Fantasy Football: Don't expect run-heavy NFL teams to help your pass catchers

I understand if you had big fantasy hopes for Eljiah Moore, or Darnell Mooney, or Drake London. I nod my head if you went after Garrett Wilson in FAAB, or drafted Kyle Pitts proactively. I had some Cole Kmet shares, too.

But there’s a common reason why these fantasy plays are going down as major losses. Their teams don’t want to throw the ball.

In the 2021 NFL season, every team threw the ball on at least half of its offensive snaps. This year, there are four teams under that mark, and some of them are significantly below the line. The Bears throw just 41.2 percent of the time, the lowest mark in 13 years. Just ahead of them are the Falcons (42.8), Eagles (46.9) and Giants (48.0).

There’s another common thread to these run-heavy approaches. They’re more or less working.

Don't expect run-heavy NFL teams to change their approach

Oh, no one is throwing a parade for the 2-4 Bears. But they've been competitive, and they have a stunning Week 1 upset of San Francisco to point to. Clearly, the organization values quasi-competitiveness over the development of Justin Fields.

The Falcons are a scrappy 3-3, and they've covered six straight weeks. Marcus Mariota has three games with 20 pass attempts or fewer; the entire league saw just 18 of those games last year.

The Eagles can throw the ball proactively, they just don't choose to — at least for 60 minutes. Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, a loaded offensive line; that's a pretty good thing. It's funny how Dallas Goedert has become the player A.J. Brown was in Tennessee — an efficiency god who is rarely peppered with targets. If you swapped Travis Kelce and Goedert (putting Goedert on the Chiefs), I'd be ranking Goedert at TE1 every week.

Brian Daboll is the Coach of the Year frontrunner, somehow coaxing a 5-1 start from an ordinary Giants roster. You can understand his reluctance to pass the ball; the Giants receiver room might be the worst in the league. And again, a run-heavy script has not held his team back. Daniel Jones has thrown for 196 yards or fewer in five of six starts.

The Jets offense — and season — has totally flipped since Zach Wilson returned as starter. Over the first three weeks, the Jets threw the ball 155 times, an NFL record for the most chucks through three games (hat tip, Evan Silva). But when Joe Flacco went to the bench and Wilson suited up, the script changed. Tied to a friendly schedule and a surging defense, the Jets are now a ground-and-pound unit. Wilson has thrown just 75 passes in three weeks, about half of them in the comeback at Pittsburgh. He's thrown just 21 and 18 passes in the two most recent wins.

Sometimes teams make significant changes from season to season. The Falcons were pass-heavy last year; they're all about running this year. Jonathan Taylor's Colts were a ground show last year. Taylor's missed time this year, and it's part of why the Colts are, so far, a pass-heavy group.

There aren’t satisfying answers for fantasy managers worried about Jets, Falcons, or Bears receivers. We can take the low-hanging fruit and call them fades in seasonal leagues but buys in dynasty leagues, but that’s not satisfying or particularly actionable to those who need immediate help.

Perhaps Mooney is the receiver we can trust the most from this group. He’s posted a reasonable 214 yards in the last three weeks, he’s clearly the No. 1 target for the Bears and Chicago’s run-heavy trend is so steep, it will likely start to regress somewhat. I don’t expect Mooney to save my season or anything, but I’m glad I’m still rostering him, and even with challenges ahead (New England, Dallas), I’m open-minded to starting him.

With the Jets receivers, I think you have to accept the loss. The Jets aren't likely to give Wilson the keys to the offense — to be fair, he's done little to suggest he deserves more proactive passing — and the New York passing game has a few too many mouths to feed since veteran Corey Davis is around in addition to young pups Wilson and Moore.

London could be another target for me. Atlanta’s passing tree is especially narrow, and he was a credible fantasy option through the first three weeks (16-214-2). It’s also common for rookie receivers to see a confidence and performance spike in the middle of their first season.

I've stopped looking for receiver wins on the Giants. Remember Occam's Razor — often times the simplest answer is the correct one.

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