When there is so much going on, what should fantasy gamers and sports fans focus on? This is the question I will answer for you in this series of articles entitled, “Lessons Learned.” Here is the Lessons Learned: Week 10 article!
1) Thursday was the Pitts
Rain and a bad quarterback was all Arthur Smith needed Thursday to stifle even the slightest hint of an Atlanta passing game. Sure, Kyle Pitts‘ fantasy numbers were lousy again. They’ve been that way all year. But is it Pitts’ fault? No, and it’s not even close. Opponents fear Pitts enough to give him a remarkable 4.56 (No. 1) Average Cushion. He’s No. 5 in Yards per Route Run and has just one drop on the season.
The problem is the Falcons would rather not throw the ball ever to anyone. They take forever to snap the ball (No. 30 in Pace of Play), and when do eventually snap it, they run it (No. 3 in Team Run Plays per Game, No. 30 in Pass Attempts). This has been the case even when Cordarrelle Patterson is on the sidelines. On the season, they’ve chosen to hand to the ball to plodding backup rookie back Tyler Allgeier twice as many times as they’ve thrown to Pitts.
Additionally, it appears as though they often don’t want Pitts on the field. Oftentimes, Atlanta elects to sit him for blocking tight ends as he’s No. 15 in Snap Share and hasn’t seen 75-percent since Week 2. On the rare occasion, he gets on the field, and they do happen to throw the ball, yes, they throw it to him. Pitts has the No. 1 Target Rate and No. 2 Target Share among tight ends. Unfortunately, many of those targets counted as “to Pitts” are scored that way because there’s no bucket for “to the ground” or “to an opponent.” His No. 1 Unrealized Air Yards highlight the opportunity they’d have if anyone could toss the ball near him. He’s seen the tight ends’ No. 31 Catchable Target Rate and No. 32 Target Accuracy. If Atlanta decided to keep him on the field and find anyone that could get the ball to him, he’d be doing just fine, thank you.
This Thursday, it wasn’t much better on the other side of the field. The Falcons’ counterparts, the Panthers and P.J. Walker, threw the ball 16 times versus 47 runs. Welcome to the 1930s, everyone! Carolina has receiving talent in D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall, but those players have no chance at consistency until the Panthers draft a new QB in 2023.
Action: When our receivers are paired up with lousy quarterback play, it often doesn’t matter how talented the receiver is. If we have any other options, we have to go there. In next year’s drafts, and when setting rosters for the rest of this year, we can’t expect receiver talent to overcome bad passing situations.
2) Is Josh Allen’s Elbow Worse than Let On?
Josh Allen was everyone’s SuperFlex 1.01 in 2022. He’s everyone’s SuperFlex 1.01 in 2023 and probably 2024. With lofty ADPs come expectations of nearly-flawless performance. After averaging 330 yards, just under three touchdown passes, and 8.3 Yards per Attempt in Weeks 1 through 6, he’s returned from the team’s bye week with a puzzling three-game stretch. A 59-percent completion rate, 251 yards a game with three passing scores, and twice as many picks is not what you’re expecting from the 1.01. Those are Jared Goff and Carson Wentz numbers.
Thank goodness Allen runs. Or will he? Sure, he scrambled on Sunday, but offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey mentioned after the game that they did not call any designed runs for him to avoid hits on that elbow. That doesn’t sound good.
Maybe he’ll be fine, and this has just been a slow stretch against a couple of tough pass defenses. If he’s back to himself next week against Cleveland, we’ll be able to look back at these three games and laugh. If he’s not, 2022 will dim very quickly. And those of us aboard the S.S. Josh Allen will have no choice but to sink with the ship.
Action: If you’ve rostered Allen, until we find out more about his health, as distasteful as it might seem, stash Case Keenum. Pray you never have to use him but roster him on the off chance that Allen’s elbow is worse than we know.
3) Coaches Don’t Win Games
Frank Reich had a 40-33-1 head coaching record in Indianapolis. He did that, mind you, with Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Sam Ehlinger, and Matt Ryan at quarterback. Additionally, Reich had a receiving corps led, until Michael Pittman came along, by Zach Pascal and a declining T.Y. Hilton.
Yes, the 2022 Colts are a mess. The thing is, NFL owners and GMs don’t fire themselves, so that left Reich to be thrown under that blue-and-white bus. If, as word has it, even though GM Chris Ballard wanted an experienced coach when owner Jim Irsay insisted on a first-timer, they themselves got a first-timer.
But instead of looking in-house to someone like respected wide receivers coach and Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne, they chose retired Colt and ESPN announcer Jeff Saturday. And Jeff brought in as offensive coordinator Parks Frazier, a 30-year-old eight games into his gig as the Colts’ passing game specialist and assistant quarterbacks coach.
With all the tanking going on nowadays across all sports, this smells to me like the NFL’s version of the 1989 movie Major League, where a baseball team tries to lose but can’t. Well, at least for one week, Saturday owned Sunday. This new Colts’ coaching staff couldn’t or, looking at it more positively, chose not to overthink things against the Raiders. They adopted a strategy that often escapes NFL coaching staffs: play to your team’s strengths. First, hand the ball to Jonathan Taylor … a lot. When you’re not doing that, given the Colts’ mediocre 79.1-percent (No. 23) Pass Blocking Rating, put the veteran QB back in there and tell him to throw it short. Nothing fancy. NFL teams can win when coaches stay out of the players’ way.
