The 3 and Out focuses on using the Weekly Stat Explorer to uncover significant workload changes, league, team, and player-specific trends, and hidden but powerful statistics. Note that metrics and statistics referenced in this article are sourced from the Weekly Stat Explorer. As a result, offensive rankings, for example, are based upon tool specific calculations and may not agree with rankings from other sources.
1. It would Seem That I Was Wrong
Brandin Cooks is Currently WR9
I was skeptical of Brandin Cooks heading into the season. Though I did have him projected for 222 points as WR16, I highly doubted his chances of finishing in the top-12. Through four weeks, Cooks ranks in at WR9 and is averaging 20 points per game. While Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have combined for over 60 targets, Cooks has been Jared Goff’s most heavily targeted receiver. With a target share of 21 percent, Cooks’ workload is within my preseason expectations and has not matched the 23 to 24 percent I estimated that he’d need to finish as a WR1.
Of course, if the Rams offense can continue to smash, he might not need the increased volume. The Rams have already scored 140 points, are undefeated, and boast a net points total of 73, which is easily the best in the league.
Outside of the trio of WRs, Todd Gurley is the only other Ram seeing significant work. This bodes well for Cooks. At the very least, his workload is entirely sustainable. He trails Woods in air yards but has seen more red zone targets.
This is all positive, and though I will concede that I was likely wrong about Cooks, in that I was overly pessimistic, it still looks like the odds are against him finishing as a WR1.
For starters, he’s scoring 2.4 points per target. In the overwhelming majority of cases, this pace slows as the season progresses. Currently, Cooks is averaging 13.5 expected points per game. This means that he’s outscoring expectations, given down, distance and situation, by nearly 150 percent. Since 2000, only one percent of players that recorded 35 or more targets have finished the season with this strong of a ratio of actual to expected points. Only seven percent of players in this population finished at 130 percent or higher.
While other notable players such as Michael Thomas, and Mike Evans are above this mark and likely to slow down as well, Cooks has less wiggle room given the talented group of players that he shares the field with. When looking at the top-200 scoring PPR players and removing QBs, the Rams easily are producing the highest number of fantasy points per player.1
Was I too High on Antonio Brown?
While this feels like a ridiculous question to pose, it’s becoming increasingly valid. Through four games, Antonio Brown ranks in at WR17 based on total points and has been impacted by the superb play of Juju Smith-Schuster. Troubling for Brown owners is his weekly decrease in target share.
His air yards and WOPR have suffered as well.
Perhaps most alarming of all for Brown owners is the split of Steelers’ red zone targets between Brown and Smith-Schuster. The sophomore has seen 13 looks to Brown’s 5. Has Brown become the WR2 in Pittsburgh? Nope. But that’s what you’re going to tell the Brown owner that you’ll try to fleece when acquiring Brown.
With 52 targets, Brown has the second highest workload of all WRs. Further, he ranks fifth in air yards, seventh in WOPR, and has outpaced Smith-Schuster in expected points. Despite the alarming trends in the graphs, Brown recorded more expected points in Weeks 3 and 4 than Smith-Schuster. Brown’s “disappointing” production may have been magnified by the success of the younger player.
At the end of the day, Brown is commanding an extreme workload, has already found the end zone three times, and will be facing the eighth-easiest schedule between now and the end of the season.
Robby Anderson Is Not A Player to Own
Two summers ago I was really high on Quincy Enunwa. Before suffering an injury that prevented him from playing in the 2017 season, he was one of my most owned players. Fast forward to this summer and I was bullish on Robby Anderson despite Enunwa’s return. While I do think that it was fair to like Anderson, I should have more closely considered the possibility of Enunwa deteriorating his value.
In retrospect, there were a number of red flags in Anderson’s 2018 profile that I should have considered before targeting him in nearly all of my drafts.
- It was unlikely that the Jets would have a strong offense. The team has yet to prove this notion incorrect.
- A rookie quarterback would be controlling his fate. The implications of this were two-fold.
- It was possible that Sam Darnold would lock onto a WR other than Anderson and this player would control a significant target share.
- If Darnold and the New York offense struggled, it was unlikely that multiple players would be fantasy relevant.
