It’s Week 7 and here 10 things on my mind as I watch this week’s slate.
1. The Rams are the most stable offense when it comes to both injuries and (lack of) substitutions. They have the same lineup on NFL-leading 29.2% of plays. They don’t utilize multiple backs, they stick with base personnel mostly on passing downs, including tight end Tyler Higbee. Their one wild-card player is Tavon Austin. Other similar teams are the Panthers (23.3%), Steelers (23%), Dolphins (22.7%). At the other extreme, at about 5%, are the Ravens (who have been injury ravaged), Bears and Bengals (mostly because they can’t settle on a running back).
2. I will continue to emphasize Matt Ryan should have about 10 touchdowns and not his actual six. He’s still a top six quarterback based on the stat that includes the biggest sample of plays — yards per attempt (fifth best 8.0). But he and the Falcons are mystifying when it comes to deploying Julio, as I detailed at FiveThirtyEight. The key takeaway is the closer the Falcons are to the end zone, the less-likely they are to throw it to Jones.
3. Dak Prescott is a quarterback to fade. Now, my job is to listen to the numbers. I actually personally like Dak and think he’s good and hate what the model says here. But his YPA is 6.8 and his TD percentage is 6.1. YPA as I’ve long documented here and elsewhere generally tracks TD% so his rate should be about 4-5%, meaning seven-eight TD passes. But that’s a season-long projection like when we said how Trevor Siemien was going to crash mightily from his once-lofty 10.0 TD% (it’s currently 4.5%). Dak is a top 12 QB for sure against the 49ers.
4. We’re going to find out about Brett Hundley. In the preseason, he’s posted a 107.3 rating in 142 attempts. I’d discount this but then I looked it up last August to project Prescott and it turned out that preseason was somewhat predictive. Especially rookie rating where he was actually second behind only Prescott since 2000, according to Stats, LLC. Through 2016, Teddy Bridgewater, Russell Wilson and Nick Foles were third, fourth and fifth. So it’s probably likely that Hundley can be okay. But when? Probably not his first start. Play the Saints D.
5. I’m back and forth on Jameis Winston. He looks mediocre. But his YPA is solid and he leads the NFL in both air yards per attempt and per completion. The Bucs, who have a losing record, should be throwing more on first-down, where they are only 10th in dropbacks. Winston’s YPA on first down is about a yard higher and his passer rating is 110. You can’t have a gunslinger quarterback and have normal first-down passing splits. You have to be aggressive on base downs, too.
6. A hidden stat predictive for wide receiver performance is air yards. Let’s look at the leaders in the stat, which is simply air yards per target times targets, according to the NFL: Antonio Brown (948), DeAndre Hopkins (764), DeSean Jackson (679), Alshon Jeffery (665), Brandin Cooks (635), A.J. Green (622), Pierre Garcon (585), Dez Bryant (585), Marvin Jones (578), Martavis Bryant (571), Marquise Goodwin (549), Mike Evans (549), T.Y. Hilton (544), Adam Thielen (540), Robby Anderson (538). Here are the lowest ownership rates on Yahoo for these guys: Anderson 19%, Goodwin 3%.
7. Long-time favorite Orleans Darkwa is going to be benched by many of the 61% who own him because Seattle’s D is so good. But the dirty secret is their run defense is bad. Darkwa is the most north-south runner in the NFL, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He’s also seen the third-most 8-men-in-the-box runs (47.2%, only the two Jacksonville backs, Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory are higher). He’s only behind only Tevin Coleman in yards before contact per run; some view this as a line stat but I call it a vision stat. He’s slightly below average in yards after contact. In short, a top 20 back easy until further notice.
8. Maybe LeGarrette Blount is just a lucky charm in getting goal-line runs. His Eagles are tied for the lead with 11 rushes inside the three. You’d never guess who they’re tied with: the 49ers. Carlos Hyde leads the NFL with 10 attempts, converting four (below the NFL average of 46.5%). Fournette is five of seven (the five TDs at this distance lead the NFL). C.J. Anderson is 0-for-4. LeSean McCoy has one of these attempts and the Bills as a team have four. The Seahawks and Giants have one each. Amazingly given his overall production, Kareem Hunt’s Chiefs have two.
9. Chris Thompson needs to get 12-to-20 touches every week since he is by far Washington’s best skill player. Last week, he got 20 and generated 138 yards — exactly as expected given he is at 6.9 per touch for his career (including 5.3 per rush on 142 totes). On our Breakfast Table Pod, Yahoo colleague and pod partner Scott Pianowski predicted 13 touches this week, which makes Thompson a RB2. I’d take him over Christian McCaffrey. Scott says McCaffrey barely.
10. What about Adrian Peterson? Was it a last hurrah? It’s not uncommon for running backs over age 32 to have even multiple good games in seasons when it’s clear they are no longer actually good. Here’s the list I put together for The Wall Street Journal. Trust me, no one thought Tony Dorsett was good with the Broncos and he had two 100-yard games for them before crashing. Emmitt Smith did the same when he was clearly past his prime, though still admittedly somewhat fantasy relevant in his final season with the Cardinals. I’ll be shocked if Peterson averages 4.0-plus yards per carry this week against the Rams in London.