5 things I care about
The Eagles: A case of "Trust WR talent"
I owe so many prayers of forgiveness at Wide Receiver Church for not trusting talent when it came to ranking A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith in fantasy. Those guys are stars; Reception Perception has verified it over and over through the years.
I had Brown right around WR12-13 all summer, despite knowing he's a top-five talent at the position. Few receivers get open against man and press coverage at a higher rate than Brown. He's a dominant force at the catch point and a human highlight reel in the open field. He checks all the boxes of an alpha receiver. It's clear he's changed the entire trajectory of the Eagles' offense from the moment he arrived.
I absolutely buried Smith in rankings. I need some extra prayers to forgive myself for that one.
I've been a huge Smith backer from the beginning. Size be damned, he gets pristine separation at all levels. He gives a quarterback layup targets with his ability to quickly win off the line and chunk gains with his downfield route-running. He's a star in his own right. Brown is an alpha but Smith is at worst a 1B receiver.
The best part about this pairing was how well these two complement each other from a strengths standpoint. It was an ideal tandem and even though I knew it, my rankings didn’t reflect it.
So excited for the A.J. Brown + DeVonta Smith tandem in Philadelphia. Wrote in Brown's #ReceptionPerception profile about how I think he is going to be the perfect complement to Smith's game.— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) June 15, 2022
Smith: https://t.co/1oWMfJFfq2 pic.twitter.com/xwOnxyeu24
There were questions about this offense. Concerns about the potential rushing volume and how high of a ceiling Hurts could reach. I wish I had just ignored them and trusted the talent.
Week 6 was a reminder of what this duo can do even when Hurts isn’t firing at his best from start to finish. They only combined for 111 yards on 10 catches but their impacts were huge. Brown averaged 11.2 yards after the catch per reception and his touchdown was a “make a play for” his quarterback type of deal. Smith presented himself as a layup target by slipping past the defense on his second-half touchdown.
The Eagles are winning games because of this tandem. If we don't already, we will soon regard them as a clear top-five wide receiver duo.
I wish I had used my imagination a bit more prior to the season when it came to the other factors around them.
Bills distribution is solidified
The Buffalo Bills got a much-desired win over the Chiefs on the road and it came in a fashion familiar for their offense at this point. They have a formula — and it works.
When everyone is healthy, the Bills passing game features Stefon Diggs heavily, sprinkles in Gabe Davis down the field and highlights Devin Singletary exclusively in the running game. When they need it, a bit player can step up, too.
It was Dawson Knox this week on the game-winning touchdown.
Diggs has been fantastic this season. He has a 29%-plus target share in all but two games this season. He's been a volume hog no matter the circumstances or who else is playing around him — and he's producing. The veteran receiver has four games over 100 yards. He's been one of the best players overall in football this year.
Diggs wasn't a big factor in the playoff barn-burner between these two teams last season. He was the engine of the passing game in this week's win.
Davis might never be a big target-getter — he was targeted on just 14% of his routes against Kansas City — but that's fine. He's not a volume receiver. You don't funnel an offense through a player like Davis, you do that with a guy like Diggs. But when they do call his number, it's usually down the field and it's almost always a game-changing play.
Davis might be one of the premier downfield receivers in the NFL right now and pairing that with Josh Allen at quarterback is football bliss. Accept and love Davis for what he is, because he's a huge factor in the Bills' offense reaching its ceiling.
My podcast partner Scott Pianowski has a theory that the weeks to use Singletary in fantasy is not in the easy wins, it's the weeks the Bills are going to play a close, competitive game. Weeks like this one give it credence. The Bills made Zach Moss a healthy scratch and played Singletary on 87.5% of the snaps. He responded, handling 21 touches for 107 total yards. He gained five-plus yards on 59% of his runs.
The Bills offense is dynamic yet rather predictable. Other players will have their weeks but those aforementioned three are Allen's core guys. You can argue the game turned in Buffalo's favor when they cut other guys out and began to hammer Diggs, Davis and Singletary leading up to Knox's game-winner. It should be that big three carrying the load going forward.
Potency and predictability. That's about as good a setup as you'll find.
Matt Ryan was sacked zero times, Colts WRs ball out
Matt Ryan had been driven into the dirt repeatedly to start the season, but he wasn't sacked a single time against the Jaguars in Week 6. A ton of their receivers went off as Ryan threw for almost 400 yards. That's not a coincidence.
The Colts made some changes, like starting Matt Pryor at guard, but a play-calling shift might have been the biggest reason they flipped the script:
#Colts went no-huddle on 47% of plays today - the 3rd highest no-huddle rate of any game this season (ARZ 53% and 55%).— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) October 16, 2022
IND produced their fastest snaps pace (by far), set a season high for offensive plays (74), and scored their most points by two touchdowns (34).
