This series answers numerous fantasy-centric questions following the week’s Sunday slate of games (usually looking ahead and ‘what does this mean?’). Like is Nico Collins the new Tyreek Hill? Or is it wise to trade for Ja’Marr Chase (especially after next week)? It uses advanced metrics, analytics, game tape reviews, statistical trends, and myriad other elements. It features a variety of systems, many of which are covered in this primer article and reviewed in greater detail at TheFootballScientist.com.
The EPA metrics detailed below are per TruMedia. Other advanced metrics outside of my unique metrics are per TruMedia/PFF or Stathead, unless otherwise noted. Fantasy point totals are in full PPR environments. Roster percentages are per ESPN leagues. Unless otherwise noted, statistical rankings are through the end of the Sunday night games.
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1. Will Justin Fields be able to return to his 2022 scoring pace?
Fields came into the 2023 season with mid-tier QB1 expectations due to his No. 7 ADP (per Fantasy Pros) but has fallen well short of those, as his 14.64 PPG ranks 20th at this position and places him behind C.J. Stroud (15.57), Baker Mayfield (17.2), Sam Howell (18.22) and Mac Jones (18.94).
So, what’s the problem? Let’s start by looking at his passing PPG totals at the short and vertical route depth levels:
- Vertical PPG: 4.52 last year, 4.36 this year
- Short PPG 4.53 last year, 5.18 this year
This indicates Fields is probably slightly better on passing PPG this season, so that isn’t the problem.
Now let’s look at rushing.
- Rush PPG: 6.10 this year, 10.82 last year
Averaging 6.1 rush PPG is a very good total for a quarterback, as it ranks fifth in that category, but it pales in comparison to last season, when Fields led the league and joined Jalen Hurts as the only quarterbacks to average 10+ rush PPG.
That last stat is actually the real issue, as Fields, Hurts, and Lamar Jackson in 2019 are the only quarterbacks since 2000 to average 10+ rush PPG.
This scoring rarity means it was probably not reasonable to expect Fields to replicate his 2022 rushing numbers, especially since Chicago stacked its backfield with rushing talent in part to curtail how often Fields has to carry the ball.
There are likely some big rush games still in the cards for Fields this year, but unless the coaches start asking him to run more often or his passing numbers spike, it may be a borderline QB1/QB2 campaign for Fields.
2. Can Joe Burrow (and by proxy Ja’Marr Chase) turn things around?
For all of the concerns about how the calf injury might hinder Joe Burrow’s mobility this season, the reality is that it seems to have crippled his vertical passing ability. Burrow is 29th among passer rating qualified quarterbacks in vertical PPG, as he has posted a dismal 0.28 PPG in that category, and he has zero points on stretch vertical passes due to going 0 for 6 on throws 20+ yards downfield.
That’s where he’s been. As to where he’s going (and if he can improve Chase’s production), let’s assume that the calf injury aggravation is minor enough for him to play this week (Burrow and Zac Taylor said after the game that he would have been able to return if need be; although he did note it was sore and things would be day to day). But this might be a Jake Browning issue, if he ends up starting.
Because what Burrow and Chase could really use is some favorable downfield coverage matchups. They won’t get that in Week 3, as the Rams defense ranks seventh best in vertical PPG allowed this season. The three following matchups portend much better, as Tennessee, Arizona, and Seattle rank anywhere from 25th to 30th in that category. This means fantasy managers may have to deal with subpar production for one more week, but prospects should improve after that.
3. Should Tyler Allgeier be benched?
Allgeier started the season on a tear by racking up 24.4 PPR points in Week 1 on the strength of 18 scrimmage plays for 94 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He replicated the workload volume in Week 2, garnering 16 carries, but generated only 48 rushing yards and didn’t see a single target after posting three catches in Week 1 and thus ended up with 4.8 PPR points.
The Falcons have the most rush-centric offense in the league, and they divide work evenly between Allgeier, Bijan Robinson, and quarterback Desmond Ridder, so Allgeier is going to post plenty of games with 10+ carries.
Therein lies the quandary. It’s tough to bench a running back who is getting 10-15 touches per game, but since Allgeier is also splitting goal line carries with Robinson (Allgeier claimed all three of the club’s rushes inside the 5-yard line in Week 1, with Robinson taking the only one in Week 2), he may be a hit-or-miss proposition.
Add it up and the proper call is to consider Allgeier a good start candidate versus weak rush defenses and during bye weeks, but otherwise to factor his value down when comparing him to other flex candidates.
4, How was the Ravens backfield workload divided in the first week after J.K. Dobbins’ injury?
The Baltimore backfield looked to project as a platoon when Dobbins was lost to injury. Here’s how the first week’s running back snap counts played out in his absence.
Ravens backfield split, Week 2
|Player||Off snaps||Pass snaps||Rush snaps||Routes||Pass block snaps|
That is certainly a platoon setup and it resulted in Edwards scoring 12.2 PPR points versus Hill’s 8.3 PPR points. The difference is that Edwards racked up a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, but Hill got a goal line carry on the play before Edwards’ scoring play, so Baltimore is dividing that work up as well.
That last factor is what really hurts when it comes to playing Hill or Edwards, because if one of them laid claim to the goal line role, he would be a weekly flex candidate. The divided carry volume means that Hill and Edwards are now touchdown dependent starters who really should only be played when needed.
