Stealing Signals: Week 2, NFC
Week 1 was a mess of information, and it’s hard to know what to apply and what is small sample noise. Yesterday we went over the AFC. Here are the actionable notes for the NFC for Week 2.
Snap Notes: John Brown – 84%; Jaron Brown – 73%; JJ Nelson – 40%; Andre Ellington – 27%; Kerwynn Williams – 12%
Key Stat: John Brown – 121 Air Yards (Sixth most)
For those owners who lost David Johnson or a player like Allen Robinson,1 check out one of the best RotoViz pieces we’ve ever published.2 The premise is climbing out of a hole with a bad roster after a few weeks. That’s not clear yet for most rosters in 2017, but if you’ve lost a few major pieces already, I think the concepts pertaining to trading and targeting 1-for-2 deals could apply.
The Cardinals have an even bigger hole to fill than fantasy teams, as Johnson was such a massive part of their offense. He was injured late in the third with the Cardinals leading 17-9; a quarter later the Lions had scored 26 consecutive points while the Cardinals had converted just two more first downs.
Kerwynn Williams is the favored handcuff, but Andre Ellington played more snaps. Ellington profiles as more of a receiver, and there is plenty of receiving production to replace given Johnson’s 120 targets and 80 catches in 2016, both good for second on the team. Through three quarters Sunday, he’d amassed nine targets and six catches.
The Cardinals also grabbed receiving-back D.J. Foster off the Patriots practice squad and re-signed Chris Johnson, so the workload here is unclear. My expectation is a committee, with a significant share of Johnson’s passing volume shifting back toward the wide receivers. Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown were fourth and sixth in the NFL in Week 1 Air Yards, and are well-positioned going forward. While the offensive production will take a hit, they likely see their scoring increase without the presence of a 20-TD back.
Carson Palmer was a popular late-round quarterback for his early-season schedule, but many want to jump ship after Week 1. I see it the other way; he’s still a great option, as I anticipate Bruce Arians will have him chuck it around until the RB situation stabilizes.
That means more WRs could have some deeper-league value as volatile options. Jaron Brown played substantially more snaps than J.J. Nelson, and did see two pass attempts, but both plays were nullified by a penalty. Nelson posted a strong line, but 3-21-1 of it came on a meaningless final drive.
Signal: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown
Noise: Everything related to the RBs
Snap Notes: Eric Ebron – 72%; Kenny Golladay – 62%; Ameer Abdullah – 51%; Theo Riddick – 30%
Key Stat: Kenny Golladay – 118 Air Yards (Seventh Most)
In his first career game, Kenny Golladay stole Marvin Jones’ lunch money. Jones’ value was the deep threat, the Air Yards guy. But Golladay accounted for a 0.37 share of the team’s Air Yards, while Jones settled for 0.08 in a game where Matthew Stafford threw 41 times.
The optimistic view for Jones owners is Golladay is still a rookie and might have some rough stretches, but even if it levels out, the writing’s all over the wall. Golladay is going to steal at least some of Jones’ expected targets (and earlier than expected). Trying to leverage Jones’ TD in a trade is a no-brainer move.
As for Golladay, if you go back to February, he wasn’t even in the 20 WRs in our compilation of industry scouting reports. He was completely off the radar pre-combine. Of course, Shawn Siegele had already written him up, because he’s a damn wizard.
What’s notable is that many other sharp people including JJ Zachariason landed on Golladay early on, and thought that the sky was the limit for the former Northern Illinois star.
I expected him to need some time to establish himself in a crowded offense, so consider these words my penance. It is worth pointing out, however, Golladay’s 11.4 Fantasy Points Over Expectation (reFPOE) was sixth-highest on the week, and he shouldn’t be expected to remain that efficient, even if he did get two red zone targets.
Speaking of red zone targets, Theo Riddick scored on one, something Tim Twentyman discussed this offseason as a possibility.
Golden Tate moved back to the slot, and hauled in more passes than anyone not named Antonio Brown.
