the blitz is great, but throwing against seven coverage defenders while dealing with quick pressure could be a disaster for a rookie quarterback in his first start.

Given this setup, it would only be logical for the Steelers to lean on the run game as much as possible. Over the last two weeks, the Steelers have posted back-to-back -5% pass rates over expected. They should be near that level again or perhaps even set a season-low as they try to hide Pickett from this defense.

Given the strength of the Bills' offense, though, it's not like the Steelers will be able to maintain a run-based approach for the entire game. However, they'll likely pound the rock against a middling run defense for as long as possible.

One issue for the Steelers here is that Najee Harris and the run game are not likely to provide big plays. If you're trying to keep up with the Bills, an inability to hit big plays will be a problem. But hey... at least Harris consistently churns out decent gains. Right?

Unfortunately... no, not at all. Harris ranks RB44, dead last, in NFL Next Gen's rushing success rate. And he's just as bad at generating impressive runs, ranking RB43 in rush yards over expected / attempt and RB39 in breakaway percentage.

With 45% route participation, Harris at least remains involved in all aspects of the offense. But the do-everything back is doing everything poorly. He ranks just RB48 in yards per route run.

Harris has a 71% snap share this season, meaning he is still firmly in control of the Steelers backfield. But he's dropped off significantly from his otherworldly 2021 snap share of 84%. This is all to say that unless Harris quickly develops a check-down rapport with Kenny Pickett, he could be in for a rough day against a defense that could severely limit the Steelers' scoring capabilities.

When the Steelers are eventually forced to air it out, it will be interesting to see if Pickett continues to target George Pickens at a high rate. Pickett was slinging it against the Jets. The rookie quarterback's 13.2 average depth of target (aDOT) currently leads the NFL, albeit on a very small sample of just 16 dropbacks. Given that Pickett's prospect profile didn't paint him as a highly aggressive downfield passer, I expect his aDOT to fall off considerably. But his connection with Pickens is still worth noting.

The rookie receiver posted a 31% target share last week with a 20.0 aDOT. Pickens has been a deep threat all season, with an 18.5 aDOT. The only difference now is that he could have a quarterback willing to regularly go downfield. Of course, Pickens has an extremely low floor against this defense. But we can count on Pickens to be on the field; the rookie has run a route on 88% of dropbacks this year and has upside to continue his strong connection with Pickett.

The outlook for Diontae Johnson is less exciting with the quarterback change. He posted a 15% target share against the Jets, his first time dropping below 30% all season. But I remain somewhat optimistic about Johnson. This week could be a struggle for the whole offense, but Johnson's ability to consistently get open should lead to him developing a connection with Pickett at some point. 

I'm also willing to bet on Pat Freiermuth. He saw a 35% target share last week, and his route rate was up to 79%. With the Steelers likely trailing, he looks like a solid volume-based bet at an extremely weak position.

Bills Implied Team Total: 30.25

It was rainy and windy in Buffalo on Sunday, but you wouldn't know it by looking at how the Bills operated. With a 7% PROE, the Bills posted their most run-heavy performance of the season but was also the fourth most pass-heavy of the week. "Run heavy" for the Bills is still pass-heavy for everyone else.

Even with a slightly down PROE in Week 4, the Bills lead the league with a 13% pass rate over expected. They also lead the league with a 14% PROE on 1st-and-10.

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It's not hard to see why the Bills are passing so aggressively. Regardless of the matchup, the strength of their passing game is likely to overwhelm opposing defenses. Meanwhile, the weakness of their running game makes it very difficult for them to do anything but pass.

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The Steelers are not a good bet to disrupt Josh Allen. T.J. Watt might have given Allen some trouble, but in the three games Watt has missed, the Steelers rank 28th in quick pressure rate. As a result, Allen is in a good spot to continue his excellent season.

Allen ranks third in EPA per play this season and sixth in CPOE. He's both impressively efficient and accurate. But as I've previously noted, Allen's per-play efficiency doesn't quite capture how much value he brings to the table. The entire Bills' offense runs through Allen, much like how the entire Chiefs' offense runs through Patrick Mahomes. When looking at EPA per game, you can clearly see that Allen and Mahomes are on a different level this season. 

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As you would expect, Allen's combination of elite efficiency and high-end volume has provided incredible opportunity for his receivers. For now, Stefon Diggs is soaking up most of the target volume.

Diggs has a 25% target share in the 38% air yard share. He's running a bit hot with a 10.4 YPT, but most of what Diggs is doing looks sustainable. In fact, Diggs posted a season-high 98% route rate against the Ravens. Diggs is unlikely to be quite that high this week, but it was still a positive sign for a player whose previous season-high was just 81%. 

Some of Diggs' target dominance is likely because Gabriel Davis doesn't appear to be healthy. After reportedly suffering a minor setback with his bothersome ankle, Davis was targeted on just 7% of his routes last week. Of course, Davis can't be that far away from full health, given that he ran a route on 98% of dropbacks. But he simply isn't drawing targets right now. I continued to believe that Davis's struggles are related to his ankle, but there is a chance he's healthier than we realize and simply isn't living up to our preseason hopes. In that case, Diggs could be in for a massive season. With Davis still presumably at less than 100% this week, Diggs has a massive ceiling even with the Bills as 9.5-point favorites. 

Isaiah McKenzie also looks like an interesting option if he can suit up. McKenzie has run a route on just 53% of dropbacks this year, but Jameson Crowder (36%) is now out for the season with a broken ankle. Rookie Khalil Shakir will likely pick up some of the slack, but McKenzie only needs to take over about two-thirds of Crowder's role to be a full-time slot receiver. As we've seen with Cole Beasley, that can be a highly fantasy-relevant role. 

Even with the Bills struggling badly to run the ball, Devin Singletary is starting to look like a strong RB2 option. At the end of last season, Singletary took over the Bills' backfield, posting an 80%+ snap share in three of the Bills' final five regular season games. He then posted 86% and 100% snap shares in the playoffs. It took a few weeks, but Singletary has ramped back up to that elite usage.

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And Singletary also sees work in the passing game. His 12% target share ranks RB15, and he has target shares of 18% and 16% over the last two weeks. Regardless of script, Singletary looks like a locked-in RB2.

Texans at Jaguars, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Texans Implied Team Total: 18.25

When looking at Texans vs. Jaguars, it's hard not to instinctively recoil at the implied incompetence. But the Jaguars have been frisky this year, and the Texans... hey, they're trying their best.

Despite ranking 31st in EPA per dropback, the Texans are attempting to play modern football. They rank seventh with a 4% pass rate over expected. And they've been particularly aggressive in neutral situations, which generally sets the passing game up for success. The Texans rank 11th in situation-neutral pass rate and third in PROE on 1st-and-10.

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I am a strong proponent of setting quarterbacks up for success. But there's only so much you can do when your quarterback is Davis Mills. Mills ranks 32nd in EPA per play this season, ahead of only Baker Mayfield. Mills also ranks 29th in CPOE, ahead of only Jimmy Garoppolo, Justin Fields, Baker Mayfield, and Trey Lance

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On paper, the Jaguars' defense looks like a difficult matchup for Mills and one that the Texans might be looking to avoid. The Jaguars rank fourth in EPA allowed per dropback and fourth in dropback success rate, both ominous signs for Mills. However, the Jaguars have faced Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, an injured Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts in swirling rain. In that context, the fact that they rank just 22nd in coverage grade is a pretty bad sign for the strength of this secondary.

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And while the Texans might be tempted to run against a Jaguars defense that ranks just 16th in EPA allowed per rush, the Jaguars ranked second in that metric before having to deal with a read-option attack from one of the best mobile quarterbacks in the game. In other words, I think the Jaguars' pass defense is overrated, but I think their run defense is underrated.

With that in mind, I don't expect the Texans to try to hide Mills here. And I think he could deliver non-embarrassing efficiency this week on solid volume.

Brandin Cooks should be the biggest beneficiary if Mills has a solid day. Cooks has seen strong target volume but has an extremely poor 6.3 yards per target. As you can see below, if Cooks can just start delivering as expected on his targets, he can put up a borderline elite YPRR.

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And as the chart above also shows, Nico Collins is starting to look a little interesting. Collins has 1.82 YPRR—the highest among Texans wide receivers. And his efficiency is entirely supported by target volume. The main issue with Collins is that he hasn't been a full-time player this year. While Cooks has run a route on 93% of dropbacks, Collins at just 75%. Collins came to life against the Chargers with a 3-for-82 receiving line on five targets. But he still ran a route on just 72% of dropbacks. That makes Collins far more difficult to trust than Cooks, even in what could be a decent spot for the Texans. He looks more like a DFS punt play than a starting option in season-long leagues.

However, Dameon Pierce should definitely be in your season-long lineups. After ripping off a 75-yard run against the Chargers, the rookie ranks RB7 in RYOE / attempt. But Pierce has also been decently consistent, ranking RB20 in rushing success rate. Pierce won't have the success that Sanders did last week, but he still profiles as a solid RB2. 

Jaguars Implied Team Total: 25.25

Last week, I wrote about how the Eagles' defense would provide a real test for Trevor Lawrence, which would help us determine how much we could buy into the Jaguars' offense moving forward. Unfortunately, Lawrence did not fare well against the Eagles, ranking just 30th in EPA per play and 33rd in CPOE. But rain and wind in Philadelphia make it harder to buy into Lawrence's struggles is an indication of what we can expect going forward. Don't get me wrong, nothing about this performance was ideal.

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But Lawrence now has a chance to redeem himself against a Texans defense that ranks 22nd in EPA allowed per dropback and is a middling to below-average unit in general.

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Even after his rough game against the Eagles, Lawrence still ranks ninth in EPA per play and 13th in CPOE. Lawrence's big weakness this season has been dealing with pressure; he ranks dead last in PFF's quarterback grades under pressure. But Lawrence now gets a Texans defense that ranks 25th in pass rush grade, 22nd in pressure rate, and 16th in quick pressure rate. It's reasonable to expect him to rebound here against a much softer opponent in dry conditions.

Outside of the weather, one explanation for the Jaguars' struggles last week is that Christian Kirk saw less time in the slot. Kirk had played 77% of his snaps in the slot through three weeks. Against the Eagles, he dropped to 44%, with Jamal Agnew (filling in for Zay Jones) playing 63% of his snaps in the slot. But Kirk wasn't the problem against the Eagles. Despite arguably playing out of position, Kirk had a 41% target share, a 50% air yard share, and a 2.31 YPRR while running a route on 96% of dropbacks. He was actually set up for a huge day... if the Jaguars had passed the ball a decent amount.

