Three weeks into the action, we are starting to see what NFL teams are made of. With data against real live defenses, we can draw conclusions about which NFL offenses are going to yield high-end fantasy production. Some offenses, like the Bengals, do not appear to be living up to expectations. Others, like the Bucs, have outdone expectations. Still others, like the Dolphins, are picking up where they left off last season and firing on all cylinders.
It’s not simple math determining which teams become prolific fantasy producers. What makes up an offense’s output is a gestalt – greater than the sum of the parts. As fantasy gamers, we want to anticipate which teams are going to work themselves up into a fantasy scoring frenzy by end of season, especially if they are going to be making a campaign for the playoffs and involved in some key matchups during fantasy playoff time.
Take the Jaguars from last season, for example. They started slow – going 3-7 in their first ten games prior to their bye. Post-bye, though, they went 6-1, captured the AFC South title and even got a win in the playoffs. The Jags’ passing offense got cooking during that final stretch of the season. Trevor Lawrence threw for 300-plus yards in three of his final nine games (including the playoffs) after doing so just once in the first ten games of the season. And he threw for at least three touchdowns in four games over that same stretch, having done so only once before the bye.
When a high-flying offense hits, there are multiple beneficiaries. Often, one of the underappreciated assets gets going, in addition to the main options. Zay Jones was a beneficiary of the soaring Jags’ passing offense late last season. He provided some week-winning performances when it mattered, scoring 27.5 PPR points in Week 12, 21.70 in Week 14 and 34.90 in Week 15. He was available on the waiver wire in many leagues up until those weeks. What we want to do is identify which offenses are being undervalued, but will get going at just the right time. We want offenses who have a quarterback capable of facilitating a high-volume attack and talented pass-catchers who are flying under the radar and ascend when it matters. Below are offenses to watch – whose pass-catchers will provide some week-winning performances down the stretch.
Anthony Richardson was a question mark coming into the NFL because of concerns about his passing accuracy. Under Shane Steichen’s tutelage, however, Richardson has looked cool as a cucumber under center and looks like a competent NFL passer. He threw for 223 yards on 37 attempts in his first ever NFL start, completing 24 passes for a 65-percent completion rate. His Adjusted Air Yards Per Attempt were just 5.35, but chalk that up to a coach in Steichen who knows how to develop a young quarterback: get him some easy throws. Steichen did have Richardson throwing – 37 pass attempts in his first ever start. We know Richardson has a cannon of an arm and Steichen knows how to scheme up varied opportunities running and passing to keep the defense off-balance. So far, Richardson has proven he can make the reads and make the throws.
The Colts have a talented receiver corps. Michael Pittman has new life with Richardson. Pittman was forgettable last season when he was catching passes from Matt Ryan, whose diminished arm strength and mobility limited the entire offense. Pittman still has a low ADOT (6.1 yards, No. 88) this season after playing with Richardson for five quarters and backup Gardner Minshew for seven. Richardson does not have a problem with arm strength, however, and it is likely his Yards Per Attempt will increase over the season as he continues to show proficiency as a passer. Pittman is an Alpha with a killer Route Win Rate (50.3-percent, No. 7 in 2022), who also wins at the catch point (52.2-percent Contested Catch Rate, No. 17 in 2022).
Alec Pierce is the downfield option. He has been on the field, running 100-percent of routes at 4.41-speed, but has only been targeted 12 times thus far in 2023. He earned seven targets in Week 3, however. As Steichen schemes up some deep shots to keep defenses honest, Pierce will have some big weeks. The real find in this offense, however, is Josh Downs, the Colts’ third-round receiver out of North Carolina. Downs had a 34.7-percent (97th-percentile) College Target Share and has already been on the field for 75-percent, 79-percent and 80-percent of snaps in his first three games. He earned seven, five and then 12 targets in those games. Those usage numbers tell us the Colts are running three wide receiver sets at a good clip, a good sign they want to have a pass-focused offense.
Yes, Jonathan Taylor will return, but that will only add to the offensive efficiency. The Colts have already been No. 3 in Pace of Play with Richardson under center. All of that adds up to an offense that is desirable in fantasy. Steichen has designed and executed an offense that was effective and explosive as recently as last season. The Colts’ offense this season hasn’t even slowed down that much with the backup, Gardner Minshew, at the helm. Minshew went for 227 and a touchdown in a win over the Ravens, even while Zack Moss carried the ball 30 times and Trey Sermon carried it three. It’s time to get pieces of an emerging Colts offense. As Richardson (back this week) continues to develop, the offense will start to peak and the fantasy production will follow.