Ameer Abdullah’s snaps, 15 carries, and four targets were encouraging, but the 30 rushing yards and -6.3 ruFPOE3 were not. It’s always smart to fade efficiency in small samples, but this is a situation where the offense has a lot of options and continued inefficiency could lead to a quicker reallocation of touches. Keep an eye on Abdullah’s workload and efficiency against the Giants, who Ezekiel Elliott beat4 for 104 yards on Sunday night.
I’m unconcerned by Eric Ebron’s lack of involvement as he missed most of August with a hamstring injury.
Signal: Golden Tate’s volume in the slot
Noise: Ameer Abdullah’s, Marvin Jones’, Kenny Golladay’s efficiency
Snap Notes: Mohamed Sanu – 81%; Austin Hooper – 80%; Devonta Freeman – 61%; Taylor Gabriel – 53%; Tevin Coleman – 41%
Key Stat: Austin Hooper – 64 yards per target
Austin Hooper owners were thrilled by his production, but it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to realize 128 yards on two targets is unsustainable. That stiff-arm was awesome though.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman split the work similarly to 2016, and both were involved in the passing game.
The carries were split 12 to eight, with neither getting much going on the grass at Solider Field. Coleman out-targeted Freeman six to two. Wide receiver snaps were similar to 2016 as well, all of which argues new coordinator Steve Sarkisian is trying not to change too much.
Julio Jones had a surprising lack of volume, with just five targets. He still posted 66 yards on four catches. Mohamed Sanu was the beneficiary, but was Sanu-esque in his ability to turn nine targets and six catches into just 47 yards.
Signal: Snap counts, RBs’ volume
Noise: Austin Hooper, RBs’ efficiency
Snap Notes: Dion Sims – 72%; Deonte Thompson – 66%; Zach Miller – 60%; Kendall Wright – 58%; Jordan Howard – 57%; Josh Bellamy – 49%; Tarik Cohen – 42%
Key Stat: Tarik Cohen – 12 targets, 18.2 reEP (Seventh most)
Kevin White has wound up on IR again, another unfortunate turn for the former first-round pick. It expands the hole in the passing game that started with Cameron Meredith’s preseason injury.5
Enter Tarik Cohen, who led the team with 12 targets. The coaching staff was using Cohen in conjunction with Jordan Howard from the first snap.
Tarik Cohen rips a tackle-breaking 46-yard run.
Cohen has out-touched Jordan Howard 6-5 so far and out-gained Howard 73-21.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 10, 2017
The final numbers were 16 touches for Howard, 13 for Cohen, but Cohen hit 113 total yards to Howard’s 66.
There are a couple problems here. First of all, his 5-66 rushing line was buoyed by that 46-yard run. Second, 47 receiving yards on 12 targets, is good for fewer than four per.
Cohen’s opportunity is tantalizing, but by most accounts, a schematic element where the Bears hatched a plan to keep Cohen under wraps in the preseason to spring him on the Falcons in Week 1. He’s a 179-pound, fourth-round rookie, who actually wasn’t even that efficient in his supposed breakout, save for a long run and getting into the end zone on a reception.
Unless he’s legitimately the next Darren Sproles — who, I’ll note, took some time to establish himself — it seems to me we’re looking at capped upside for a scat back that’s causing the annual Week 1 overreaction with a positive variance outcome. If he hits the comparison I initially drew to Duke Johnson’s rookie year, I’d consider that a success.
In 2015, Duke J caught 61 of 74 trgts, 913 YFS, 2 TDs in an off. T-Benj/Barnidge/Hartline led in trgts.
That’s about my Cohen expectation.
— Ben Gretch (@YardsPerGretch) September 11, 2017
Dion Sims out snapped Zach Miller but Miller out-targeted him six to three, which is roughly in line with the reports on these guys. Sims is the superior blocker, while Miller has the longer receiving track record.
The RB and TE targets left the WR situation hard to parse, as that position group wasn’t utilized much as a whole. Undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry has been called up from the practice squad; he made some noise in the preseason.