But the Jaguars dropped back just 27 times, which is tied with the Rams (Week 2) and the Titans (Week 4) for the 10th fewest dropbacks this season. Things could rebound dramatically this week, making Kirk a very enticing DFS play if the market feels burned by his Week 4 letdown. 

Zay Jones should also be back in the lineup, returning Kirk to his more natural position in the slot. Given the uncertainty around his health, Jones doesn't profile a strong option, but his presence should help Kirk.

After looking like the Jaguars' true lead running back through three weeks, James Robinson fell behind Travis Etienne in snap share against the Eagles. And Etienne was much more involved in the passing game, with 52% route participation to Robinson's 33%. This was almost the exact opposite of what we saw in Week 3 when Robinson had a 53% route rate to Etienne's 35%. I'm not saying that Etienne has definitely passed Robinson, but this now looks like a volatile situation, whereas previously, it looked like Robinson was consolidating the backfield. Both players now look like risky RB2 plays, but each comes with a ceiling in a game where the Jaguars should be able to put up points.

Bears at Vikings, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Bears Implied Team Total: 18.25

At this point, I'm so used to seeing the Bears run the ball at an insanely high rate that last week's -11% PROE doesn't even look that run-heavy to me. But, of course, it was an extremely run-heavy game plan. The 2021 Titans, the most run-heavy team in the NFL last year, had a PROE of -11% or lower in only four of their 18 games (including the playoffs). And this was Chicago's most pass-heavy game of the year. 

In case you think last week represents a subtle change in philosophy for Chicago, keep in mind that it was paired with a -17% PROE on 1st-and-10, the Bears' lowest of the season.

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In other words, the Bears are gonna Bear. Chicago is intent on hiding Justin Fields, which makes sense since he is QB29 in EPA per play and QB31 in CPOE. And the Bears could be as run-heavy as ever against a Vikings defense that has consistently allowed production and is giving up big plays on the ground.

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The Bears are a lock for another run-heavy game plan this week as they continue what could ultimately be a historically run-heavy season for a modern NFL franchise. But while the Bears' playcalling is from another era, they are at least using Justin Fields like a modern dual-threat quarterback. Fields has accounted for 25% of the Bears' rushing attempts which trails only Lamar Jackson (36%), Jalen Hurts (35%), and Josh Allen (31%). And the Bears have called 17 designed runs for Fields which ties him with Kyler Murray and trails only Jalen Hurts (34), Lamar Jackson (25), and Marcus Mariota (20). Fields also ranks QB3 with 17 scrambles this season. So we are finally getting the rushing attempts we were hoping for with Fields.

But.. be careful what you wish for. Because Fields now isn't passing enough to be truly fantasy relevant. He has just 100 dropbacks in four games, which ranks QB31. He has only 17 more dropbacks than Jimmy Garoppolo, who didn't take his first snap until late in the 1st quarter of Week 2... and also plays in a run-heavy offense.

And on top of extremely limited passing volume, Fields hasn't been able to click with any of his receivers. No Bears receivers are seeing high-end volume... even on a per-route basis.

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And, of course, Bears receivers barely run any routes. With just 93 routes to his name, Darnell Mooney has run fewer routes than Giants WR Davis Sills, Texans wide receiver Chris Moore, running back J.D. McKissic, and animated dust A.J. Green (who missed Week 4). So while it's not crazy to hold onto Mooney in deep leagues, he can safely be cut if you need the roster spot.

David Montgomery looks like he has a shot at playing this week. But it seems like he'll be at less than 100%, making him very hard to trust. That's partly because Khalil Herbert has been very impressive the season, ranking RB3 in RYOE / attempt and RB2 in success rate. Montgomery has had his moments as well, ranking RB13 in RYOE / attempt. But he's been less consistent than Herbert, ranking RB34 in success rate. If Montgomery misses the game, Herbert looks like a solid RB2. But this entire offense looks like one to avoid if Montgomery suits up.

Vikings Implied Team Total: 25.75

I maintain that, at baseline, the Vikings are a past first team. But they do appear responsive to favorable rushing matchups.

After pass-first game plans against the Packers and Eagles, the Vikings have had back-to-back pass rates over expected of -1% against the Lions and Saints. They now get a Bears defense that has been the biggest run funnel in the league. Teams are averaging a -11% PROE against Chicago and are shifting 8% to the run. Both numbers lead the NFL.

It's not just that the Bears' have no shot of pushing the Vikings off of a run-first script—which, of course, they don't. But the Bears' run defense is also quite poor. In other words, Minnesota should have success if they run the ball at a high rate, and the Bears won't be able to do anything about it if that's the way the Vikings choose to attack. It's a tempting option for a Vikings team with a strong run-blocking line.

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But even in a good matchup, it's difficult to rely on Dalvin Cook as a true RB1 right now. In London, Cook played just 62% of snaps. Cook played 61% of snaps against the Lions in Week 3, a game he left in the third quarter. To be clear, I'm not panicking about Cook's role. He should still be in lineups and can have a nice day, even if his snaps are somewhat limited. But I'm skeptical that he's an elite option as he works through his shoulder injury. 

There is no doubt that Justin Jefferson is an elite option, as he reminded us with a 10-for-147 performance against the Saints. Jefferson has an elite 2.41 YPRR, indicating that he can produce high-end production on limited volume. That should come in handy here, with the Bears certain to limit play volume this week.

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As you can see above, Adam Thielen's and Irv Smith's per-route target opportunity has been much less valuable than Jefferson's. Moreover, Smith doesn't run all the routes. In fact, his 57% route rate makes him a part-time tight end. Both players look like uninspiring options this week.

Lions at Patriots, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Lions Implied Team Total: 21.25

Jared Goff's efficiency this year has been shockingly good. Even Amon-Ra St. Brown's Week 4 absence wasn't enough to slow him down. Goff ranked fourth in EPA per play against the Seahawks, just ahead of Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes—because football is highly predictable and makes perfect sense.

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The interesting thing about Goff's early-season efficiency is that it's the inverse of what we saw last season. Through the first nine weeks of 2021, Goff ranked 32nd in EPA per play but a more respectable 21st in CPOE. His accuracy was a sign that his extremely poor efficiency to that point in the season was partly bad luck. In Week 10, Dan Campbell took over playcalling duties, which jumpstarted some positive regression for Goff. Although he ranked just 16th in CPOE the rest of the way, Goff jumped to 18th in EPA per play from Weeks 10-18.

This season, Goff ranks eighth in EPA per play but just 28th in CPOE. So he's been considerably less accurate than last season while performing far more efficiently. That is an unsustainable combination. Just as his middling accuracy last year was a sign that his bottom-of-the-barrel efficiency would eventually regress to the mean, this season's bottom-of-the-barrel accuracy is a flashing caution light on Goff's high-end passing efficiency.

That isn't the only red flag for Goff. The Lions posted their lowest PROE of the season against the Seahawks. The -9% performance was thoroughly run-heavy and would've been tied for the fourth most run-heavy performance from the Lions in 2021. The Lions also had a -4% PROE on 1st-and-10 against the Seahawks, their lowest of the season. We were treated to a fun shootout last week... but that wasn't the plan.

Instead, the Lions' play calling indicates that they preferred to hide Goff if possible. The Seahawks threw a wrench in that plan by leading the game for three and a half quarters.

The Lions' offensive philosophy is highly relevant this week. Because, for one of the few times this season, we can project them to have a major say in the game environment this week. Facing a Bailey Zappe-led Patriots offense, the Lions are unlikely to be pushed off script. Given the way they've operated this season, it's hard to believe the Lions don't want to attack this matchup on the ground.

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The Lions look unlikely to have D'Andre Swift this week. But they also look unlikely to have Amon-Ra St. Brown. Of the two, St. Brown should have a bigger effect on the Lions' game plan. With St. Brown in the lineup, the Lions could opt to forgo this rushing mismatch. But without him, it would be genuinely odd if the Lions didn't try to establish the run.

That's not to say that Swift hasn't had a strong season. In fact, he leads the NFL in RYOE / attempt. But Jamaal Williams has also been impressive. Williams ranks RB16 in RYOE / attempt and has been more consistent than Swift, ranking RB29 in success rate, with Swift at RB36. The Lions will be less explosive without Swift, but they should still be able to find success on the ground, making Williams a solid RB2.

Despite their success last week, the Lions' passing game could struggle without St. Brown, especially if Goff's efficiency regresses on lower passing volume. But after his breakout Week 4, T.J. Hockenson should be in lineups. 

Hockenson now has an elite 2.07 YPRR. And the tight end isn't even running that hot with a 9.0 YPT. I was highly skeptical that Hockenson could step into St. Brown's shoes last week. But he proved me wrong in a big way. Given my concerns for the offense this week, Hockenson has a shaky floor. But I will not doubt his ceiling if St. Brown misses again.

Patriots Implied Team Total: 24.25

Although I don't think the Patriots will be able to push the Lions off of their preferred script here—which I project to be a run-heavy one—I probably shouldn't rule anything out against this defense. The Lions have been terrible against the run, which should appeal to Bailey Zappe-led offense. 

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The Lions have also been terrible against the pass. This could allow the Patriots' passing game to consistently move the chains. Like we saw the Seahawks last week, a combination of a strong running game and a consistent passing game can lead to spiked efficiency from even the most unlikely of quarterbacks; Geno Smith led the league in EPA per play last week.

But while expecting a quarterback to play as well as Geno Smith might not seem like a big ask, it doesn't look realistic for Zappe to turn in a Smith-esque performance.

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Given a high likelihood of inefficient and inaccurate quarterback play, Patriots receivers look like weak options. But I suppose you could do worse than Jakobi Meyers in the FLEX. Meyers has an elite 2.38 YPRR that actually understates his target volume so far. Of course, that target volume came with Mac Jones at quarterback, and it's unrealistic to expect him to continue the same efficiency with Zappe. But Meyers could turn in a decent day as a reliable underneath option for the rookie.