When a rookie quarterback steps into an offensive system and immediately starts producing, we take note. C.J. Stroud has done just that, throwing for 242, 384 and 280 yards in his first three starts. After Week 3, he was No. 5 in the league in passing yards – more than 100 yards ahead of Patrick Mahomes. Stroud has also thrown for two touchdowns in each of his last two games and is yet to throw an interception on the season. His completion percentage has hovered around 64-percent in each start, and his Adjusted Air Yards Per Attempt have increased in each game – from 5.50 in his first start to 9.02 in Week 2 and then 10.67 in Week 3. Stroud is showing why he was selected at No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft, and the Texans may just be competing for a playoff spot in the wide open AFC South.
CJ Stroud quick assess & trigger, turns negative to a positive.
>Calm under duress, trusts pocket
>Actively spins ball on the ground in his hand WHILE locating a target
>Sets feet as he loads
>Drives ball low and away from LB
Lightning fast awareness & problem-solving. Trust. pic.twitter.com/s4R9MdXwWt
— JetPack Galileo (@JetPackGalileo) September 22, 2023
The cat may already be out of the bag on the Texans’ pass-catchers. Nico Collins hauled in seven receptions for 146 yards and a score in Week 2. Tank Dell brought in seven catches for 72 yards and a score in the same game, and then went 5-145-1 in Week 3. Robert Woods has sneakily led the team in snap- and route-participation, however, and also leads the team in targets through three weeks. Woods has weeks coming, and he is the most gettable of this trio. Fantasy gamers are still skeptical about buying into the Texans’ offense, but through three games, Stroud and his pass-catching corps have proven they can be productive. In a fast-paced offense (No. 4 in Pace of Play), the best is yet to come.
Green Bay Packers
The consensus is that Jordan Love is outperforming his talent and he is going to come back to earth. He did a little Thursday night against the Lions when he threw two interceptions. Love was QB2 in PPG scoring before that, and had seven touchdown passes through three games. That was all on a 53.7-percent completion percentage. Keep in mind, however, Love led the league through three games with 9.6 Adusted Air Yards Per Attempt.
The o-line was keeping Love clean until the Thursday night game when they gave up 22 pressures. Before that, Love had the best Protection Rate in the league at 96.5-percent. If the line gives him time to throw, Love can hit some big shots downfield. He has missed some throws and needs to be more efficient by connecting on some of those opportunities, but the argument for the Packers offense’ emerging is based on the talented young weapons they have in the passing game.
Before the Thursday night game, the Packers Receivers’ Yards After Catch Per Target were No. 1 in the league at 4.29. That was without Christian Watson. The advantage of buying into this Packers’ offense is that it is still unknown how the target tree is going to shake out. Now with Watson back, there are six different receivers who have played at least 40-percent of snaps and only one (Romeo Doubs) has played 80-percent of snaps in a single game. Doubs did that in Week 3. Tight end Luke Musgrave played 80-percent of the snaps in Weeks 2 and 3. The top two target-earners are Doubs and Jayden Reed. Doubs has 33 targets on the season and Reed has 25. Musgrave is third on the team in targets with 16, even though he missed most of Thursday night’s game with a concussion.
Jayden Reed is gonna be a superstarpic.twitter.com/Bd1XcXidfA
— Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler) September 24, 2023
Doubs, Reed and Musgrave are all interesting pieces to acquire since they have shown flashes, but also have not been fully dominant in targets or fantasy points scored. That makes them affordable, and fantasy gamers will also be anticipating Watson’s return. The NFC North is another division there for the taking and the Packers figure to be in the mix. The Pack are slow in Pace of Play (No. 19) and low on pass attempts (No. 22), but the talented cadre of pass-catchers are going to demand the ball. Thus far, they have proven the ability to score touchdowns. As Matt LaFleur continues to develop the scheme and his trust in Love, the offense will continue to increase in aggression. Love will also continue to develop. He has only played four full NFL games.
Time to Move
Once an offense gets cooking, the ancillary pieces will produce fantasy points. If you have room to stash a pass-catcher from one of these emerging offenses now, you may want to do so before the offense truly gets going. It’s an extreme example, but even Robbie Chosen scored a 68-yard touchdown on a pass from Mike White in the Dolphins’ 70-point effort this past Sunday. When an offense is firing on all cylinders, there are plenty of points to go around. These emerging offenses are ones that will be in shootouts down the stretch and you will want to have pieces.