Ryan got rid of the ball in fewer than 2.4 seconds and picked the Jaguars apart underneath. Number-one receiver Michael Pittman caught 13 of 16 targets and went for over 130 yards. There may have been some pretty unwarranted Pittman concerns out there. No need for those anymore. Rookie receiver Alec Pierce made another spectacular contested catch for the game-winning touchdown. Even Parris Campbell made his way into the end zone. This team has legitimate receiving talent.
Nyheim Hines had a quote earlier this season about how difficult it was to annually transition to a new quarterback because, essentially, every September turns into a discovery mission. Have the Colts finally found the style of offense they need to play with Ryan? Perhaps. They'll need to integrate Jonathan Taylor into that style of attack but that shouldn't be an issue. This game may go down as an inflection point in the Colts season.
Ken Walker looks like a league winner
Seahawks rookie Ken Walker was the seventh highest-scoring fantasy running back this week heading into Sunday Night Football. He looked the part:
Kenneth Walker continues to ball out! The most natural runner from this class!— Full-Time Dame 💰 (@DP_NFL) October 16, 2022
Walker handled 70% of the Seahawks team rush attempts but that doesn't really show how much of a workhorse he was. Walker handled 21 carries, Geno Smith had six, RB2 DeeJay Dallas had two and the punter had one. Walker also caught a pair of passes.
Walker’s Week 6 usage looked like a feature back — and so did his game tape.
He’s such a gifted, smooth runner. He averaged 4.23 yards after contact per rush and gained five-plus yards on 19% of his carries. The big plays were there, as was the sustaining element of the ground game.
Walker could rise up the running back ranks quickly and even challenge for Offensive Rookie of the Year. If the Seahawks keep winning, he’ll stay in the national discourse. His presence on the highlight reel and in the top-15 weekly ranks among fantasy running backs will also help his cause.
49ers getting crushed by injuries ... again
The injury bug doesn’t just bite the 49ers, it absolutely eats them alive on an annual basis. San Francisco already entered Week 6 with a long injury list and then proceeded to suffer more major losses during the game:
#49ers HC Kyle Shanahan uncertain on the severity of injuries to CB Mooney Ward (groin) and RT Mike McGlinchey (calf).— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) October 16, 2022
If you’re looking for some positive injury news (and you probably are), Shanahan said OT Trent Williams could be set to return next week against Kansas City.
If this defense crumbles under the weight of injuries, it’ll be an absolute shame. The 49ers stop unit was a treat to watch in the early part of 2022. They flew around, played aggressively and wrecked games on their own.
If there is a silver lining — and it's no solace to 49ers fans — but a depleted team might end up giving us the best volume projections for their passing game players. Brandon Aiyuk had a massive breakout game and he split 30-plus combined targets with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. That never came close to happening in any game this year before this one.
That trio could put up some huge games in the right offense. We will never get the real version of that offense with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback but we might get the volume-inflated, funhouse-mirror version of it if this defense falls apart.
5 things I don’t care about
Anymore Dallas QB discussion
Great backup quarterbacks can do more than keep the ship from sinking. They can highlight the talent on the roster and cause the play-caller to find new wrinkles in the playbook.
Cooper Rush did just that during his run as a starter — but only that. The wins and wild stats were going to come to an end at some point. He ran into an excellent Eagles team and reality was laid bare: Rush is a good backup quarterback but pretending he's building anything more than a solid stretch as the fill-in QB was always silly.
Rush turned the ball over three times against the Eagles. They were primarily unforced errors. He finished Sunday as the 20th-ranked quarterback in EPA per dropback. That’s going to happen with backup quarterbacks against superior competition.
His run as the starter has likely come to an end, as it always was destined to end. Dak Prescott will be back and is the type of talent to elevate this team but he doesn't have to do too much. Rush keeping the seat warm reminded us what a comfortable chair the quarterback of this team gets to occupy.
Kellen Moore and the offensive coaching staff gave Rush more easy buttons to press than they usually do for Prescott. The play action rates were up, there were more screens and layup targets and when the defense was winning the day, they had no problem leaning on the running game. They looked for explosive plays from Tony Pollard more than in years past, probably because they knew a backup quarterback wasn't going to provide them as regularly. They had to get creative.
Rush revealed they had the talent to play in multiple ways and win while doing it. Hopefully Moore and co. remember those easy buttons when Dak is back. Just because the quarterback can do the hard stuff doesn't mean you have to make him do it all the time. Rush shined a light on the best version of this team.
Again, that’s what backup quarterbacks are supposed to do. No further controversy is needed.