Both Patriots running backs look interesting this week. Rhamondre Stevenson has led the backfield in snaps for two consecutive weeks. Although, his snap share decreased from 63% in Week 3 to 55% last week. Still, with a 60% snap share and a 14% target share over the last three weeks, Stevenson looks like a locked-in RB2 in a game that the Patriots should attempt to dominate on the ground. 

Harris is more of a boom/bust option, given that he has played just 41% of snaps over the last three weeks. But Harris has run well this season, ranking RB3 in success rate. He hasn't hit long runs, ranking just RB40 in breakaway percentage. But Harris has been a successful breakaway runner throughout his career, and the Lions are surrendering huge plays on the ground—as Rashaad Penny highlighted last week. Harris is in play as an RB2 option. 

Seahawks at Saints, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Seahawks Implied Team Total: 20.25

Geno Smith currently ranks fifth in EPA per play and leads the league in CPOE. In fact, his 12.4% CPOE is over twice as high as Joe Burrow's league-leading 5.9% CPOE from 2021. 

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But Smith is about to plunge into a big old vat of regression. He now gets a Saints' defense that, first and foremost, is designed to stop the run.

Even in Smith's stellar performance against the Lions, Seattle was not a pass-first team; they had a 0% PROE. Smith's success against Detroit was aided by a Seahawks running game with the highest EPA per play of the week.

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This game is going to play out quite differently. The Saints rank top 10 in EPA allowed per rush, rushing success rate, and PFF's run defense grades. As a result, the Seahawks will need to lean on Smith much more than they had to last week.

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The weakness of the Saints' defense is their pass rush. But Smith ranks QB21 in time to throw this year; the Saints should have a shot at getting to him despite ranking 31st in pressure rate and 32nd in quick pressure rate.

Either way, the Saints should be sound on the back end, ranking 10th in coverage grade and only blitzing at the 24th highest rate. Smith has been impressive enough this season that I don't expect him to completely crater. Still, the Seahawks can be expected to be significantly less efficient than last week while also running far fewer plays.

But don't worry. I'm not going to tell you to bench DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett. The two have combined for a 54% target share and a 77% air yard share. Metcalf (28%, 40%) is slightly ahead of Lockett (26%, 37%) as the lead receiver, but the two are combining for a massive slice of the Seahawks' offense. This highly consolidated target volume will help insulate both receivers from a lower volume outing. One or both of Metcalf or Lockett could disappoint here, but both should be in lineups.

Rashaad Penny looks a little shaky as well, going up against a tough run defense. But the Saints aren't the true shutdown unit they've been in the past, having let up 100+ yard games to Cordarrelle Patterson and Christian McCaffrey. With Ken Walker added to the injury report Thursday with a shoulder, Penny's outlook looks strong enough to be in lineups. 

Penny played 67% of snaps against the Lions, with DeeJay Dallas at just 4%. If Walker is limited, Penny could see quite a bit of volume. And even if Walker is healthy enough for his typical part-time role, the fact that Dallas barely played last week is a bullish sign for Penny's role. Dallas could be heavily involved if the Seahawks are trailing the entire game. But he doesn't seem to be as favored by this coaching staff as Travis Homer was; Homer played 39% of snaps in Weeks 1-2.

Saints Implied Team Total: 25.75

It looks like we're going to get another week of Andy Dalton. And so far, it doesn't seem like Dalton will be a big downgrade for this offense. Dalton ranks eighth in EPA per play and third in CPOE this year.

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Of course, we have just a one-game sample for Dalton and a much larger, much less inspiring sample from last season. On the Bears last year, Dalton ranked 30th in EPA per play and 32nd in CPOE. Still, it's reasonable to expect Dalton to be better in this offense than in Chicago. And really, all we care about is if Dalton can support the top weapons in New Orleans.

We're only four weeks into the season, but Chris Olave is making a powerful case that he is the Saints' top receiver. Olave is underperforming his target volume this season... yet still delivering an elite 2.46 YPRR.

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With Michael Thomas likely to be out again this week, Olave could pick up where he left off with Dalton. In their first game together, Olave saw a 26% target share and a 45% air yard share. I was skeptical that Dalton would be aggressive in targeting Olave downfield, but I was wrong about that. Olave didn't just post an elite 2.79 YPRR with Dalton... he hit elite efficiency with a 19.4 aDOT. Olave looks like a legitimately dangerous downfield threat and—at least until Michael Thomas gets back—the clear No. 1 option in the passing game.

Before you get too excited, this is still the Saints passing game we're talking about. At -4%, the Saints rank 26th in PROE this season. They are a run-heavy offense that could find themselves in a low-volume game against Seattle. 

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The Saints were especially conservative last week, posting a -12% PROE, their lowest of the season. This more conservative approach is, counterintuitively, bad news for Alvin Kamara, who looks likely to return to the lineup this week. Frustratingly, Kamara ranks just RB60 in YPRR. But having watched football before, you are aware that Kamara's best chance of delivering elite fantasy value is by operating as a high-volume receiver out of the backfield. Dalton has never been opposed to checking the ball down, so he could be a good fit for Kamara this week. But for Kamara to take off, we will need the Saints to show more confidence in Dalton than they did last week. To be fair, there's a real chance that the Saints lean on Dalton more than they did in London, given the matchup.

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Even with Dalton at quarterback, the Saints look to have an advantage in the passing game over the Seahawks. Both Kamara and Olave look like strong risk/reward bets this week.

Dolphins at Jets, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Dolphins Implied Team Total: 24.25

Under normal circumstances, we might expect the Dolphins to be extremely pass-heavy this week. After all, they are facing a highly exploitable Jets secondary. But we are dealing with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the Dolphins' botched concussion diagnosis of Tua Tagovailoa. With Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, it's not at all clear that the Dolphins will build their game plan around the passing game.

Against the Bengals, the Dolphins posted their lowest PROE of the year. At -4%, it was significantly lower than their previous low of 3%. Facing Zach Wilson, we can't fault Mike McDaniel if he decides to hide Bridgewater with a grounded-based attack.

Still, the Dolphins could be efficient enough to deliver impressive production on limited Bridgewater dropbacks. The Jets' secondary has been vulnerable, especially to the big play, which is the worst way to be vulnerable against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

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Hill has an off-the-charts 3.73 YPRR, while Jaylen Waddle has a slightly less ridiculous 3.20 YPRR. Obviously, both wide receivers are running hot on per-target efficiency. But they're not running as hot as you might assume. Because both Hill and Waddle are seeing absolutely elite target volume on their routes.

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Betting on Bridgewater's receivers never feels super comfortable. But Hill and Waddle have combined for a 58% target share and a 71% air yard share. They remain in line for high target volume and aren't entirely dependent on Bridgewater.

Given that Hill and Waddle are both electric YAC producers, we can think of Bridgewater as a version of Jimmy Garoppolo. That might seem unfair to Garoppolo, but in some ways, the comparison is unfair to Bridgewater. Bridgewater finished QB3 in CPOE last season, with Garoppolo at QB18. And Garoppolo, while playing for Kyle Shanahan with elite weapons, was barely more efficient than Bridgewater—he finished QB8 in EPA per play to Bridgewater's QB10. To be clear, I understand that Bridgewater is a very limited quarterback, and I do expect this offense to be less exciting than it's been with Tagovailoa under center. But in regards to Hill and Waddle... both continue to profile as elite options.

In the backfield, the Dolphins appear to be favoring Raheem Mostert. After Edmonds saw a 63% snap share in Week 1, with Mostert at 42%, Mostert has led in snaps in each of the last three games. In Weeks 2-3, Mostert was a 1A to Edmonds 1B in terms of playing time. But in Week 4, Mostert took a commanding lead with a 72% snap share to Edmonds' 28%. Mostert also ran a route on 67% of dropbacks to Edmonds' 23%. It's anyone's guess if this usage will stick, but the Dolphins could put up points in this game while leaning on the run more than usual. If Mostert is again the clear lead back, he could have a valuable workload, making him a risky but worthwhile RB2 play.

Jets Implied Team Total: 21.25

In Zach Wilson's first game of the season, he showed improved efficiency from his rookie year. Wilson's EPA per play slots him in at QB21 this season, well ahead of Joe Flacco, who was just QB28. But I wouldn't get too excited just yet; Wilson had a -7.4% CPOE, which ranks ahead of only Justin Fields, Baker Mayfield, and Trey Lance.

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Of course, we only have a small sample for Wilson in 2022; he's played just one game. But inaccuracy was a major problem for Wilson last year, when he finished dead last with a -9.6% CPOE. It's nice that he played mediocre football last week when most of us were expecting him to be worse than that—but his accuracy implies that what we saw in Week 4 might still be his ceiling. That might seem harsh, but based on how he performed as a rookie... it's really not.

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It's also important to note that the Jets hid Wilson last week. After being pass-first in their first three games, they went ultra-run-heavy with Wilson under center, posting a -10% PROE and a -17% PROE on 1st-and-10. This was not the game plan of a team that wanted to feature its quarterback.

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But Wilson will have a chance to prove the doubters wrong this week. With Bridgewater on the other side, the Jets will likely be able to get away with a run-first strategy, at least for a while. And when Wilson does drop back, he will be doing so against a Dolphins secondary that has been roasted by opposing quarterbacks. Granted, three of those quarterbacks were Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow. But still, if Wilson is going to show sustained improvement in his second season, we should expect to perform decently well here.

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Despite the shakeup at quarterback, things were fairly similar at the wide receiver position. Garrett Wilson continued to look like the most interesting option on the team, leading the Jets with a 19% target share while running a route on 88% of dropbacks. Elijah Moore had a slightly higher 90% route rate but continues to see less target volume on his routes. Wilson leads the Jets with 1.77 YPRR. That's not far above Corey Davis. But while Davis is running hot in per-target efficiency, Wilson could be in for some positive regression.

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And coming off an 88% route rate, it's no longer fair to say that Wilson is emerging. Wilson is here. He is the Jets' No. 1 receiver. Moore and Davis are talented enough and involved enough for the rookie to turn in some inconsistent performances going forward. But, with stunning quickness, Wilson has established himself as a top option in this offense. He looks like a solid FLEX option as a bet that the Dolphins force Wilson into a Flacco-like passing script or that Wilson is efficient against the Dolphins' exploitable secondary.