Signal: Tarik Cohen having a legitimate offensive role
Noise: WR usage, Tarik Cohen’s 20-plus PPR points
Snap Notes: Torrey Smith – 71%; Nelson Agholor – 62%; Darren Sproles – 49%; LeGarrette Blount – 34%; Wendell Smallwood – 22%
Key Stat: Nelson Agholor – 7.5 reFPOE
There’s a clear hierarchy at WR for the Eagles already, with no one outside the top three playing more than 10 percent of snaps. That’s great news for Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor owners, and Agholor especially looked more efficient than we’ve seen him. His per-target Fantasy Points Over Expectation was second worst among 139 players with at least 100 targets over the past two seasons.
Much of that efficiency came from a single long TD that accounted for 62 percent of his PPR points.
Meanwhile, Alshon Jeffery and Smith were among 18 players with over 100 Air Yards – Smith did it on three targets averaging 38.3, the highest aDOT of Week 1 among those with more than two targets. Zach Ertz also hauled in all eight targets he saw for an impressive day.
Considering the Eagles led for the majority of this game, there’s no reason to question their passing volume. They won’t always be as efficient as they were against Washington — a Week 2 matchup with the Chiefs looks tougher, though the impact of losing Eric Berry remains to be seen — but Carson Wentz is going to stretch the field. That’s great for fantasy purposes.
LeGarrette Blount caught a one-yard TD on his only target because of course the guy who came in with 46 career receptions and 1,182 career carries6 did that. He only gained 46 yards on 14 carries, continuing the rushing struggles we saw in the preseason. The RB snaps weren’t a good sign either. He’s a sell if you can get anything for him.
Signal: Team Air Yards
Noise: LeGarrette Blount’s production, Nelson Agholor’s extreme efficiency
Snap Notes: Ryan Grant – 59%; Robert Kelley – 52%; Chris Thompson – 48%; Josh Doctson – 32%; Samaje Perine – 0%
Key Stat: Terrelle Pryor – 166 Air Yards (Second most)
Probably the biggest note here is Washington’s offense looked fine. It didn’t look good, but it looked like something that could function, which was a marked improvement on the preseason.
Terrelle Pryor, Jordan Reed, and Jamison Crowder are the main pieces in the passing game, with Chris Thompson playing his role and Ryan Grant working ahead of Josh Doctson, something we heard might happen all August.
Docston was closer in snaps to WR5 Brian Quick than Grant, and Quick got a target,7 something Doctson didn’t. You have to be a true Doctson believer to hold in redraft.
Grant was effective as the Eagles worked to shut down Washington’s top options, but isn’t a fantasy option outside deep leagues.
Rob Kelley put up an awful 10-30 rushing line, yet Samaje Perine didn’t play a single offensive snap. He was active and played 10 special teams snaps. Kelley has a lock on the less-valuable backfield role, for now, ceding snaps and the all-important targets to Thompson.
Signal: Rob Kelley, the target split
Noise: Jamison Crowder’s production (78 percent snaps, 7 targets are the signals)
Los Angeles Rams
Snap Notes: Tyler Higbee – 82%; Robert Woods – 66%; Cooper Kupp – 60%; Sammy Watkins – 58%; Gerald Everett – 45%
Key Stat: 27-3 halftime lead
In Sean McVay’s first game as a head coach, playing without star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the Rams rolled to a monster win and Jared Goff looked incredible with a 21-29-306-1-0 line.
Honestly, just, what?
Yes, the Colts look terrible, but we have to recognize the Rams. They have a lot more talent than last year. They should have been expected to improve just by virtue of losing Jeff Fisher. If McVay runs a reasonably-paced offense and Goff isn’t terrible, that’d make for a major improvement! There’s even some upside beyond that if McVay does turn out to be a bright coach with some things up his sleeve.
A lot of what we saw is hard to call signal, both because offenses don’t operate this smoothly and because the massive lead skewed snap shares. Cooper Kupp tied with Todd Gurley for the team lead with six targets, which was a promising sign for the preseason darling. Four of those did come in the first half including his TD, but note he hauled in a 28-yard pass in the fourth quarter while neither Watkins or Robert Woods saw a target, and the Rams were cycling in players like Pharoh Cooper.