5. Is it time to bench Dameon Pierce?
Pierce is an early contender for the most disappointing fantasy player this season, as instead of mid-tier RB2 production, fantasy managers have received only 12.2 PPR points this season from him.
It’s tough to blame Pierce for this scoring decline, as Houston faced a strong Baltimore rush defense in Week 1 and has injuries all across the offensive line, but the bad news may be about to get worse in the form of an unfavorable schedule.
Houston’s next four foes are Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and New Orleans. The Jaguars, Saints, and Falcons all rate in the Top 11 in rush PPG allowed, so the odds that Pierce is going to get a higher volume of quality rushing chances seems limited.
Add it up and the suggestion is to bench Pierce if you can’t trade him for a solid return, as it is not likely he is going to return RB2 value any time soon.
6 and 7. Is it time to bench Isiah Pacheco? Is it time to drop Jerick McKinnon?
One of the odd parts of the 2023 Kansas City Chiefs is how infrequently this team is running the football. This club has a talented but unproven wide receiver corps and was without Travis Kelce for Week 1 and yet the Chiefs have dropped back to pass on 71.4 percent of their offensive plays, which is the third highest total in the league.
That is certainly understandable since Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league and Andy Reid wants to get him the football as often as possible, but the Chiefs were second in the league in my good run blocking rate metric last year (more on which can be found here) and thus have the capacity to run the ball if they so desire.
That’s the saving grace for Pacheco, because as long as he’s averaging 10 carries per game as he has thus far, he’s still in contention for a weekly flex spot. For McKinnon the outlook isn’t as good, because he has only one carry in the first two games and thus is considered an insurance policy for Pacheco who can be dropped if the right prospect shows up.
8. Will Josh Jacobs get back to RB1 status any time soon?
Jacobs was high on the regression candidate list prior to the season, because the last player to lead the league in scrimmage yards in back-to-back seasons was Tiki Barber in 2004-05. That article also notes that scrimmage yards champions tend to see a notable drop-off in yards gained in the following year, so Jacobs is just following historical trends right now by averaging only 60 scrimmage yards in the first two games of the year.
Having noted this, the Raiders rush defense schedule indicates that Jacobs may be about to turn things around fairly soon, as he has green-rated matchups in four out of six games in Weeks 4-9. That makes him a great trade for low candidate if you are in a league where Jacobs hits the trading block.
9. Is Josh Reynolds now a fantasy start option?
Is Reynolds a touchdown dependent start prospect or is he someone fantasy managers can rely on in weekly lineups?
His two scores yesterday may make it seem like the former, but before slotting Reynolds in that category, consider that he ranks tied for seventh (with Tyreek Hill) in vertical receptions, is eighth in vertical receiving yards, and tied for tenth in vertical targets.
It is entirely possible this is just a short-term boost for Reynolds, and two of Detroit’s next four foes rank in the top four in the league in vertical PPR receiving points allowed, but the Lions are going to keep throwing long passes to Reynolds until someone stops him, so keep him in strong flex consideration until that happens.
10. Can Nico Collins keep this hot streak going?
Puka Nacua has been the biggest surprise of the fantasy football season through two weeks, but Collins vaulted into consideration for that honor with a 27.6 PPR point showing in Week 2 that followed a 14-point total in Week 1.
What makes Collins production stand out even more is that he leads the league in vertical targets, ranking one target ahead of Tyreek Hill. That’s not the only area where Collins and Hill have similar vertical pass metrics. Here’s a comparison.
- Collins: 22 routes, 13 targets, seven receptions for 152 yards, 53.8 percent catch rate
- Hill: 25 routes, 12 targets, six receptions for 188 yards, 50 percent catch rate
It should be pointed out that Hill has a vertical touchdown reception and Collins doesn’t, and no one expects that Collins will keep up with Hill on vertical pass production all season long, but when a wideout can match Hill even for a couple of games and is available in just short of 40 percent of leagues, that’s a player you want to bank on even if his pace declines, as it should still provide impact depth for a fantasy roster.
11. Is it time to bench George Kittle?
Kittle started this season with 395 career receptions. For perspective, consider that he was one of only 44 tight ends to register that many catches in a career. Now let’s add even more perspective by noting that only 21 of those 44 tight ends ended up with 495 or more career catches.
This isn’t to say that Kittle is going to end up short of 495 career receptions, but things are not looking good so far him this season, as Kittle has posted 10.9 PPR points over a two-game span.
What’s worse is that all of his production has been on short passes. This 5.45 short PPR PPG pace falls short of Kittle’s 8.14 PPG mark in that category in 2022 (ranked sixth best at this position) and thus is a bit of a concern, but the fact that he has yet to register a single point on vertical passes one season after finishing third among tight ends in PPR PPG at that depth level is downright troubling.
Now let’s add a bit more depth by looking at the 49ers vertical pass distribution this season.
49ers vertical pass distribution (2023)
Kittle is running plenty of vertical routes but has only seen a single vertical target.
This all points towards Kittle possibly having hit the age wall, but those looking for a 49ers gold lining in this cloud, keep in mind that as the schedule currently stands, Kittle is looking at seven consecutive green-rated tight end coverage matchups from Weeks 8-15 (San Francisco is on a bye in Week 9).
This means fantasy managers who can afford to wait out a possible short-term reduction in Kittle’s scoring may end up benefiting greatly later this year. It makes Kittle worth stashing if this streak does continue and makes him a terrific trade for low candidate if he becomes available.
(Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)