Speaking of rookies who have earned major roles right out of the gate... Breece Hall ranks RB3 in expected points per game. Only Joe Mixon and Saquon Barkley have seen more valuable workloads than Hall this season. That seems almost impossible, given that Hall trails Michael Carter in snap share 53% to 47%. But Hall has been heavily involved as a receiver this season, giving him borderline elite opportunity on limited snaps.

And Hall's snaps are on the rise. In Week 3, he played more than half of the snaps for the first time. Last week, he took a major step forward. 

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Hall also set a season-high with 61% route participation last week. This increased opportunity is extremely bullish. Hall has seen a target on 31% of his routes which is crazy. That would be an unsustainable route for a wide receiver, much less a running back. But Hall's off-the-charts target rate is a strong sign that the Jets wanted to get him involved in the offense and makes it much easier to buy into his increased snaps and routes as something real rather than a one-week blip. Hall isn't just startable this week; he looks like a high-end RB2.

Falcons at Buccaneers, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Falcons Implied Team Total: 18.25

The Falcons took an extremely run-heavy approach against the Browns last week, finishing with a -19% PROE. As a result, they now rank 30th in PROE this season and 31st in PROE on 1st-and-10.

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Given that this approach got them a win, the Falcons could be inclined to build their Week 5 game plan around the run. They have additional motivation to do that because the Buccaneers have been much stronger against the pass than the run this year.

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But as I'm about to cover, the Falcons' defense is not well positioned to stop Tom Brady now that he has a healthy set of weapons. As a result, Marcus Mariota will likely be forced to drop back more than the Falcons would prefer. That doesn't mean the Falcons will embrace a shootout script, though. Even though last week was their most extreme tilt to the run, Atlanta has been run-first in all four of their games in 2022. They will likely try to limit play volume in this game for as long as it is competitive.

But although volume is definitely a concern, Mariota looks capable of delivering production if allowed to drop back at a decent rate. His accuracy is not particularly strong; he ranks just 24th in CPOE. But that is just behind Joe Flacco and ahead of Carson Wentz, Cooper Rush, and Jared Goff. Mariota also ranks a fairly impressive 14th in EPA per play, ahead of a host of more productive quarterbacks, including Tom Brady. If we could just get some volume from this passing game, we might get some production.

Unfortunately, that production seems less and less likely to include Kyle Pitts, who missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury. Without Pitts, Drake London can be expected to see plenty of defensive attention. But he can also be expected to see a ridiculous amount of target volume.

London already leads the Falcons with a 34% target share and a 34% air yard share. His 0.74 WOPR trails only Cooper Kupp (0.85), CeeDee Lamb (0.79), A.J. Brown (0.79), Mark Andrews (0.78), and Tyreek Hill (0.76). I'm not saying that London is a superstar... but he has the target share of a superstar. 

The big caveat here—and to be honest, this is a massive caveat— is that London is earning a superstar slice of a bottom-of-the-barrel passing offense. So while his 31 targets are extremely impressive within the context of Atlanta's passing game, he's seen just the 24th most targets in the NFL. This lack of volume obviously limits London's ceiling; it also makes it harder to buy into what he's done from a yardage and air yard share perspective because we're dealing with a small sample of overall passing volume.

But I don't doubt that London has a big ceiling this week. Pitts will be out or limited, and the Buccaneers will likely push the Falcons to the air. That gives London a chance to earn elite target volume on an offense that actually passes the ball at a decent rate. It's too soon to call London a WR1... but get him in your lineup.

At running back, Caleb Huntley looks set to operate as the Falcons' goal line back. He saw four carries in the red zone last week and three carries inside the 10. Tyler Allgeier saw zero carries in both areas. But Allgeier looks likely to play the receiving back role. Per 4for4, he saw a 78% snap share on third downs, with Huntley at 0%. He also ran eight routes to Huntley's one. Huntley may end up being the more valuable back in future weeks, but Allgeier looks like the better bet in this matchup. With the Falcons likely to throw more than usual, Allgeier profiles as a low-end RB2.

Buccaneers Implied Team Total: 28.25

For the first time all season, the Buccaneers looked like the Buccaneers in Week 4. Through three weeks, Tampa Bay had a season-high 4% PROE, which they recorded in their 14-12 loss to the Packers. But with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones all back in the lineup against the Chiefs, the Buccaneers once again embraced the pass. Their 16% PROE last week is tied with the Chiefs (Week 2) for the second-highest rate of the season, behind only the Bills (Week 2). 

It shouldn't be shocking that the Buccaneers returned to the pass with a healthy group of pass catchers. In 2021, Tampa Bay finished with an 8% PROE, second only to the Chiefs. And, of course, the Buccaneers were facing Patrick Mahomes last week. But it was still nice to see just how aggressive they were.

It was also nice to see some efficiency from Tom Brady, who struggled through the first three weeks of the season. He's still not having a great year overall, but Brady is up to 17th in EPA per play and 14th in CPOE. This matchup sets him up to turn last week's upswing into a positive trend.

The Falcons' secondary has performed well this season, ranking third in PFF's coverage grade, but Atlanta doesn't do a good job of getting to the passer. The Falcons ranked 31st in pass rush grade, 30th in pressure rate, and 31st in quick pressure rate.

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Letting Tom Brady sit in a clean pocket is not a recipe for success. Brady ranked second in PFF's quarterback grades when kept clean last season, and even with his performance down this year, he ranks ninth so far in 2022. The Falcons' highly-graded secondary is also probably fraudulent, at least to a degree. They have played James Winston, Geno Smith, and Jacoby Brissett this year. Their only real test was against Matthew Stafford in Week 2. Stafford threw two interceptions against them but also put up 272 yards and three TDs, his best performance in both categories this season.

Another team, one less driven by the success of their quarterback, might opt to attack an extremely weak Falcons run defense. But this is a team whose lead running back rushed for -3 yards last week. It is much more likely the Buccaneers will attack through the air, relying on Brady's connection with a receiving corps that is finally healthy. This approach also has the advantage of pushing the Falcons off of what is certain to be a run-heavy game plan. Given that Tampa Bay has been much better at defending the pass than the run this year, forcing the Falcons to play left-handed would be a big win for the Buccaneers.

But for Tom Brady, I doubt this is very complicated. His receivers are healthy... so he will want to throw the ball. And because Russell Gage is the only starting receiver who's played in every game this year, it's easy to forget just how talented this receiving corps is when everyone is healthy.

Mike Evans has an elite 2.47 YPRR, Julio Jones has a very strong 1.95 YPRR, and Chris Godwin has a solid 1.71 YPRR while simultaneously rehabbing from his ACL tear and a hamstring injury. 

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For now, Jones looks to be behind Gage. He ran around just 32% of dropbacks, with Gage at 62%. That could change quickly if Gage continues to underperform, though. Gage was effective out of the slot with Godwin out of the lineup, but he played just 14% of his snaps in the slot last week, with Godwin at 84%. The Buccaneers may also have been managing Jones' snaps last week in his first game back from a knee injury. If he is healthier this week, an increased snap share for Jones should come directly at the expense of Gage.

A healthier Jones would probably be good news for both Evans and Godwin. Jones hasn't aDOT of 21.3 this season and has been able to draw targets at a solid 18% rate. The defense has to account for him deep, drawing coverage away from the two top options. Godwin, in particular, could be in for a big day, with Evans and Jones both drawing deep coverage. With the Buccaneers finally in a position of strength at the wide receiver position, Brady should pass aggressively, creating a high-end PPR ceiling for Godwin.

A high-volume passing attack is also great news for Leonard Fournette... provided he still has total control of the backfield. Entering Week 3, Fournette had an 85% snap share, but he saw just 61% of snaps against the Chiefs. This was a direct result of Rachaad White seeing significant playing time. White saw a 38% snap share, a huge increase for the rookie who had previously been trending in the wrong direction.

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One has to imagine that the Buccaneers liked what they saw. White now ranks RB8 in YPRR, with Fournette at just RB30. Don't worry; I'm not getting carried away here. Fournette is still the clear lead back and should maintain a clear lead in all situations this week, including on passing downs. But Fournette has always been a workload-based bet in this offense. The fact that he may not have total control of the backfield this week significantly impacts his value.

If White wasn't in the picture, Fournette would profile as, arguably, the best running back play of the entire week. As is, he certainly has the ceiling to rack up targets and scoring opportunities in what could be an ideal game environment for his skillset. But Fournette looks like a much shakier bet in this matchup than he would have looked two weeks ago. It appears he will be a very popular DFS option this week; I'm willing to fade the Fournette chalk.

Titans at Commanders, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday

Titans Implied Team Total: 22.5

The Titans are on a two-game winning streak, and intriguingly, it has been accompanied by a shift toward the pass. The Titans opened the season with a -5% PROE in their loss to the Giants. They then tried to play ball control against the Bills with a -9% PROE. That didn't stop Josh Allen from doing the inevitable. But in Week 3, they were balanced against the Raiders, with a 0% PROE. And they were balanced in their win over the Colts, with a -1% PROE. This isn't to say that the Titans have changed their philosophy. At -14%, they have the lowest PROE on 1st-and-10 in the NFL. 

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Clearly, they still view their running game as the most important element of their offense. But they do seem more willing to play balanced football than they did to start the season. And they seem less committed to the run than last season, when they ranked 32nd in the NFL with a -8% PROE. 

One reason for this slight adjustment in approach could be that the Titans are working Derrick Henry into the passing game more this season. The Titans only targeted Henry once over the first two weeks, but they've made a real point to get him involved as a receiver over the last two games. Henry saw five targets against both the Raiders and the Colts, which is a significant departure from his typical usage. Mike Vrabel joined the Titans in 2018, and from 2018-2021, Henry saw 4+ targets just four times... and 5+ targets just twice.

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The last two weeks have doubled Henry's 5+ target games in the Vrabel era. Henry hasn't suddenly become receiving back, obviously. But his recent involvement in the passing game could signal a slightly more reliable fantasy profile moving forward. And Henry's increased targets are especially nice to see entering this matchup because the Commanders are far more vulnerable to the pass than the run.

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I don't expect the Titans to go pass-heavy here. But they could easily be balanced for the third week in a row, choosing to attack the matchup rather than establish their philosophy, particularly if they've found ways of including their best skill player in a more balanced game plan.

And while Ryan Tannehill isn't playing elite football this year, he's been good enough to earn the chance to captain a balanced offense. He ranks 15th in EPA per play and 11th in CPOE. He looks like a solid streaming option with the potential for increased volume this week.