Watkins caught all five of his targets for 58 yards, four of which had come by the time the Rams went up 24-3 midway through the second quarter. In fact, Kupp, Watkins, and Woods each had four targets at that point, and they had accounted for 12 of Goff’s first 16 attempts.
Gurley’s receiving work was promising, but one of the more baffling things I saw in Week 1 was his carries in the fourth quarter of a 37-9 game. He had a rushing sco , but turned 19 rushes into just 40 rushing yards in a perfect spot. He should continue to get a massive share of the RB touches, but this was a pretty underwhelming performance all things considered.
Signal: Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods – top three passing options
Noise: Low snap shares and related volume numbers
Snap Notes: Christian McCaffrey – 70%; Devin Funchess – 67%; Kelvin Benjamin – 64%; Jonathan Stewart – 43%; Curtis Samuel – 18%
Key Stat: Christian McCaffery – 70% snaps, 18 touches
Another team that played with plus game script, the Panthers showed off the RB split we should expect when they are able to feature the position.
Jonathan Stewart put up the better fantasy point total, but Christian McCaffrey played substantially more snaps and got more targets.
The two players had similar efficiency; the difference was Stewart scoring on a reception. The important note is the game script, though, and that McCaffrey still played 70 percent of the snaps. He’s clearly not just a passing back, or we’d have seen a different split. Stewart out-touched McCaffrey just seven to six while they salted the game away in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, the two backs each got six carries, but McCaffrey out-targeted Stewart six to zero. The insight to take from this is when the Panthers hit negative game scripts, McCaffrey will be a monster. If it’s fairly even in neutral and plus situations, but he’s the passing back — and passing backs play substantially more in trailing situations as a rule — you have promising early returns for McCaffrey. And remember, Stewart hasn’t played 16 games since 2011.
The Panthers threw just 25 times, which makes the target splits tough to analyze. An interesting note was Russell Shepard and Damiere Byrd both out-snapping Curtis Samuel. Shepard was actually the leading receiver, turning two targets into 53 and a score.
Signal: Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel is buried
Noise: Low target totals for WRs, TEs
San Francisco 49ers
Snap Notes: George Kittle – 95%; Marquise Goodwin – 88%; Carlos Hyde – 79%; Trent Taylor – 42%; Kyle Juszczyk – 33%; Matt Breida – 21%; Aldrick Robinson – 18%
Key Stat: Marquise Goodwin – 115 Air Yards, 0.45 MS Air (Tied third highest)
The opposite side of the Panthers win; we learned more about the 49ers passing game in Week 1.
Pierre Garcon led with 10 targets, posting a strong line. George Kittle saw six targets while playing a ton of snaps in his first career game, catching five. But Marquise Goodwin was the biggest story, posting the ninth most Air Yards in Week 1, and tying for the third highest share of team Air Yards.
Goodwin didn’t hit on any big ones, catching just three balls for 21 yards. He’s a sneaky add.
Carlos Hyde was strong in the pass game as well on the ground, totaling 45 rushing yards on just nine carries. He’s a bonafide workhorse despite Matt Breida getting four carries, as the snaps tell a much different story than the rushing attempt split.
Signal: Marquise Goodwin, George Kittle
Noise: Rush attempt split
Snap Notes: Paul Richardson – 84%; Tyler Lockett – 53%; Chris Carson – 53%; C.J. Prosise – 33%; Eddie Lacy – 14%
Key Stat: Paul Richardson – 0.63 WOPR (Tied 13th highest)
Paul Richardson might be a thing. The 84 percent snap rate and 96 Air Yards for a 0.63 WOPR are huge numbers, especially considering the offense ran just 49 snaps and threw just 27 passes, despite negative game script. Last year, the Seahawks ran more plays in 17 of 18 games,8 averaging 63.
The raw numbers across the offense are a bit depressed, and the distribution of targets was concentrated on four names.
What we did see was Doug Baldwin’s otherworldly efficiency pick up where it left off, and we saw Richardson as the clear third option in the passing game.
