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.” I’ll try not to call out the obvious, for example, that Joe Mixon had a pretty good week. Having said that, here are the NFL Week 9 lessons we learned.
1) Justin Fields Is the Modern Fantasy Quarterback
The Bears may not be winning, but their QB is making them fun to watch as he attempts to stake a claim among the NFL fantasy QB elite.
Posting his fourth consecutive top-8 fantasy QB finish against Miami Sunday, Fields completed 60-percent of his throws with three passing scores. But that wouldn’t be nearly the half of it. His insane 178 rushing yards on just 15 carries was the greatest regular-season rushing performance by a quarterback in NFL history and just three yards shy of Colin Kaepernick’s playoff outburst 10 years ago. For a fantasy perspective on Fields’ Week 9 output, those rushing yards equate to 445 passing yards. Add in even his modest 123 passing yards, and it would take a pocket passer almost 600 passing yards to keep up. No quarterback in NFL history has ever thrown for 600 yards.
Adding Chase Claypool
And this wasn’t a one-game outburst for Fields. The Bears, having given away most of their defense in the offseason and at the trade deadline, are no longer playing close-to-the-vest defensive struggles. Just look at the 84 points they’ve allowed in the last two weeks. Chase Claypool notwithstanding, the Bears’ receiving corps is, well, it’s not good. To try to stay competitive, the Bears have finally decided to leverage their best player’s best skill. They are no longer asking Fields to sit back and get pummeled as a pocket passer behind their green offensive line. Instead, they’re letting him roll out and calling designed run plays for him.
Fields is now averaging 102 rushing yards at 8.3 yards per carry over the past four weeks. In fantasy, that’s equivalent to 250 passing yards per game. If you add any actual passing at all, you have a QB1. As an interesting aside is the Bears’ 252 rushing yards in Week 9 bump their season average to 195 yards a game. If they finish at that number, they’ll be No. 13 in NFL history and third-best in the last 40 years. The Bears would only be edged out by the 2019 and 2020 Baltimore Ravens who had their own pretty good running QB.
Action: Fields’ performance once again highlights the considerable floor and league-winning upside of running quarterbacks. In next year’s rookie drafts, and in 2023 redrafts, target runners at the QB position. If they can throw, all the better!
2) Terrace Marshall Warrants Our Attention
Terrace Marshall scored 23 touchdowns in just 19 games across his final two seasons at LSU. He didn’t do much as a college freshman, but let’s give him a pass (pun intended!)… the Tigers’ 2018 starting wide receiver duo was better than you’ll find on any current NFL roster… Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase.
Marshall’s 106.0 (88th-percentile) Speed Score, 128.8 (85th-percentile) Burst Score, size, and 19.2 (84th-percentile) Breakout Age led to a 2021 second-round selection. His quiet rookie season can be explained in no small part with just two little words: Darnold and Newton. The 2021 Panthers were bottom-three in Passing Yards, Touchdowns, Net Yards per Attempt, and Points Scored. Why did the Panthers think it better to pepper Robbie Anderson with targets rather than give snaps to their promising rookie? Maybe it was Anderson’s 48-percent Catch Rate they found most appealing? We may never know.
After a quiet start once again in 2022, Marshall’s snap share has finally begun increasing. It is now approaching 90-percent in the last three weeks as he establishes himself as Carolina’s starter alongside D.J. Moore. In Week 9, Marshall led the Panthers in targets, catches, and yards. In the last two weeks, he’s seen 15 targets, putting up 7 catches for 140 yards and a score. Not only is Marshall getting more attention, but he’s also got a great playoff schedule. The Panthers will face Pittsburgh and Detroit in Weeks 15 and 16.
Action: If Terrace Marshall is available in waivers or trade, add him to your roster. In dynasty, his prospects will be even better as Carolina is sure to add a new early-draft-pick QB in 2023.
3.) Gabe Davis – Better NFL Player than Fantasy WR
Gabriel Davis is a talented athlete and a very good NFL player. His 8-catch, 201-yard, four-touchdown playoff performance in last year’s playoffs was magical. Entering the 2022 season, Davis earned a role starting alongside Stefon Diggs, and Davis’ stock skyrocketed to an ADP17 this fall despite having yet to reach 600 receiving yards in a season or post a Fantasy Points per Game inside the top 60.
Heading into 2022 Week 9, Davis sat WR22 in Fantasy Points per Game which was in the ballpark of his lofty ADP. But his 2022 rank has been lifted by a single spike week, two huge catches against Pittsburgh and their No. 72-ranked cornerback Levi Wallace, when Davis’ 32.1 fantasy points made him the WR No. 1. In his six other starts, he’s put up two WR2 finishes and four outside the top 60 WRs. His two catches for 33 yards in Week 9 now make it three times in seven games where he’s given fantasy managers less than seven PPR points. That’s the kind of scoring you get on average from guys like Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd, and Allen Robinson. Now in 36 career games during the fantasy season, Davis has posted two WR1 finishes.
So, Davis is a WR2 starter catching passes from Josh Allen and can put up highlight reel plays, and his Bills have a great upcoming schedule. But to win in fantasy, we need a guy we can count on every week. A guy with a 15.3-percent (No. 57) Target Share, 15.8-percent (No. 85) Targets per Route Run, and 57.1-percent (No. 96) True Catch Rate describes a Bill who just doesn’t fit the bill.
Action: Davis’ name has exceeded his performance. Consider moving Davis for steadier options.
4) Seattle has turned an Impressive Defensive Corner!
Seattle struggled mightily to start 2022 as they showed little success adjusting to their new 3-4 defensive scheme. Per Pro Football Reference, after five games, Seattle was among the league’s worst defenses. They’ve surrendered 30 points and 430 yards a game against middling-at-best offenses in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Detroit.
Well, it took a while, but the adjustment has clicked in a big way. In Weeks 6 through 9, in what should have been tougher games against the Cardinals (twice), Chargers, and Giants, the Seahawks defense has magically transformed into one of the league’s best. They are now giving up an average of 16.5 points, 192 passing yards, and 99 rushing yards per game. They lead the NFL in turnovers and are the surprise leaders in the NFC West.
Action: No longer automatically start fantasy players against Seattle. Tampa Bay, Las Vegas, the Rams, and the Panthers will not have as easy a time as it looked just a few weeks ago.
5) Pay Attention to the Offensive Lines
It’s not just injuries to skill position players that derail NFL and fantasy teams. When teams lose offensive lines, entire offenses suffer.
In the offseason, defending Super Bowl Champ Rams lost Hall of Fame tackle Andrew Whitworth to retirement and starting guard Austin Corbett to free agency. Pro Bowl center Brian Allen has only played in two games, and Joe Noteboom has been on IR. So, it’s no surprise that the 2022 Rams can’t run. Darrell Henderson‘s 23-yard Week 9 run was the team’s longest of the season. And other than Cooper Kupp, they have no passing game, either.
For Tampa, it was the loss of All-Pro linemen Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen. The Bucs came into Week 9 last in rushing yards and last in Yards per Attempt. In Week 9, they fared no better, mustering 2.6 yards per carry. Fortunately for the Pewter Pirates, they had just enough offense to get past the Rams who couldn’t put up three yards a carry, either.
Lastly, New England, without starting tackle Marcus Cannon or center David Andrews, earned 69 yards on 25 carries against a middle-of-the-pack Indianapolis run defense.
Action: Both preparing for drafts and during the season, keep an eye out for NFL teams’ offensive lines. Even the best running backs need their offensive lines to have a chance at success.