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. Disappointing Positional Units
Washington Wide Receivers
We knew that Alex Smith, who had a monster of a career year in 2017, wouldn’t be the same player in his first season in Washington. Nonetheless, fantasy drafters, myself included, expected there to be at least one serviceable option in the team’s passing game. Jamison Crowder was being drafted somewhere near WR30, and both Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson were being selected around WR70. As always, Jordan Reed’s health was a concern, but he was universally noted as having “tremendous upside if healthy”.
Through four weeks, on a point-per-game basis, Crowder ranks WR67, Richardson WR65, and Docston WR125. Reed hasn’t missed a game but ranks only TE13. While that’s not terrible, it highlights the lack of production within Washington’s aerial attack.
Unsurprisingly, Washington ranks in the bottom half of all team-level passing statistics included in the Weekly Stat Explorer (WSE).
Perhaps even more troubling for fantasy owners yearning for production from Washington’s WRs and TEs is the fact that a running back leads the team in total targets. With four looks in the red zone, Chris Thompson also matches Crowder as Washington’s go-to option in striking distance. This is a huge problem as the team is already limiting the opportunity of its pass catchers by rushing frequently for a team that’s produced a +/- of negative four points on the season.
In Week 5, Crowder was targeted eight times. This equated to 12 expected points — the highest total posted by a Washington WR all season. While Reed saw 13 expected points in Week 2, it’s impossible to deny that the passing game opportunity in Washington is sparse at best. Many drafters hoped that Smith could carry over the aggressive, deep-throw style of play he demonstrated playing alongside Tyreek Hill and develop a connection with the speedy Richardson. With 63 air yards per game, he ranks just 49th among relevant WRs.
If you own one the receivers you can drop them without feeling guilty. The unit faces a grueling schedule over the next three Weeks and opposes Jacksonville in Round 1 of the fantasy playoffs. Given how bad TE has been this season, Reed is still worth holding onto.
Dallas Cowboys Wide Receivers
With Dez Bryant a Cowboy of the past and Jason Witten in the Monday Night booth, it would seem that there’d be a nice chunk of receiving production up for grabs in Dallas. Unfortunately for Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and the rest of the Dallas receiving corps, the team’s passing game has been a dumpster fire. Averaging just 1 touchdown per game on 172 yards and 29 passing attempts, the Cowboys possess one of the worst passing offenses in the league.
Beasley has scored the most points of any Cowboys’ WR with just 36, but trails behind Ezekiel Elliott in both total and red zone targets. Given Prescott’s struggles and 28th ranked QBR, the offense has been forced to run through Elliott who has shouldered more than 50 percent of the team’s offensive load. While Tavon Austin has seen nearly 20 air yards per target, none of the team’s WR have enjoyed quality looks as evidenced by their WOPRs. Gallup owns the highest WOPR on the team and ranks just 118th of all players tracked by AirYards in 2018. Remember, WOPR combines a player’s target share and share of team air yards in a way that best predicts both PPR and standard fantasy points.
I’d like to conclude that there’s at least a shred of value or opportunity present in the Cowboy’s passing game but there isn’t.
Minnesota Vikings Running Backs
Dalvin Cook was selected in the early second round of 2018 fantasy drafts. His backup, Latavius Murray, was viewed as one of the league’s better handcuffs given his Round 10/11 ADP. However, the two players have combined for just 56 fantasy points (28 each, with Cook averaging nine per game and Murray six). That’s a lower total than 21 single players, including Phillip Lindsay, Adrian Peterson, Javorius Allen, Matt Breida, and a number of other backs in timeshares. In 2017, Cook averaged 16.4 points per game and in his absence, Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 26 points on a weekly basis.
So what’s happening in Minnesota this season? For starters, the defense is struggling and has allowed 26 points per game, which ranks 23rd. Opposing quarterbacks have flourished, recording a composite QBR of 105. Only the Saints and Buccaneers have been more accommodating to opposing passers. In 2017, the Vikings allowed less than 16 points per game to opponents. This dramatic increase has forced the team into throwing on 72 percent of plays. In 2017, Minnesota recorded one rush for every pass. While the addition of Kirk Cousins and the dynamic duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs has certainly made the decision to air it out an easier one, the team would employ a tighter ratio if the defense was playing better.
Naturally, this has limited the workload available for Cook and Murray. While their target totals are okay, the visual representation of rushing attempts is damning.
To provide a point of comparison for the above, review the opportunity enjoyed by Denver’s RBs.
A lack of opportunity is one of the major drivers of Cook’s and Murray’s woes. Compounding the problem is the group of defenses faced by the duo. Through Week 5, Minnesota faced one of the most difficult schedules for fantasy RBs. Fortunately, things reverse with easy matchups in Weeks 6 and 7 against the Cardinals and Jets. Plus, the team plays the eighth most favorable RB schedule between Weeks 6 and 16.
While both backs have been disappointing, I expect their fortunes to reverse. The schedule could help, but I’m certain that the team’s pass to run ratio will tighten. In 2017, the Dolphins favored the pass more than any other team while throwing on 63 percent of offensive plays. Even a modest increase, such as this nine percent, would yield an increase of roughly seven carries per game. If Minnesota increases its rushing percentage to the 2017 league average of 42 percent, it could rush 10 times more per game.
2. The Power of the Rushing Quarterback
Earlier this season we discussed Russell Wilson, noting that his lack of rushing production explained the four or so point chasm between his weekly 2017 and 2018 production. While Wilson did produce a surprising 20 fantasy points against the Rams, rushing has accounted for just five percent of his output. As a result, he ranks 22nd in points per game among QBs.