Eddie Lacy got three first quarter carries, then one more in each of the second and third. He wound up playing just seven snaps. I’ve suggested he could be cut at some point this season and I still believe that to be a strong possibility.
Starting to think E. Lacy might get cut. $2.865 MM dead $, but per-game-active & monthly weight bonuses add up to $1.22 MM more thru Dec.
— Ben Gretch (@YardsPerGretch) August 27, 2017
Chris Carson’s effectiveness was a big reason Lacy got the pine, but remember the team named Thomas Rawls the starter on their preseason depth charts. He’ll be back soon enough, but Carson had the lone rushing highlight (non-Russell Wilson division) with a 30-yard run, en route to a 6-39 line.
I didn’t see as much as I’d like out of Zero RB candidate C.J. Prosise. He was relatively silent with four carries and zero targets. The RB situation continues to bear watching.
Signal: Paul Richardson
Noise: I’m not comfortable gleaning much from the RB situation
Green Bay Packers
Snap Notes: Ty Montgomery – 90%; Davante Adams – 82%; Randall Cobb – 77%; Jamaal Williams – 7%
Key Stat: Five skill players over 75 percent snaps
Probably the most concentrated skill position snap counts I’ve looked at, the Packers main three WRs plus Ty Montgomery and Martellus Bennett all played 75 percent of the snaps or more. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski and second TE Lance Kendricks chipped in 27 and 26 percent, and no other player saw more than seven percent.
That’s obviously a positive note for those five. Kendricks saw four targets and Jamaal Williams got two carries, but the main core handled the rest of the offensive touches. Montgomery saw a workhorse load, carrying 19 times for 54 yards and a score and catching all four of his targets for 39 more.
Randall Cobb was always the buy low in this offense, and he showed why in Week 1. Davante Adams led the team with 127 Air Yards, and if an owner is panicking, might already be the new buy low. The truth is they are all good options.
Signal: Ty Montgomery
Noise: Davante Adams
Snap Notes: Cole Beasley – 70%; Terrance Williams – 51%; Brice Butler – 47%; Alfred Morris – 11%
Key Stat: Dez Bryant – 9 targets, 110 Air Yards
Darren McFadden was a surprise inactive, but it didn’t matter. Ezekiel Elliott handled 24 carries and caught all five of his targets for 140 total yards. We’ll see what happens with the suspension, but it’s looking more and more like Elliott will play through 2017.
Dez Bryant had a rough outing, catching just two balls, though one was a 35-yarder. His targets and Air Yards were all there, so there’s not much to worry about. Terrance Williams had a strong outing, but his snap share — basically splitting with Brice Butler as the second outside WR — makes it unlikely the production sticks. He played fewer snaps than any game last year.
Meanwhile, Cole Beasley played more than any of his 2016 rates. Fade his relative lack of involvement in the passing game and chalk it up to an effect of a plus Jason Witten outing.
Signal: Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams snaps
Noise: Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams targets
New York Giants
Snap Notes: Sterling Shepard – 100%; Brandon Marshall – 86%; Evan Engram – 84%; Roger Lewis – 77%; Shane Vereen – 54%; Paul Perkins – 32%; Orleans Darkwa – 14%
Key Stat: Shane Vereen – 10 targets, 9 receptions
We pounded tables for Shane Vereen’s snap share this offseason. While this was the perfect game script for him to rack up second half touches — five of his receptions came on the Giants final, garbage-time drive — it’s also a game script the Giants should be in a fair amount.
Paul Perkins and Orleans Darkwa combined for 30 yards on 10 carries, and three catches for eight yards on four targets. Vereen didn’t see a carry, but before an injury last season he had 31 carries in the first three games.
Don’t be surprised if the Giants start to use him more in neutral game situations as the season wears on, particularly after Odell Beckham returns and it becomes even clearer their offense operates better as a spread, pass-minded unit.
Brandon Marshall was awful – bad enough that it’s fair to move Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram up your redraft ranks after just one game. Roger Lewis appeared to play the Beckham role, and I’d expect him to fall back once Beckham’s healthy. But it’s possible Marshall loses snaps, too.