So, is it time to jump back on board with the Colts in fantasy? Unless they can change the schedule to play the Raiders again, not a chance. They have a brutal schedule the rest of the way, facing the Eagles, Cowboys, Vikings, Chargers, and Giants wrapped around a Week 14 bye. Since most fantasy league trade deadlines have passed, there’s not much we can do this year. If you happen to have a later trade date, sell high.
Action: Don’t look for Colts off the waiver. Don’t pick Matt Ryan back up. If you haven’t passed your trade deadline, move them now and thank me later.
4) But QBs Can Lose Games
It’s been more than three years since Cooper Kupp was shut out. Averaging 10 targets, 7.3 catches for 87.3 yards during that stretch, everyone has known where the ball is going, but no one has been able to stop him. Until Sunday.
Before his ankle injury late against Arizona (and we hope it’s not serious, though it didn’t look good), Kupp had put up less than zero – 3 catches for -1 yards. And, no, it wasn’t the bottom-7 pass defense Cardinals rising to the occasion. The only team that could stop Kupp was the Rams themselves. Their beat-up offensive line and backup quarterback, John Wolford.
Action: We have no choice but to start top receivers even if the starting QB is out. When a backup is under center, we often have no choice but to hold our collective noses and hope for the best. In those cases, only the star WRs and dump-off receivers are likely to pay off. And sometimes, even the stars won’t shine. And there’s not much we can do.
5) We’re Watching a 23-Year Old Hall of Famer
Unless Justin Jefferson suffers a significant injury, and we hope he never does, he’ll be a Hall of Famer when he hangs up the cleats. With Sunday’s magical 10-catch, 193-yard performance against Buffalo, Jefferson has now posted six WR1 weeks already in 2022. And if you haven’t seen “that catch” from Sunday, go find it and then come back. His performance against the Bills was just more of the same for a guy who put up 10 WR1 games his first two seasons and whose best PlayerProfiler comp is Reggie Wayne.
Justin Jefferson saw Diggs recruiting OBJ and said “hold my beer”
— PlayerProfiler (@rotounderworld) November 13, 2022
If you drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire before Jefferson in your 2020 fantasy rookie draft, shame on you (and me). We’ll have another 10-15 years to live this down.
Action: We obviously can’t do anything about Jefferson now. Jefferson can’t be traded for at any price. We can learn a lesson, though, and that is that the running back position is about volume; the wide receiver position about stars. All else being equal, use early 2023 dynasty rookie picks on the best new wide receivers out there and stock up behind them with pass catching running backs. If other fantasy managers pine for the next great RB, be glad to trade back.
6) Rondale Moore: Volume Wins!
At Purdue, Rondale Moore posted a 93rd-percentile College Target Share with an 18.2 (98th-percentile) Breakout Age. He led the Big Ten in Receptions, Receiving Yards, and Touchdowns as a freshman! Though injured much of his sophomore and junior seasons, his early breakout and fantastic workout metrics led to a second-round 2021 NFL draft selection by the Cardinals.
Moore put up a quiet rookie season, missing several weeks to an ankle injury and seeing just a 47.5-percent (No. 111) Snap Share. But 2022 has been a different story. He entered Week 10 averaging eight targets a game. He’s been on the field all the time with a 92-percent Snap Share and, with nine more catches on 13 targets for 94 yards Sunday, he’s averaged eight catches on 10 targets for 85 yards across his last three contests. Sure, that’s a tiny sample for the tiny receiver, but from targets come catches, and from catches and great YAC come fantasy points. Moore’s 18.5 points a game in November is top-8 WR territory. And all this is going on even with DeAndre Hopkins leading the show in the desert.
Action: Yet another example of why we exercise extreme patience with highly-drafted receivers and snag other impatient fantasy managers’ drops. Young, athletic, early-drafted players who win on volume should never be on waiver wires.
7) Christian Watson: Coming Out Party?
Christian Watson is a 6-foot-4 uber-athlete whose athletic profile includes a 119.9 (98th-percentile) Speed Score and 95th-percentile-or-better rankings in Burst Score and Catch Radius. His College Dominator and College YPR at NDSU were both 89th-percentile or better. Despite not being an early declare, and never exceeding 43 catches or 801 yards in a season, that athletic profile led Watson to become the third Bison drafted in the top two rounds of the last two NFL drafts. He was selected at pick No. 34 this year by Green Bay.
There was nothing in Watson’s first six NFL games that would have given us any idea of what was to come in Week 10. We had to figure that Trevon Diggs might shut down Allen Lazard, so targets would have to go someplace else. But, c’mon! Watson came into Sunday with a 30.4-percent (No. 135) Snap Share and a total of eight catches for 88 receiving yards and no scores. If any fantasy owners started Watson this week, they shouldn’t be playing fantasy football… they should have bought a PowerBall last week. So, should we start Watson again next week? If you have to, sure. Aaron Rodgers is the epitome of fickle, so if he takes a shine to Watson, it’s worth a try if you need upside. Just be prepared for Watson to get the Rodgers glare and return to irrelevance should he drop another ball or two.
Action: One last reminder to exercise extreme caution on talented, early-NFL draft-pick players. Target them in rookie drafts and keep your eye on your league’s waiver wires. If your league mates drop these guys either impatiently or during bye weeks, step in and stash them on your bench.