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He should also be able to support a weapon or two. Unfortunately, though, Treylon Burks will not be involved in the fun. The rookie will miss this week with turf toe. That leaves Robert Woods in place as the top option in the passing game. Woods is about as uninspiring as FLEX options get, but he has an 18% target share, which could be on the rise with Burks out.

Commanders Implied Team Total: 20.5

Carson Wentz is starting to look very shaky. After a solid Week 1, where he ranked QB7 in EPA per play, Wentz is down to QB28. His accuracy has also been a concern; Wentz ranks 25th in CPOE. After a disastrous two-week stretch, he's now playing significantly less efficiently than last year; he's also been more inaccurate. In the chart below, he appears to be merging with Joe Flacco, which nicely sums up where his career looks to be headed.

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And the Commanders look to be panicking a bit. After opening the season with an 11% PROE, they turned in a -10% PROE in their 25-10 loss to the Cowboys. The Commanders shied away from going toe to toe with Cooper Rush. Ron Rivera is down bad. 

Even in Taylor Heinicke's 15 starts last season, Washington only twice went as run-heavy as they did last week. It took four weeks for Washington to give Wentz the full Heinicke treatment. Carson Wentz is also down tremendously bad.

This week, the Commanders should be looking to build their game plan around the pass because the Titans are more vulnerable through the air than on the ground. But it's hard to believe that the Commanders will embrace the matchup, given how poorly Wentz is playing. This is especially true because while the Titans are vulnerable in the secondary, they have been able to get to the quarterback.

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In addition to having PFF's third-graded pass rush, the Titans rank fifth in pressure rate. Although, the Titans only rank 25th in quick pressure. And despite his overall struggles, Wentz has gotten the ball out decently quickly this year; he ranks 15th in time to throw per dropback. So Wentz has a chance for a bounce-back game in terms of efficiency, but it's hard to see the Commanders designing a game plan that features a struggling Wentz against a solid pass rush. After all, Wentz ranks 24th in PFF's quarterback grades when pressured.

With passing volume likely to be reduced, we should at least see condensed targets. Jahan Dotson looks unlikely to play with a hamstring injury, and Dyami Brown looks set to take over his role in the offense. Brown (11%) has been targeted nearly as frequently on his routes as Dotson (12%). But the rookie has scored four TDs this year, and Brown seems much less likely to have a red zone connection with Wentz. But even with targets somewhat more condensed... it's hard to get excited about this per-route receiving volume when routes could be in short supply.

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As you can see above, J.D. McKissic leads the team in per route target opportunity. That's, like, not good, man. McKissic ranks just RB33 in expected points per game... yet he leads the Commanders in per-route opportunity. There just isn't much value here from a YPRR perspective. And if per-route production is a major concern on a week where we can expect routes to be down, you probably have better options than Commanders pass catchers.

Speaking of declining volume...

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We all knew that Gibson risked getting phased out of the Commanders' offense... but that was supposed to happen after Brian Robinson made his rookie debut. Robinson seems unlikely to play this week, but in either case, Gibson looks like a low-end RB2 option with his workload highly uncertain.

Fantasy football guru Matthew Berry has joined the team and his two shows have you covered all season long. Spend weekdays at noon with the Fantasy Football Happy Hour and then, every Sunday at 11am getting ready for kickoff with the Fantasy Football Pregame. Watch both shows live on Peacock and catch replays for the weekday show on the NFL on NBC YouTube channel.

 

49ers at Panthers, 4:05 Eastern, Sunday

49ers Implied Team Total: 22.75

The 49ers have been one of the most reliably run-heavy teams in the league. And they looked set to take things to another level with Trey Lance at quarterback, opening the season with a -19% PROE. They then had a -16% PROE against the Seahawks, with Garoppolo taking over for Lance in-game. But in Garoppolo's two starts since, the 49ers have been balanced. They had a 2% PROE against the Broncos in Week 3 and a -3% PROE against the Rams. I'm not saying that the 49ers no longer want to be a run-heavy team. Instead, they may be adjusting to a running game that simply hasn't been all that effective this year.

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The 49ers' struggles on the ground probably have less to do with Elijah Mitchell's injury than with their offensive line. After ranking second in PFF's run blocking grades last season, the 49ers are down to 25th this year. But the line has held up well in pass protection, ranking eighth in PFF's grades, in line with where they were in 2021.

This helps explain why the 49ers are throwing so many more screens than last season. In 2021, the 49ers averaged 3.5 screen passes per game; they're up to 4.8 this year and have averaged 5.5 over the last two weeks. Now facing a Panthers defense that has been solid against the run, the 49ers may continue to embrace a very specific type of passing game.

This approach is great news for Deebo Samuel, who leads the 49ers with 11 screen targets this year and saw 28 screen targets in 2021—which was 20 more than the next-highest 49er (Elijah Mitchell). At this point, it seems fair to say that no matter what the 49ers' game plan is, Deebo Samuel will be the focal point of it.

The other 49ers' receivers are more dependent on traditional targets. And those don't seem likely to come in bunches this week. Baker Mayfield has a 0.0% chance of pushing the 49ers off their preferred game plan. And given that Jimmy Garoppolo ranks just 30th in CPOE this year, that game plan is likely to be a conservative one.

Garoppolo's accuracy has never been great, but it's been a real liability this year. As a result, he'll likely be in game-manager mode against an inferior opponent.

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Of the non-Samuel receiving weapons, Brandon Aiyuk looks like a safer bet than George Kittle. Kittle just hasn't seen much volume this year. His 15% target rate is bad, even for a tight end. And he can't even blame that on Trey Lance since Kittle missed the first two games of the season. However, Kittle has an elite 85% route rate. He still has access to a massive ceiling, even if predicting that ceiling is going to be impossible.

Aiyuk also has elite route participation (95%), but with a healthier 18% target rate. He's also seeing targets further downfield with a 10.5 aDOT to Kittle's 6.0. He's essentially what counts as a deep threat right now for the 49ers, giving him spiked play upside—which may be essential in this game environment. 

In the backfield, Jeff Wilson seems to have settled into a clear lead-back role but doesn't look likely to become a true workhorse. Wilson had a 73% snap share in Week 3 but was down to 66% last week. If he lands somewhere between 65-70% this week, that will be plenty of work for him to deliver RB2 value. But he looks close to a TD-or-bust bet in what sets up as a low-volume game.   

 Panthers Implied Team Total: 16.25

What else is there left to say about Baker Mayfield? His play has been mortifying. Mayfield ranks 33rd in EPA per play this season out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. But that doesn't quite sum up how bad he's been, so let's compare him to some running games.

As a reminder, passing is significantly more efficient than running; 19 passing games have positive EPA per play this year compared to only 10 running games. As a result of the efficiency advantage built into passing the ball, asking an NFL quarterback to be more efficient than the average running game sets a very low bar.

For example, the top six quarterbacks in EPA per play have been more efficient than every running game this season. Baker Mayfield... not so much. 26 run games have been more efficient than Mayfield... 26! Only the Colts, Bills, Broncos, 49ers, Bengals, and Buccaneers have been less efficient running the ball than Baker has been passing it. Imagine if your team's quarterback was the Commanders' running game... you'd still be better off than having Baker Mayfield under center. 

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Given how bad Mayfield has been, it's a wonder the Panthers are passing the ball as much as they are. The Panthers rank fifth in situation-neutral pass rate, 10th in PROE, and second in PROE on 1st-and-10. 

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I've been giving Carolina credit for not hiding Mayfield; maybe it's time they start doing that. And this would be a great matchup to flip to a more run-heavy approach. Imagine willingly testing Mayfield against this passing defense. 

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To be fair, the 49ers are also strong against the run. But the 49ers' offense is likely to be built on screen passes and running plays, so this game should be somewhat close even if the Panthers go along with a run-heavy game script. That means that Matt Rhule's best chance of saving face... and his job... is to limit Mayfield's attempts as much as possible.

Limited attempts from the worst quarterback in the league... just what D.J. Moore's fantasy managers were hoping to hear. Moore has 94% route participation this season, but he simply cannot connect with Mayfield. He posted a very poor 1.35 YPRR last week... and that was his season high. Look, if you're looking for an excuse to bench Moore for like, literally anyone you want—go for it. It could get better for Moore this week, but it also definitely won't.

Things are at least looking a little better for Christian McCaffrey. For starters, he played through a quad injury that looked like it might keep him out of the game. McCaffrey logged an 85% snap share, which was actually up from Week 3 (80%). More importantly, he posted a season-high 28% target share. McCaffrey was also efficient going 9-81-1 on 9 targets, with 2.53 YPRR. That's a vintage CMC receiving line!

Baker Mayfield might be playing like a bad running game, but most fantasy managers will forgive him if he keeps throwing the ball to McCaffrey at a high rate. McCaffrey is a less exciting play than we're used to, but the return of elite receiving usage ensures that he is a locked-in RB1.

Eagles at Cardinals, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday

Eagles Implied Team Total: 27

Last week I was more excited for Jaguars/Eagles than any other game. Unfortunately, Jalen Hurts and the passing game sputtered in rainy and windy conditions that got in the way of what could have been a much more exciting matchup.

Hurts ranked just 25th in EPA per play in Week 4 and 21st in CPOE. But the Eagles' offense showed off another gear, effectively pivoting to the run game. Philadelphia's rushing performance ranked ninth in EPA per rush, and it was their most run-heavy outing of the season by far. Their previous season-low was a 3% PROE; last week, they posted a -16% PROE.

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But even after last week's down game, Hurts ranks sixth in EPA per play and eighth in CPOE. And the Eagles now get a Cardinals defense that ranks extremely poorly against the pass despite having just played Baker Mayfield

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The Cardinals' defense has been better against the run, but that might not matter much if the Eagles play to their strengths on offense. Sure, Philadelphia went run-heavy last week. But in dry conditions, the Eagles have posted pass rates over expected of 3%, 4%, and 5%. And even after delivering an extremely run-heavy performance against the Jaguars, Philadelphia still profiles as a balanced team, ranking 19th in PROE and eighth in PROE on 1st-and-10.

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The Eagles will have no qualms about attacking the Cardinals through the air. They've been most effective when able to lean on the passing game, and this week, that has the advantage of playing to the weakness of the Cardinals' defense. 