Blake Bortles Legs Make Him a Viable Weekly Starter
Blake Bortles isn’t a strong passer. His QBR of 82 ranks 26th and he’s thrown an interception to nearly every touchdown pass he’s recorded in 2018. Yet, he ranks 13th in points per game and has eclipsed the 20 point mark in three out of five games played.
He’s offset his lack of passing touchdowns by rushing for over 33 yards per game and recording a rushing touchdown in Week 5. As a result, nearly a quarter of his fantasy output has come via the ground. That’s an extra 4.5 points accrued on a weekly basis.
Bortles opposes the Cowboys this weekend. Dallas ranks 12th in terms of points allowed to opposing QBs, but it’s worth noting that Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson rolled up a collective total of 98 rushing yards and a touchdown on the team’s defense. I’ll be looking at Bortles as a viable streaming option for Week 6 and will be holding onto him thereafter as he faces the sixth easiest QB schedule between Weeks 7 and 11.
Bortles, Watson, and Newton aren’t the only passers using their legs. Let’s consult the “Trends” tab of the WSE to find other QBs with the potential of accruing significant production with their legs on a week to week basis.
Pumping The Brakes on Trubisky
Sophomore passer Mitch Trubisky is coming off of the game of his life. An onslaught in which he put together 354 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, 53 rushing yards, and a QBR of 155. While it’s tempting to become overly exuberant given this 44 point performance, let’s not forget that he averaged just 11 points per game in the three weeks prior, throwing two touchdowns to three interceptions. Further, he’ll be facing a dog of a schedule in the coming weeks. The Dolphins, his next foe, have been the sixth toughest matchup for opposing QBs, and Weeks 7 – 9 won’t be much easier.
3 – Checking In On Air Yards
Donte Moncrief is Trending Upward
Donte Moncrief has been a pleasant surprise as the most targeted WR in Jacksonville. With nearly 100 air yards per game, he ranks 26th among WRs. Additionally, he leads the team in targets with 38 and a WOPR of 0.52. Moncrief saw 186 air yards against the Chiefs and recorded 28 expected points.
Unfortunately, he scored just two points in Week 1. This lowers his points per game to 11 and a rank of 56. Dede Westbrook has averaged 13 points per game and is the highest scoring Jaguar WR as Keelan Cole has averaged 11.
However, Moncrief just might be the Jacksonville WR to own. He leads the team in receiving touchdowns scored by receivers and all WR metrics charted in the WSE, with the exception of red zone targets where he trails T.J. Yeldon. But the most encouraging data point of all is his expected points per game of 12.2 which bests both Westbrook and Cole by more than 1.7 points per game.
The Ravens Are Using John Brown Correctly
With 871 air yards — 159 per game — John Brown leads the league in air yards. He’s outpaced teammate Michael Crabtree by 453 yards, which is itself 204 more than the 249 air yards thrown to Willie Snead.
This tremendous volume positions Brown as a WR2 who owns a 16th ranked WOPR, equal to that of DaVante Adams. It’s refreshing to see a team so appropriately utilize two player’s skillsets simultaneously. Joe Flacco has the arm for taking shots downfield, and with 4.34 speed, Brown is a burner that can capitalize on his QBs ability.
Given that the Ravens are passing 46 times per game, only outpaced by the Colts, it isn’t surprising that three of the team’s WRs sit within the top-55 of WR rankings on a per game basis. But is there room for Crabtree or Snead to improve?
Absolutely. Currently, Crabtree is averaging nine or more targets per game and has been expected to score a minimum of 12 and an average of 15 points per game. Given that he’s caught 52 percent of his passes, it’s not surprising that he’s failed to meet expectations. However, Crabtree has historically posted a season-ending reception percentage closer to 58 percent. If he and Flacco can build a stronger connection, and convert a greater percentage of throws, Crabtree could certainly improve to 13 or so points per game.
Snead, on the other hand, will need to see a significant increase in targets to substantially raise his production. For starters, he’s converted 70 percent of targets per game into catches and has been Flacco’s last look in the red zone. Given that in addition to Crabtree and Brown, Javorious Allen and a trio of TE’s have combined for approximately 32 percent of targets, it seems unlikely that Snead will be able to realize the needed increase in opportunity.
Can Kenny Stills Turn Things Around?
I was a huge Kenny Stills proponent heading into the season, and while a WR rank of 42 isn’t awful, I was truly expecting him to be a WR2. The strange thing about Stills’ season is that he ranks 24th in air yards per game, 21st in WOPR, and ninth in points per target but has failed to reach 10 PPR points in 60 percent of games.
As you likely gathered, the main driver of his disappointing production is a lack of opportunity. Stills has seen just five targets per game, limiting his expected points to just 8.2 points on a weekly basis. Particularly troubling for his owners is the fact that in addition to trailing Albert Wilson in targets, which makes sense given Wilson’s aDOT of eight yards, he’s been out targeted by Kenyan Drake.
As noted above, the Dolphins were the most pass-heavy team in 2017, throwing on 63 percent of offensive plays. Through five games, the team has passed just 54 percent of the time and is third to last in overall play volume. Garnering a share of just 14 percent of a small pie is not a WR2 recipe.
While it’s hard to project the Dolphins for a substantial increase in play volume unless, of course, you believe the team to be significantly better than demonstrated thus far, Miami’s ratio of passes to rushes will likely widen. This could create increased opportunity for Stills and the rest of the Dolphin’s passing game.
Miami has been in the red zone just 10 times this season. Only Arizona has been worse, but this is okay for a player that scored just 13 percent of his points in the red zone in 2017. With such a strong WOPR — easily the best on the team — there is signal that Stills’ luck should turn around. Having said that, I’ll feel much better about starting Stills after seeing how the next couple of weeks play out, and then hopefully using him throughout the push to the playoffs.