Robbie Anderson trade rumors
The flock of vultures trying to pick off the few good players on the Panthers roster following the Matt Rhule firing was already annoying me. As if the Panthers were going to start shipping off guys like DJ Moore when they just signed him to a mega contract simply to make your fantasy teams happy. Be realistic.
However, receiver Robbie Anderson did make some sense as a guy to move on from. But the idea that teams were just going to be lining up to get this guy on their team already looked silly, but it looks downright dumb after today:
I'm sure teams are just lining up. https://t.co/USEaBB6pCJ— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) October 16, 2022
Anderson was later sent to the locker room by interim head coach Steve Wilks following a stretch where he sat alone on the sideline without his helmet. It’s over for Anderson in Carolina but I don’t see another team rushing to fork over draft capital to acquire him.
Obviously, this isn’t Anderson’s first personality-related flare-up. So, that’s one strike. Then there’s his play. He’s been a solid starting receiver during his best years and he’s neither sustained that level of play nor shown it anytime recently. Strike two. Then there's his oversized contract. Strike three.
Anderson doesn’t have a future in Carolina but I think he’s more likely to get cut than traded. Not worth it.
J.K. Dobbins projections
It felt like we saw a lot of Kenyan Drake last Sunday night. It was an ominous sign considering J.K. Dobbins was running well against the Bengals and Drake had been a healthy scratch the week prior.
If you were concerned about it last week, your alarm bells are fully firing now after Drake handled 41.7% of the team rush attempts and recorded 119 total yards. Meanwhile, Dobbins ran just seven times for 15 yards.
I wondered last week if Drake’s bump in usage had anything to do with a re-aggravation of Dobbins’ complicated knee injury. We didn’t get anything about that from the team then, but we did this on Sunday:
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said RB J.K. Dobbins was limited to just 7 carries today because "His knee tightened up."— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 16, 2022
Kenyan Drake took over and rushed for 119 yards on 10 carries.
It’s now officially in the range of outcomes for Dobbins to get taken out of any game. His path to recovery was not clear or linear. Dobbins had additional damage beyond just the torn ACL and it was a long process to get him back to game-ready form. Continued troubles aren’t all that shocking, albeit very unfortunate.
At this point, you can’t trust any sort of projections with Dobbins. The floor is lower than you imagine.
“Allen Robinson is washed” takes
There was always more to Allen Robinson's ultra-slow start to the season than his own individual play. He missed some opportunities but he is absolutely not washed. Folks were just carrying over on their box score analysis from his final year in Chicago. He can still play.
Robinson is still a really good route runner who gets open in tight spaces. He doesn’t have the deep separation chops he once did but he can win in contested situations. The Rams finally gave him some looks in tight coverage and he rewarded their faith.
.@AllenRobinson went UP and got it!— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 16, 2022
📺 @NFLonFOX | 📲 https://t.co/4beUdmlymg pic.twitter.com/cyq15ihqZz
Robinson also came down with a touchdown on a fade route and ran another gorgeous route when he was put in pre-snap motion for a 22-yard catch. The latter was the type of position the Rams weren't highlighting him in the first month of the season. Their offense is better when he's deployed this way and compliments Cooper Kupp.
The offensive line is going to be an issue but at least the upcoming bye week arrives at the right time. Hopefully, the line is refortified and deep threat Van Jefferson returns.
Robinson can still play, get open and be a reliable target for the Rams offense. Please don’t send me any silly target separation stats.
Watch the games. I’m begging you. They’re fun.
Picking a Jets WR
The Jets have a “too many good players” problem. This is only an issue for fantasy football managers, not the 4-2 New York Jets.
One of the bigger catalysts for the Jets' 2022 improvement has been the defense catching fire. New York is a top-eight defense in EPA per play allowed since Week 4. Rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner has been electric and Quinnen Williams has made a sizable impact on a weekly basis.
Another primary factor has been the emergence of Breece Hall as one of the game's most explosive running backs. The rookie has ripped off huge plays in back-to-back weeks in both the run and pass games. He looks like the type of identity-creating player a team will build its offense around.
That leaves the passing game to pick up the scraps. Unfortunately, since Zach Wilson took over the offense, it's been just that: Scraps. And there are still too many good players at that position to split up those scraps.
Both Elijah Moore and Garrett Wilson are electric talents but both ran a route on fewer than 70% of the dropbacks against the Packers. Veteran Corey Davis looks like the top receiver on the team and he's still a good player; he's not going away. Braxton Berrios and Tyler Conklin have roles as bit players. There's just not enough passing volume here to go around.
I'm not closing the book on Wilson at all, so don't take any of this that way. The Jets just aren't winning because of him right now. He isn't asked to be the rising tide to lift all boats for this quietly loaded offense. The Jets don't need him to be that to win football games but that leaves all these wide receivers as impossible fantasy projections until something changes.
The Jets don’t care.