And if you're looking for another reason to get excited, the Eagles should also be fast-paced. Philadelphia ranks fourth in situation-neutral pace. In combination with a return to a pass-first game plan, there is plenty of upside for passing volume this week.

Passing volume is great news because the Eagles have several mouths to feed. A.J. Brown has a 32% target share and a 45% air yard share. His total share of the passing offense, as measured by his 0.79 WOPR, trails only Cooper Kupp (0.85) and CeeDee Lamb (0.79) this season.

But even with Brown accounting for such a huge share of the offense, DeVonta Smith is still highly fantasy relevant. Smith actually leads the Eagles with an elite 97% route rate. His 1.82 YPRR is sub-elite, but still represents strong efficiency from the second-year wide receiver. Smith's 0.58 WOPR is also sub-elite but is better than you might think. For example, he only slightly trails Amon-Ra St. Brown (0.60). St. Brown is a PPR god, partly because he has a low aDOT of 5.8. Smith is a different type of player; he sees deep targets and a much higher rate, within aDOT of 12.9. And Smith hasn't been nearly as efficient on a per-route basis. But Smith's WOPR is a reminder of how powerful it can be for a wide receiver to run essentially every route on offer. So while Smith is unlikely to have elite per-route efficiency this year, given his target competition, he still owns a valuable slice of the Eagles' offense.

Dallas Goedert has a similar setup to Smith. He is 1.90 YPRR is a good but sub-elite efficiency for a tight end. And Goedert has achieved that mark with a 12.6 YPT, which is unsustainable at his shallow 3.2 aDOT. But Goedert ran a route on 100% of dropbacks last week. Since 2021, that's only the third time that has happened at the tight end position. Evan Engram recorded a 100% route rate in Week 9 of last year, and the other example, hilariously, also occurred last week when Mark Andrews logged 100% route participation against the Ravens. Goedert is in kind of a weird, YAC-dependent role this season, but he's been efficient and is running more routes than we had a right to hope for. If passing volume spikes in this game, he should get in on the fun.

I noted last week that Miles Sanders ranked RB29 in PFF's expected points model, so of course, he saw the fifth-most valuable workload of the week at 20.9 expected points. Sanders was efficient on that workload, totaling 29.6 PPR points in the win over Jacksonville. With a spiked workload under his belt, Sanders ranks RB16 in expected points per game. I don't expect him to be anywhere near last week's elite workload, and it's worth noting that even last week, he lost out on a touchdown carry to Kenneth Gainwell. But the Eagles did show that under the right circumstances, they are willing to lean on their running game and on Sanders. He profiles as a solid RB2 play.

Cardinals Implied Team Total: 22

It's been a very rough start to the season for Kyler Murray, who ranks just 22nd in EPA per play and 22nd in CPOE. But the Cardinals' offense is showing some tiny signs of life. Murray only ranked 19th in EPA per play against the Panthers, but he had his most accurate day of the season... by far. Murray ranked 26th in CPOE after Week 3; he finished sixth in CPOE in Week 4.

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And the Cardinals no longer seem intent on running out the clock as quickly as possible. Through two weeks, the Cardinals ranked 32nd in situation-neutral pace. They were over three seconds slower than the 2021 Colts, last year's slowest team. But Arizona has since sped things up considerably. The Cardinals aren't exactly fast-paced this year, but they now rank 25th in situation-neutral pace. They're no longer excruciatingly slow.

The Cardinals have also flashed a willingness to pass heavily on 1st-and-10. In Week 3, they recorded a 10% PROE on 1st-and-10. Flashed is the key word here, though; the Cardinals opened the season with a -13% PROE on 1st-and-10 and were at -8% last week. All in all, the Cardinals look like a somewhat conservative team but one that can sustain a fun game environment if pushed to do so.

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Fortunately, the Eagles are very likely to push the Cardinals this week. Take another look at the Cardinals' defense in the chart above if you have doubts about that. Of course, the Cardinals will be less excited to pass on the Eagles than vice versa.

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However, the Eagles' pass defense may be a bit overrated. They have played Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, and Trevor Lawrence in the rain. So even a struggling Murray will be their biggest test of the season. The Eagles pass rush, in particular, could be a bit of a paper tiger. Although highly graded, they rank just 22nd in quick pressure rate. And Murray has actually been quite good when kept clean this year, ranking eighth in PFF's grades.

Of course, if the Eagles' pass rush is for real, it could be a major problem for Murray, who ranks 30th in PFF's grades under pressure. It's a similar setup to what Trevor Lawrence faced last week; Lawrence has also struggled badly against pressure this year, ranking 35th. Given that Lawrence just finished 30th in EPA per play, there's definitely some serious downside for the Cardinals in this matchup. But there is upside as well. Lawrence's performance against the Eagles came in conditions that caused Jalen Hurts' efficiency to crater. The market could be giving the Eagles' defense credit for a performance that was actually weather-related. Ultimately, it's possible that the Cardinals just aren't going to be fun this year, but in a game where the Eagles should be dictating in an up-tempo, pass-first script, the Cardinals could be forced out of their shell.

Marquise Brown will be the primary beneficiary if the Cardinals' passing volume is up this week. Brown has seen 26 targets over the last two weeks, with elite target rates of 33% and 27%. Brown was a true deep threat in Week 1, with an 18.3 aDOT. Since then, though, he's played a different role in the offense, with aDOTs of 10.1, 8.0, and 11.4. Brown has operated as more of a traditional No. 1 option over the last three weeks, which is good news for his chances of maintaining his recent trend of elite target opportunity.

Even looking at Brown's season-long numbers, he looks like a strong bet whenever the Cardinals can be expected to pass at a high rate. With a 26% target share and a 43% air yard share, Brown ranks 10th in the NFL in WOPR. He's seen a bigger piece of his team's offense than superstar wide receivers like Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, and Ja'Marr Chase. Brown looks likely to be a key piece of any success the Cardinals have this week.

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Zach Ertz also looks like a solid option this week. Even with Rondale Moore back last week, Ertz was a featured element of the Cardinals' passing game. He ran a route on an elite 91% of dropbacks, bringing his season-long rate to 83%. Ertz has been targeted on 19% of his routes, making his production a bit below expected. So he should have some minor positive regression working in his favor if the Cardinals take to the air.

Rondale Moore didn't make much of an impact in his 2022 debut, but it was a bullish showing from the second-year wide receiver... if all you care about is route volume. Moore ran a route on 94% of drawbacks. That is an elite rate for a slot receiver. Moore also had a 10.4 aDOT, way above his 1.3 aDOT from last year. A 10.4 aDOT is also an impressively deep aDOT for a slot receiver.

But here's the issue... Moore wasn't playing in the slot. It's not that he never lined up in the slot, but after playing 76% of his snaps in the slot as a rookie, Moore lined up out wide for 63% of his snaps last week. Instead, Greg Dortch was the Cardinals' primary slot receiver. Dortch lined up inside on 77% of his snaps.

It's great that Moore ran a full slate of routes, don't get me wrong, but I'm apprehensive that Moore—who is 5'7"— is being asked to win on the outside. 

I'm semi-open to the argument that this deployment raises Moore's weekly ceiling. Playing outside gets him on the field for more snaps and should create opportunities for big plays. But this usage also substantially lowers Moore's floor. There's a chance that, as an outside receiver, Moore will simply be a tiny wind sprinter. Last week wasn't particularly promising in that regard. Moore saw a 15% target rate, which wasn't bad for his first game back, but also a poor rate for his aDOT. Moore looks like a boom/bust option with an emphasis on bust, even in what could be a fun game environment.

It's been a rough start to the season for James Conner, who is averaging just 10.8 PPR points per game. But Conner's workload has actually been decent this year. He is tied with Miles Sanders for RB16 in expected points per game and is coming off a solid 67% snap share against the Panthers. And Conner should be plenty involved even if this is a passing-focused game environment. Per 4for4, he has seen 67% of the Cardinals' third-down snaps. Combined with 54% of red zone snaps, Conner is well-positioned for a bounce-back performance if the Cardinals can hang with the Eagles for a few quarters.

Cowboys at Rams, 4:25 Eastern, Sunday

Cowboys Implied Team Total: 18.75

Cooper Rush is potentially starting his last game before Dak Prescott returns. If so, he has a good chance to go out on a high note. Rush has been playing surprisingly well this season... one might say unsustainably well, given that he ranks 12th in EPA per play but only 26th in CPOE.

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The Cowboys seem to understand what's going on here. While they haven't been desperate to hide Rush, they haven't featured him either. They have been a run-heavy team this season with a -5% PROE and have "peaked" with a -4% PROE. So you can count on the Cooper Rush Cowboys to run the ball.

But this is not a defense that you want to run the ball heavily against. The Rams are not only excellent against the run, but they are vulnerable to the pass. So if the Cowboys choose to hide Rush here, they'll be passing up the most efficient way to attack this defense. 

The matchup could be most helpful if the Rams' offense forces the Cowboys to the air. If playing from behind, the Cowboys will have no choice but to pass and could find some success through the air.

Although the Cowboys aren't a great bet for volume, we do at least know where the targets are going. Even with Michael Gallup back in the lineup, Rush only had eyes for CeeDee Lamb. Lamb ran a route on 100% of dropbacks against the Commanders and was targeted on a ridiculous 39% of those routes. Lamb posted a 43% target share, a 53% air yard share, and a scale-breaking 1.01 WOPR. Lamb now trails only Cooper Kupp in WOPR. And Lamb isn't even maximizing his target volume. His 7.4 YPT is significantly lower than expected for his 11.4 aDOT. Although volume is likely to be on the lower side this week, Lamb could make up for it if he bounces back with better per-target deficiency.

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In his 2022 debut, Gallup wasn't eased into game action. He ran a route on 83% dropbacks, operating in his usual outside, downfield role. However, Gallup didn't click with Rush, seeing just two targets on 24 routes (8%). But his presence should help the offense this week, even if he profiles as no better than a dart throw until Dak Prescott returns. 

Similarly, Dalton Schultz is probably monitoring Prescott's rehab progress like a hawk. Schultz has a 17% target share, which actually matches his 2021 number. But the tight end's aDOT is down two full yards, from 7.1 to 5.1, creating less upside on each target. And Schultz has yet to score a TD this year after scoring eight in 2021. Schultz essentially reflects the quality of the Cowboys' passing offense. Until they start challenging defenses, Schultz is unlikely to make much noise.

