Jahmyr Gibbs Tops List of League Winning RBs | Checking in on NFL Meta-Trend Predictions

by Joel Ybarra · Analytics & Advanced Metrics
Jahmyr Gibbs fantasy

The fantasy playoffs are looming. Fantasy gamers are savoring the precious few weekends of football left and preparing for their championship runs. The NFL season is unfolding as it always does – with surprise performances both underwhelming and exceeding our wildest expectations. There are also some broader trends that are changing the face of the NFL.

In our preseason NFL Crystal Ball article, we made some predictions about trends shaping the NFL, which also had implications for fantasy. Entering the final stretch of the season, it’s a good time to check in on the status of those predictions and the ever-changing face of the NFL.

Preseason Prediction 1: Lamar Jackson will raise the roof on fantasy scoring, again

Lamar Jackson posted one of the greatest fantasy seasons ever in 2019, his MVP season. This season, with a souped up offensive scheme and some new pass game weapons, it looked like Jackson would be able to rival his production from that magical MVP season. Jackson’s individual fantasy performance is not shaping up to be quite as dynamic as in 2019, when he rushed for more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns and threw for 3,127 yards and 37 touchdowns. This season, he has 535 rush yards through 11 games (a 17-game pace of 827 yards). He is also behind pace on passing touchdowns with 12 currently (on pace for 18.5). He is ahead of schedule on passing yards with 2,441 thus far (a 3,772-yard pace) and rushing touchdowns (on pace for 7.7).

Unfortunately, Jackson’s 19.3 FPPG mark this season is going to make it impossible for him to approach his 28.2 average from 2019. The thing is, he looks to be in complete control of the offense and a legitimate MVP candidate. The Ravens dismantled the Lions in Week 7 with Lamar throwing for 357 yards and three TDs (33.9 fantasy points). Then in Week 9, the Ravens made short work of the Seahawks, but Lamar had just 187 yards passing, no TDs and 11.5 fantasy points.

Lamar is having a great real life season and is in command of the offense. It just hasn’t resulted in fantasy production. In Jackson’s 2019 MVP season, he was one of the most productive individual players in the league. This season, the Ravens are better as a team. Jackson is orchestrating that success, but is not a smashing success as a fantasy QB.

Preseason Prediction 2: There will be three 800-yard rushing quarterbacks in 2023

Jackson is on pace to hit 800 yards rushing. The other two dynamic rushing QBs we identified as likely to hit that mark – Anthony Richardson and Justin Fields – have missed significant time with injuries. Richardson was on pace to hit 885 rush yards based on the number of snaps he played before going out for the season (a little more than 2.5 full games). Fields was on pace to hit 728 before his injuries and just returned in Week 11 with 18 rushing attempts for 104 yards. He will probably fall short of the 800 mark, but had he remained healthy, would have likely been the top rushing QB in the league.

The next closest QBs to hitting the 800-yard rushing mark are Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurts, with 389 and 345 rush yards, respectively. Dobbs has been surprisingly capable under center, leading the Vikings to some key wins. Hurts remains a stable and deadly threat both rushing and passing. Along with Anthony Richardson, these young dual threat QBs continue to open up the offenses they helm and put an inordinate amount of stress on the defenses they face.

Preseason Prediction 3: Investing in RB early will be a winning strategy

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey was highly drafted coming into the season and Kyle Shanahan hasn’t let us down in his usage of the best back in the game. McCaffrey is No. 2 in Weighted Opportunities (186.0) among RBs on a team that ranks No. 6 with 30.1 Team Run Plays Per Game and is No. 3 in Game Script (+6.39). That all adds up to McCaffrey being the RB1 with 24.2 FPPG – paying off his first-round fantasy draft capital.

Jahmyr Gibbs

Jahmyr Gibbs is also seeing a usage increase in the Lions offense. In the two games David Montgomery missed (Weeks 7 and 8), Gibbs played 87-percent of snaps and 70-percent of snaps, respectively. He also had 78.6-percent and then 60.5-percent of the rush attempts those games.

Montgomery returned in Week 10, but Gibbs continues to get a significant amount of the work. Gibbs played 58-percent of snaps in Week 10 and 56-percent in Week 11 while Montgomery played 38-percent and 40-percent of snaps, respectively. Montgomery has more carries (24 to 22) in the last two contests, but Gibbs has earned more targets (nine to two). Gibbs has been a top-three back in each of the last four contests and is the RB1 in PPG over that span.

Bijan Robinson

In the first half of the season, Bijan Robinson was a victim of Arthur Smith’s eccentric play-calling and inexplicably sparse usage of his highly drafted offensive weapons. Robinson averaged 12.8 carries and 5.1 targets over his first nine games in the NFL (excluding Week 7 when he played only 11 snaps). That’s good usage in the passing game and committee work in the run game.

Amid pressure from the media that he was not using Robinson to a level commensurate with his draft capital and talent, Smith vowed to get Bijan more touches in the Week 10’s tilt with the Cardinals. Bijan wound up with 22 carries and – what do you know – produced 95 yards and a touchdown. He was only targeted twice.

League Winners

It seems obvious at this point, but predicting that these three backs would be league winners because of their teams’ investment in them and their importance to their respective offenses looks spot on. With Gibbs and Bijan, however, it wasn’t always clear they were going to receive the type of usage that would help them reach that level. Both those rookie backs and McCaffrey, of course, have made good on the opportunities given them, and will continue to do so as they give their teams that best chance of winning down the stretch.

Preseason Prediction 4: At least two rookie tight ends will be startable (top-12) tight ends

The 2023 NFL Draft had several solid tight end prospects that slid right into starting roles in their respective offenses. Sam LaPorta has been a top-12 tight end in six out of 10 games, and is the TE5 on the season through Week 11. He has a 1.67 Yards Per Route Run (YPRR) number which is No. 7 in the league. Dalton Kincaid started the season slow, but after missing Week 6 with a concussion, has had five straight TE1 weeks and is currently the TE8 on the year. (Dawson Knox was out the last three games.) Kincaid is No. 12 in YPRR with 1.50.

Despite a 72.9-percent Snap Share on the season, Luke Musgrave logged only two TE1 weeks and a 13.4-percent (No. 24) Target Share. He is now on IR. Michael Mayer‘s Snap Share shot up in Week 6, and he started playing 79-percent of snaps or more in every game after not playing more than 69-percent before that. Since then, he has been a TE1 two out of six weeks. Musgrave and Mayer’s quarterbacks and offenses are holding them back.

Overall, LaPorta and Kincaid look like they are going to finish the season as startable (top-12) tight ends and all four of these highly drafted tight ends have been competent as starters. That’s contradictory to what we normally expect for rookie tight ends.

Emerging Meta-Trends

Some fascinating storylines are going to play themselves out over the rest of the season. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see Anthony Richardson or Justin Fields push Lamar for the top QB rushing performance. We will get to see how teams’ investments in running backs fare over the back half of the season. And some top-level rookie tight end talents have become contributors for their teams. We’ll keep an eye out for the trends that continue to change the landscape of the NFL over the back half of the season.