- Further, given Anderson’s skillset, it was important that he played with a QB that could match his style
Anderson is tied with Bilal Powell for second on the team in targets. Despite 244 air yards, the WR is averaging only six expected points and four looks per game.
2. Which Units Have Played the Most Difficult Schedules
With a quarter of the season in the rearview mirror, let’s take a look at the positional units that may have been held back based on schedule.
- Peyton Barber looked like a decent value heading into the season but is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry, five points per game, and has yet to score a touchdown. Playing with a porous defense hasn’t helped matters, but his opportunity and expected points per game have dipped each week.
- Barber may have struggled due to playing a difficult schedule, but Ronald Jones still saw his first action of the season last week. Like Barber, he wasn’t particularly effective with his 10 carries and two targets. However, the Buccaneers face the Falcons after returning from a Week 5 bye. Atlanta has been the 25th easiest matchup for opposing RBs. If Tampa Bay continues to work Jones into the offense, he could have a solid outing and work toward overtaking the team’s RB duties.
- David Johnson owners have been disappointed with his utilization in the Arizona offense. He faced a brutal opening schedule but is in line for favorable matchups between weeks seven and 11.
- Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins have been their usual impressive selves despite playing a grueling schedule. Rookie Keke Coutee torched the eighth-ranked Colts for 109 yards and 22 points.
- Keenan Allen went for less than 15 points in three of his first four contests. Hopefully, this is the result of facing a tough schedule. Unsurprisingly, when facing the 21st ranked Chiefs, he was able to amass 25 points.
- Not helping Allen or any of the other Charger’s WRs is Melvin Gordon’s team-leading red-zone target total of nine. Rivers has thrown to Allen just five times from inside the 20-yard line. Not to mention, Gordon has seen 36 targets and is twice as involved as Mike Williams. Given that Austin Ekeler is also involved in the team’s passing game, neither Mike or Tyrell Williams can be used on a weekly basis. A healthy Travis Benjamin will only further muddy their outlook.
- After Delanie Walker’s unfortunate season-ending injury, I was expecting Jonnu Smith to become a significant contributor. Disappointingly, his workload has been nearly non-existent. While some of this could relate to facing defenses that limit tight ends, it seems that there’s little hope of him becoming relevant.
- Unlike Smith, I expect Tyler Kroft to see some work when filling in for Tyler Eifert. Eifert garnered nearly five targets per game through Week 4 while playing one of the hardest schedules and Kroft has been decent when playing the role of Cincinnati’s TE1.
3. Running Backs Leading Aeriel Attacks
Alvin Kamara saw 20 targets against Atlanta in Week 3 and has been thrown to 47 times. Only three wide receivers have seen more targets!
In a year in which teams are airing it out at tremendous levels, Kamara isn’t the only back controlling a major portion of his team’s passing attack.
James White Is Brady’s WR1
While New England’s target distribution will likely morph upon Julian Edelman’s return, James White has controlled the team’s target share. In fact, he was the most heavily targeted player in three of four games.
Anytime you can get this type of workload from a RB it’s a blessing. RB targets are so valuable. White saw a total opportunity of 18 in Week 4, split equally between rushes and targets. Sony Michel recorded a total opportunity of 25 — all rushing attempts. Despite the additional seven looks, each back was expected to produce 17 points against Miami.
The Colts Need to Use Nyheim Hines
I tend to stay away from playing RBs that aren’t studs on Thursday nights. However, in the case of Nyheim Hines, I will be including him in my lineups. With Jack Doyle and T.Y. Hilton sidelined, the Colts need to make use of his ability as a receiver. Clearly, the team has recognized that he’s a weapon when used correctly. This has translated into the rookie being third on the team in targets with 26 and earning significant playing time when the team is trailing. As 10.5-point underdogs, the Colts will keep him on the field against New England.
Jalen Richard Has Quietly Seen Significant Usage
I haven’t heard much talk of Jalen Richard’s usage but he’s tied for ninth in targets by RBs and with 23 looks is tied with Jordy Nelson for third on Oakland’s target totem pole. This has translated into multiple games in which his expected points exceeded 10. With an eight opportunities and 9.5 expected points per game, he’s a sneaky addition in shallow leagues.
- Don’t forget that in the case of Thomas, Alvin Kamara is accounting for an absurd percentage of New Orleans’ points per player. (back)