As someone who's been clamoring for more playing time for Tony Pollard, I feel the need to clarify that this is not what I was hoping for. Pollard's snap share is up from last year's 35%, and Ezekiel Elliott's is down from 66%. But for fantasy purposes, we need Pollard to either flip Zeke or go back to a part-time role. Pollard has a 45% snap share to Elliott's 63%; these backs are cannibalizing each other on an offense that doesn't have a ton of value to go around. Elliott ranks RB30 in expected points per game, with Pollard at RB39.

I've repeatedly gone on the record with how I think this should go. Pollard, who ranks RB8 in RYOE / attempt, has been outplaying Elliott (who ranks RB37) for two seasons now. But with the current workload split, both backs look like weak options.

Rams Implied Team Total: 24.25

The Rams are in a difficult spot this week. After having PFF's highest-graded pass blocking the line in 2021, they are down all the way down to 32 this season. It's been a dramatic fall for the Rams' offensive line.

To his credit, Matthew Stafford has played well under pressure, ranking second in PFF's grades. But Stafford has been head-scratchingly awful when kept clean; he ranks 33rd in PFF's grades ahead of only Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield. And while it's nice that Stafford has done well when under pressure this year, quarterback performance in a clean pocket is more stable than performance under pressure. In other words, Stafford's good play under pressure is more likely to regress negatively toward his awful play when kept clean than vice versa. If so, the Rams have some sneaky implosion potential, facing a Cowboys defense that leads the league in pressure rate and quick pressure rate.

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Stafford finished second in EPA per play last season, but it was clear he was playing a little over his head, ranking just 16th in CPOE. He now finds himself in the reverse situation. His accuracy is only slightly worse than last year, ranking 20th. But he is significantly down in efficiency, ranking just 27th. So we can expect him to regress positively in terms of EPA. But that doesn't mean he has a good chance of recapturing last year's form. That particular cocktail was always going to be difficult to reproduce this season. And even if Stafford does eventually find his 2021 form, it's unlikely to be this week, with the Cowboys' pass rush bearing down on him.

Another problem with the Rams' offense is that they can't run the ball. This is odd because the Rams' line has actually done well as a run blocking unit. But as you can see above, the Rams haven't been able to find any consistency on the ground, nor have they been able to hit big plays.

The Cowboys don't have a particularly weak run defense, but the ground game is the path of least resistance against them. It also neutralizes their deadly pass rush. But because the Rams lack a rushing counterpunch, Stafford could be even more vulnerable to this Micah Parsons-led defense than the typical opposing quarterback.

If the Cowboys get to Stafford as quickly as the numbers suggest that they will, the Rams won't really have much choice but to run the ball to keep the Cowboys honest. But that run game will likely remain ineffective, as it has been all season. As a result, we could see volume sucked out of this game through inefficient Rams run plays, as Sean McVay attempts to score just enough points to get a win without unnecessarily exposing Stafford.

In 2021, Cooper Kupp put together an all-time season. His 32% target share was phenomenal and helped power a truly elite fantasy season. But when looking at his share of the Rams' offense through the lens of WOPR, Kupp wasn't in his own tier last year. In fact, Justin Jefferson (0.78), Davante Adams (0.76), and A.J. Brown (0.73) all had a bigger share of their team's passing offense than Kupp (0.72). The magic of Kupp's 2021 wasn't just that he was seeing elite volume, it's that he was seeing elite volume on an elite offense.

Of course, Kupp is still playing out of his mind... his fantasy scoring is even higher than last season. But while I wrote last season that what Kupp was doing appeared to be sustainable... I do not think what he's currently doing can be maintained. Kupp has a 37% target share. There have been only two wide receivers to post a target share of 35% or higher since 2012: Julio Jones (35% in 2015) and Brandon Marshall (41% in 2012). I very much expect Kupp to have a great season this year, but I think we will see his production fall off somewhat in the near term if he continues to be the Rams' only credible threat on offense. Obviously, you are jamming Kupp into your starting lineup this week, but I'm comfortable feeding him in DFS. (Famous last words, I know).

Cam Akers looked like he was about to make a play for the Rams' lead running back role. But he took a step back in Week 4.

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Henderson appears to have a clear lead in passing scripts; he had a 59% snap share last week. But with this overall game environment looking unappealing, Rams running backs are best left on benches.

Bengals at Ravens, 8:20 Eastern, Sunday

Bengals Implied Team Total: 22

The last time Joe Burrow took on the Ravens, he attempted 46 passes and threw for 525 yards, four TDs, and zero interceptions. It was an unreal performance against what was then an extreme pass funnel defense. This year's Ravens defense is not last year's extreme pass funnel. But it does appear to be a pass funnel, to an extent.

Teams are averaging a 4% PROE against the Ravens—the sixth-highest rate in the NFL—and teams are shifting to the pass against them. And that includes the Ravens' Week 4 matchup against Buffalo when the Bills shifted dramatically to the run in rainy and windy conditions.

It makes sense that opponents are passing against the Ravens; they have been vulnerable through the air. They rank just 21st in EPA allowed per dropback and 26th in dropback success rate.

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And as you can see, maybe it doesn't even matter where the Ravens are vulnerable since the Bengals can only do one thing well. The Bengals have been an absolute disaster on the ground. They have no consistency, and they can't hit big plays; other than that, they're crushing it.

Part of the issue is their offensive line, which ranks 30th in run blocking grade. Unfortunately, their line issues also affect the passing game; the Bengals rank just 28th in pass blocking grade. But for all the consternation about Burrow's early-season struggles, he is still having a decent year. Burrow ranks 13th in EPA per play and 16th in CPOE.

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And the Bengals' line should be able to hold up decently well against a Ravens' pass rush that ranks just 27th in pressure rate and 19th in quick pressure rate. I'm not saying that Burrow won't make mistakes. I'm saying—like I did before he played the Jets in Week 3—that we aren't going to care about those mistakes because Burrow will have a productive day.

Ja'Marr Chase could really use a productive game because the fantasy football world seems to be losing faith in him as the No. 1 wide receiver on the Bengals. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Tee Higgins, but I'm strongly selling the idea that he's the "real" No. 1 receiver in Cincinnati. Defensive coordinators agree with me.

In four games this season, Chase has been double-teamed on 55 routes; that trails only Cooper Kupp. He's delivered 1.75 YPRR on that sample, which isn't a bad showing. By comparison, Kupp has been elite when double-teamed, with 2.47 YPRR. But as we know, Stafford is willing to force the ball to Kupp. Burrow instead has the luxury of an extremely talented secondary option. Higgins can punish defenses for being overly focused on Chase, but that doesn't take away the fact that defenses are treating Chase as the top option.

Chase has seen double teams on 30% of his routes, with Higgins at 20%. That 10% difference is comparable to the difference between Justin Jefferson (27%) and Adam Thielen (16%) or DK Metcalf (35%) and Tyler Lockett (24%). Like with Metcalf and Lockett, just because one player garners more defensive attention doesn't prevent him from being regularly outscored by his teammate. But... and I think this is a big but... the more talented player will generally have the higher weekly ceiling.

If the Bengals' passing offense comes to life this week in a way that we know it can, I believe that Chase is a much better bet to be the engine of that offense. 

Joe Mixon is an engine of sadness. Mixon currently leads the NFL with an absolutely unreal 24.0 expected points per game. In the offseason, I wrote about the league-winning profile for early-round running backs. That profile assumes that no running back can be reasonably expected to see a workload of 23+ points per game. This puts a premium on talent and youth when selecting running backs in the early rounds—because we need to find high-end efficiency on top of a high-end workload. 

But Mixon is surpassing the threshold for a legendary season on workload alone. The issue is that Mixon's efficiency is also legendary... in all the wrong ways. Per PFF, Mixon is leaving 9.7 fantasy points on the field per game. To put that in perspective, early-round picks like Travis Etienne (9.1) and David Montgomery (8.7) have workloads below 9.7 points per game. Again, the expectation for early-round running backs is that they will add efficiency on top of a strong workload, not subtract a David Montgomery from it.

If the Bengals' offense comes to life a bit, it's hard to see Mixon maintaining this workload. Ultimately, his opening to 2022 could go down as an all-time missed opportunity. But at the same time... Mixon's inefficiency has been so tremendously bad that there is no way it sustains. Even if his workload tails off, he has enough potential for positive regression that he would still turn in some massive outings.

One issue for Mixon this week is that he still doesn't play much on third downs; he trails Samaje Perine 58% to 30% in third down snap percentage. If the Bengals play from behind, Mixon's workload could fall off considerably. But in the back-and-forth game or one where the Bengals are leading, Mixon has a ton of upside.

Mixon has run a route on 58% of dropbacks, which ranks RB7. He'll probably come off the field if the Bengals are in a come-from-behind, hurry-up mode. But he could also rack up short receptions on early downs in a high-scoring game environment. And with 80% of team attempts and 90% of red zone snaps, Mixon could get in the end zone a couple of times if the Bengals play from ahead.

I was highly skeptical of Mixon entering the season. But based on his workload so far this season, I would be taking a bit more of him in drafts if I could do it all over again. I'd love to tell you how Mixon's inefficiency puts him in jeopardy of being passed as the lead running back... but we all know that isn't going to happen. Mixon has definitely been a disappointment so far, but he's seeing a rare workload, which could pay off in a big way this week.

Ravens Implied Team Total: 25.5

Against the Bills, the Ravens had a great excuse to shift to the run. They could have justified a ball control game plan in rainy and windy conditions that kept the Bills from playing as aggressively as usual. But for the fourth consecutive week, the Ravens rolled out a pass-first game plan. The Ravens now rank fifth in the NFL with a 5% PROE and fifth with a 4% PROE on 1st-and-10.

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The Ravens now get a Bengals defense that is a choose-your-own-adventure. The Bengals are strong against the run and the pass. They are sound in coverage and get to the quarterback, ranking sixth in pressure rate in seventh in quick pressure rate.