Signal: Shane Vereen’s snaps
Noise: Shane Vereen’s targets, receptions (inflated)
Snap Notes: Dalvin Cook – 78%; Laquon Treadwell – 55%; Jarius Wright – 23%; Jerick McKinnon – 17%; Latavius Murray – 5%
Key Stat: Stefon Diggs – 13.1 reFPOE (Fourth most)
Monday night went about as to-script as it could have for Minnesota, and as it did we got a good glimpse into how this offense will strive to operate.
Sam Bradford is still going to be more concerned with security than putting up 50/50 balls, but the narrative he’s afraid to take shots doesn’t fit either. There were a couple standout plays downfield to Adam Thielen, and yet he wound up with a below average 9.9 aDOT on 10 targets. Stefon Diggs’ wasn’t much higher at 10.3. They had two of the top seven RACRs — a stat that measures the rate at which players turn one Air Yard into one receiving yard — among players with at least 50 Air Yards.
Unsurprisingly, they also had two of the top 14 reFPOEs in Week 1 – they were remarkably efficient, and that type of efficiency is going to be hard to sustain against teams other than the Saints.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 12, 2017
Well, there’s that.
Dalvin Cook was the other revelation, rushing for 127 yards for a team that couldn’t run the ball in 2016. They didn’t have a 100-yard rusher all last season, and only twice got individual rushing performances half as productive as Cook’s debut.
Cook got better as the game wore on, breaking off two 30-plus yarders in the fourth quarter en route to 79 yards on eight carries in the period. The flip side of that is 48 yards on 14 carries through the first three quarters, something to monitor for games the Vikings aren’t in such favorable situations. That’s a minor thing relative to the overwhelming snap share Cook played and the final line he put up. He appears to be a locked in feature back.
Signal: Dalvin Cook’s role
Noise: Some degree of the WR efficiency (will be hard to sustain week to week at those aDOTs, but there’s reason for some optimism)
New Orleans Saints
Snap Notes: Coby Fleener – 52%; Alvin Kamara – 50%; Mark Ingram – 42%; Josh Hill – 40%; Adrian Peterson – 15%
Key Stat: Alvin Kamara – Team-high 7 rush attempts
It looked for all the world like Alvin Kamara was the lead back in the Saints trio, something I didn’t anticipate in Adrian Peterson’s return to Minnesota and with Mark Ingram still ostensibly the starter.
Ingram caught check-downs on four consecutive plays on a final, meaningless drive, accounting for 36 percent of his total touches. In fairness, Kamara also had two carries and two receptions in fourth quarter catch-up mode. But it’s clear the team likes Kamara and intends to use him substantially. Peterson, meanwhile, might get squeaky wheel treatment, but what this game said about his long-term viability is unflattering.
Michael Thomas struggled in his first game getting WR1 attention, posting 5-45 on eight targets. He’ll be in a great spot to get right against a Patriots secondary that looked lost in Week 1. Tommylee Lewis actually led the team in Air Yards, taking some of the deep targets we all had pegged for Ted Ginn en route to a 21.3 aDOT. Ginn’s was just 9.2, but he did turn five targets into four receptions for 53 yards. Consider his lack of deep targets noise.
Coby Fleener looked like the player fantasy drafters took at TE6 last offseason. There were reasons to expect TEs would be more involved this year, and he took all the targets directed to the position. His snap rate relative to Josh Hill’s left a little to be desired in terms of repeating this line, but it’s a great start to his 2017 season and he’s a low-end TE1 for the time being.
Signal: Alvin Kamara’s, Adrian Peterson’s snaps, touches
Noise: The WR workload splits (Willie Snead will shake things up in two weeks)
Update 9/14: A prior version of this post included screenshots and references to inaccurate Expected Points (EP) and Fantasy Points Over Expectation (FPOE) data due to a bug in the code powering the RotoViz Screener. The Screener has been fixed, and the post has been updated to reflect the correct data.
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- Incidentally, the last we’ve seen from the vaunted RotoViz Staff byline. (back)
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- Or maybe it started with the Bears’ depth chart, I don’t know. (back)
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