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But at this point, it's fair to say, if given a choice, the Ravens are more likely to go with a pass-first attack than a run-first one. And to be honest, it might not be totally up to them. Last week's weather helped hide Baltimore's secondary, as did playing a conservative Patriots offense in Week 3. But we can't forget that this unit allowed 42 points the last time they played an aggressive passing offense in dry conditions. Of course, projecting a Zac Taylor offense to be "aggressive" always feels a bit hyperbolic, but the Bengals had a 10% PROE against the Jets and a 6% PROE against the Dolphins. They have been legitimately aggressive in two good passing matchups over the last two weeks, and this Ravens' defense certainly qualifies as another good matchup. So even if the Ravens go unexpectedly run first this week, they could be pushed off script fairly quickly if the Bengals play up to their potential. One way or another, I expect there to be passing volume on the Baltimore side.

Unfortunately, with Rashod Bateman dealing with a foot injury, it's hard to trust any of the Ravens' wide receivers this week. Even with Bateman running a route on just 53% of dropbacks last week, Devin Duvernay posted just 61% route participation. Duvernay has been impressively efficient this season, with a 2.07 YPRR. But Duvernay is running extremely hot with a 13.2 YPT. His current efficiency is not supported by his target volume.

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This is a major problem considering Duvernay isn't a full-time player - apparently, even when Bateman is out of the lineup. As you can see above, Bateman's efficiency - which has been elite - looks far more sustainable. But this week, we can expect his routes to be quite limited even if he unexpectedly suits up. From a fantasy perspective, it will be great news if he plays, mainly because it should help open up the offense for Mark Andrews.

Andrews lost his title as the NFL leader in WOPR last week but still has a No. 1 wide receiver-level role in the Ravens' offense. His 34% target share and 39% air yard share are both off the charts for a tight end. And—I will keep pointing this out until it stops being the case—Andrews is underperforming on his target volume. His 7.0 YPT is now two full yards lower than expected for his 11.5 aDOT. With Bateman banged up and facing a solid Bengals defense, this isn't the most logical get-right spot for Andrews' per-target efficiency. But YPT is a volatile metric. If this game turns into a shootout, I have no doubt that Andrews can hit big plays on top of seeing elite target volume.

J.K. Dobbins only saw a slight increase in snap share last week, jumping from 44% to 50%. But he was a much bigger piece of the Ravens' attack. His carries jumped from 7 to 13, and his targets from two to four. With Justice Hill now dealing with a hamstring injury and Gus Edwards (knee) uncertain for this week, Dobbins could continue to see his role grow. Dobbins definitely remains a risky bet, though. Having only run a route on 39% of dropbacks, Dobbins could get scripted out if the Ravens play from behind. But he looks to be in play as a TD-or-bust bet.

Raiders at Chiefs, 8:15 PM Eastern, Monday

Raiders Implied Team Total: 22

The Raiders' offensive philosophy seems to be evolving a bit under Josh McDaniels. After starting the season with a 7% PROE against the Chargers, they dropped to a 3% PROE against the Cardinals, then a 1% PROE against the Titans, and finally a -2% PROE in their first win of the season against the Broncos. The Raiders have also moved to the run on 1st-and-10. After opening the season with a pass-heavy 7%, they're now down to -4% on the season.

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The Raiders now rank 13th in PROE and 21st in PROE on 1st-and-10. It would be an overreaction to call them a run-first team right now, but that could be where things are headed.

Ultimately, the Raiders probably are not in control of their own destiny this week. If Patrick Mahomes is playing at his best, the Raiders will ultimately pass at a fairly high rate. However, the Raiders' recent trend hints at the possibility that they could attempt to slow this game down, taking more of a ball-control approach than leaning into a shootout with Mahomes.

That's far from a guarantee, though. The Raiders didn't shy away from passing against the Chargers in Week 1. And this "trend" to the run could simply be matchup related.

If the Raiders end up getting into a shootout with the Chiefs, Derek Carr will need to step up his game. Carr ranks 16th in EPA per play and 21st in CPOE. He's been remarkably similar to Russell Wilson (pre-TNF) in these metrics. The reaction to Carr's disappointing season has been quieter, likely due to lower expectations in the first place. But if Carr plays as he has so far, the Raiders will need Mahomes to disappoint to keep up with Kansas City.

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Last week, I noted that Davante Adams' 1.48 YPRR was far lower than expected based on his target volume. Adams had strong per-route opportunity but a YPT of just 6.3. Adams helped me out, posting a 9-for-102 receiving line against the Broncos, primarily on target volume. He saw 13 targets for a 33% target share and a 43% air yard share. Adams' YPRR is now up to 1.75, but he is still significantly underperforming his target volume. In other words, despite coming off a decent game, the positive regression that I expected for Adams is not fully hit. He is seeing elite per-route target opportunity... and with 98% route participation this year, he's running every route. Adams' ceiling is still sky-high.

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The situation is more tenuous for Darren Waller. Waller has an 80% route rate this year, which is a strong number for a tight end. But he's been targeted on only 18% of his routes. As you can see above, he has an expected YPRR of 1.59. That's not an awful number for a tight end, but well below the elite opportunity, we expected when drafting Waller. 

To make matters worse, Waller's 7.3 YPT is significantly lower than expected for his 11.6 aDOT. But while this part of his profile has been frustrating, we can at least expect positive regression on his per-target efficiency. And it's also nice to see that Waller continues to be used downfield, which is a rarity at the tight end position.

But it's hard not to be a little bit worried about Waller's target rate this year, especially because Hunter Renfrow has missed the last two games. Given the state of tight end, I highly doubt you have a better option than Waller. And given the potential for the Chiefs to push the Raiders to the air, Waller is worth sticking with, even if you think you do.

But things are about to get more crowded with Renfrow back at practice. Because while Mack Hollins doesn't profile as a fantasy-relevant player going forward, he has shown an ability to draw targets with Renfrow out. And Hollins isn't going anywhere. He ran a route on 90% of dropbacks in Week 1 and 93% in Week 2.

Keelan Cole has been Renfrow's direct replacement. Cole has run 60 routes over the last two weeks, seeing just five targets (8%). Renfrow has a 21% target rate this year, so target competition is about to increase significantly. Renfrow's return adds another layer of uncertainty to this pass-catching corps, creating a lower floor across the board. But this game environment also creates high ceilings for each of the Raiders' pass-catchers individually.

Josh Jacobs has shown a much higher ceiling than I anticipated. And he seems to be becoming a bigger workhorse by the week.

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Jacobs now ranks RB6 in expected points per game, ahead of Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, and Najee Harris. Jacobs' efficiency has been neutral this season, meaning that his value so far has been entirely driven by his workload. That workload will probably fall off a bit, but this is still a great setup for continued fantasy success. 

Brandon Bolden has dominated third-down snaps. So if the Raiders are forced into pure passing sets late in the game, Jacobs could be scripted out. But Jacobs has run a route on 50% of dropbacks. So as long as the Raiders are competitive, Jacobs should have a very strong role in the offense. He profiles as a high-end RB2.

Chiefs Implied Team Total: 29

After a vintage performance against the Buccaneers, Mahomes ranks first in EPA per play and third in CPOE. And, of course, he is captaining an offense built to highlight his elite skill set. The Chiefs have a 12% PROE that trails only the Bills and have had an 11%+ PROE in every game this season. The Raiders' defense doesn't look like a pass funnel right now, but it probably will heading into next week. Because there's simply no way that Kansas City doesn't attack this matchup.

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Despite Mahomes' excellence, we're still having trouble finding value from the Chiefs' wide receivers. JuJu Smith-Schuster has been the closest thing to a fantasy-relevant option, averaging 4.75 receptions and 56 receiving yards per game. Unfortunately, Smith-Schuster's underwhelming production looks unsustainable based on his target volume so far. 

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Playing with Mahomes, it's not out of the question that Smith-Schuster plays this efficiently all season. But we're looking for Smith-Schuster to improve from his current level, and he looks like a very poor bet to see an increase in YPT. If Smith-Schuster is going to live up to his preseason hype, he'll need to earn more targets. But Smith-Schuster's outlook there does not look all that promising because his routes now appear to be declining. This decrease doesn't appear specific to Smith-Schuster. Marques Valdez-Scantling and Mecole Hardman are both coming off season lows in route participation as well.

Instead, the Chiefs appear to be experimenting with more heavy personnel, with ramped-up route participation for tight ends Noah Gray and Jody Fortson. Travis Kelce hasn't been negatively impacted; he posted an 88% route rate against the Buccaneers. In fact, with his routes still intact, Kelce looks even more appealing if the Chiefs continue rolling out heavy packages. As inconsistent as Kansas City's wide receivers have been this year, we'd still prefer Kelce to compete with Gray or Fortson for targets than a professional wide receiver. Kelce posted a 29% target share last week, a new season high. 

Time will tell if the Chiefs stick with this approach, but it's not ideal for the wide receivers that routes are down across the board, with Skyy Moore starting to emerge. Moore only ran 11 routes against the Buccaneers, but he made his presence felt, delivering a 2-for-31 receiving line on four targets. And Moore's 11 routes were a big step in the right direction, doubling his routes for the season. But the rookie has a long way to go yet. He needs to roughly triple his route participation before looking like a fantasy-relevant option. Still, it was a promising step. Albeit on a very small sample, Moore now leads the Chiefs with 2.77 YPRR. It will be very notable if his playing time increases again this week.

Moore isn't the only rookie flashing for the Chiefs right now. Isiah Pacheco is beginning to look like an underutilized piece of the Chiefs' offense. The rookie ranks RB6 in RYOE / attempt behind D'Andre Swift, Aaron Jones, Khalil Herbert, Nick Chubb, and Saquon Barkley. And he's been a consistent producer, ranking RB5 in success rate. But, like Moore, he has a long way to go before he is fantasy relevant. Pacheco saw just 21% of snaps last week.

But the rookie could be a real thorn in the side of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The veteran is actually coming off a season-high 56% snap share, so we shouldn't write his obituary just yet. And Edwards-Helaire hasn't embarrassed himself as a rusher, ranking RB19 in RYOE / attempt and RB32 in success rate. But it certainly seems like the rookie has more burst. Edwards-Helaire remains the way to play the backfield for now. But with a workload that ranks RB20, he looks like a boom/bust RB2 rather than the RB1 he's been to start the year. Even a hater like me has to acknowledge his ceiling, though. Running behind a line that ranks second in PFF's run blocking grades, CEH will always be a strong bet for TDs... as long as he maintains the lead role in this backfield.

 

Sources

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

  • 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
  • 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
    • Third down and Red Zone Snaps from Sam Hoppen's Player Stat Explorer at 4for4.com
  • 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.