Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 2 (Fantasy Football)
All is well, for fantasy football has returned! Well, maybe not all…there were certainly some disappointing performances in Week 1 of the NFL season. Alas, you know what they say: challenge makes champions (at least, that’s what I think they say).
In this series, I’ll focus on seven interesting statistics, or trends, that I noticed over the past week. All data, unless otherwise specified, is from nflfastR.
A Sad Week of Scoring
We dealt with some pretty anemic weeks of fantasy scoring last year. Luckily, every offense had an entire offseason to plan and prepare to retake the field with confidence…surely, it can’t be as bad in 2023, right?
Wrong. The total fantasy points scored, D/ST and kickers excluded, was the lowest mark in Week 1 of the last five years, down 17% from last season (according to the default scoring settings I use). It was also the second-lowest mark of the last 12 years (2017 being the nadir). We can break scoring out by position to find the main culprits for the drop:
Unsurprisingly, it was passing attacks that took the hit. QBs and WRs were down significantly with TEs down moderately. RBs were down…but not by as wide of a margin. We’ll talk more about this later.
Why Is Scoring So Sad?
What is the reason for this continued dip in fantasy output? Isn’t the modern NFL designed for offensive onslaughts and paper-thin defenses?
I looked at some of the likely culprits. It wasn’t turnovers: there were two more fumbles this Week 1 than last year, but two fewer INTs. It wasn’t completion rate, which was equal to last year (about 59%). It wasn’t even air yards — i.e., check-down offenses — which were slightly up.
The main difference appears to be play-calling. There were 36 more rush attempts in Week 1 of this year compared to last, 60 fewer pass attempts, and 77 fewer plays overall. The league is following the Arthur Smithian mold: run the dang ball. This obviously points toward RBs potentially making a comeback as the kings of fantasy, especially ironic in a year where multiple WRs, a TE, and even a QB or two went in the first round of most fantasy drafts.
As the Footballers often say, fantasy football is about volume plus talent. Volume can be broken down even further: how large a team’s pie is, and how much of that pie each player gets.
For wideouts, we can look at guys who commanded massive target shares in their offenses. The top three in Week 1 were Zay Flowers (47.6%), Puka Nacua (40.5%), and DeAndre Hopkins (39%). This is a strong sign for each of these players, although two of them — Flowers and Nacua — may see their slice of the pie diminish when the top targets (Cooper Kupp and Mark Andrews) return from injury. Still, the top three target share leaders from Week 1 of last year were Davante Adams, AJ Brown, and Tyreek Hill, all of whom went on to have amazing seasons. So things are looking good for the rookies, and for DHop in a Tennessee Titans‘ system that tends to hyper-focus on one wideout.
In terms of running backs, the top three ‘carry shares’ were Derrick Henry (68%), Brian Robinson (68%), and Jamaal Williams (67%). These are actually quite smaller numbers than last year’s top three: Jonathan Taylor (81.5%), Derrick Henry (80.7%), and Joe Mixon (79%). It’s a small sample size, but I wouldn’t be surprised if teams in general are moving away from the bell cow concept. Time will tell.
We know that the ‘cheat code’ for fantasy quarterbacks is being able to rush the ball. So the top performers from Week 1 should have had monster games on the ground. Right?
Not so. Of the top three scores this week, no one had more than 18 rushing yards. Anthony Richardson was tied with Justin Herbert for the QB4 and had 40 rushing yards. But we just didn’t see any prolific rushing outcomes for signal-callers. Could this be a sign of a changing NFL landscape?
Well…probably not. There were an average of 4.2 rushes per QB this week, similar to 4.5 in Week 1 of last year, and 4.26 before that. It seems that rushing success was just less forthcoming on the ground last week, and should still be a major part of fantasy moving forward.
And RB Receiving?
What about the analog for running backs: receiving yards? It’s been a Footballers’ mantra in recent years to not draft an RB that doesn’t contribute out of the backfield; Andy often mentions how much more valuable RB targets are than RB carries. Did we see top RB performers having excellent games throughout the year?
Yes. Yes, we did. Aaron Jones, the RB1 on the season (who is unfortunately dealing with a hamstring injury at the moment) had 86 yards and a touchdown through the air. The top five RBs had 36.2 receiving yards, up from an average of 23 receiving yards in Week 1 last year, and scored the same amount of receiving TDs (one). It is still important to roster backs that can catch the ball!
Can Burrow Bounce Back?
The Cincinnati Bengals, one of the league’s most potent offenses, pitched a total dud in their loss to the Cleveland Browns last week. Joe Burrow scored a measly 3.2 fantasy points before being pulled; and note, he wasn’t pulled that early, he still threw 31 passes. A lot hangs on the strength of the Bengals’ offense; players like Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins are widely started fantasy studs. Should we be worried?
Short answer: no.
These games certainly happen, especially within a team’s division. If we look at quarterbacks that start the season with less than five points, only 3.8% average more than 15 PPG for the rest of the season…but that includes a number of backups and less proven players. There are plenty of examples more representative of Joe Burrow‘s possible outlook: Aaron Rodgers had 1.3 points in Week 1 of 2021 during a blowout loss to the Saints. He ended up as the QB6 and league MVP. Other signal-callers who went on to deliver quality fantasy seasons were Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Brett Favre…the point is, this type of performance is not unheard of, and you shouldn’t panic about Burrow and the other Bengals.
I say this every year. We’ve been waiting to see real, live football for months…and that can do some crazy things to expectations and decision-making. Here are some notable results from the first week of the 2022 season:
- Dontrell Hilliard was the RB7, D’Andre Swift the RB3
- Michael Pittman was the WR5, Devin Duvernay was the WR9, Chosen Anderson the WR10
- OJ Howard was the TE2
- Carson Wentz was the QB3
Many of these results were surprising to fantasy managers; maybe you got excited and dropped a bunch of FAAB on Wentz. Unfortunately, the momentum did not continue throughout the rest of the season. Of course, there were plenty of ‘flipped’ cases where players with high expectations didn’t have the start we expected: Josh Jacobs was the RB33 and RB25 in Weeks 1-2, for example.
Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. We certainly need to adjust our prior expectations and work with the information given to us. For instance, it’s clear that Puka Nacua and Zay Flowers are more involved than expected, and should be valued as such. We just don’t want to go overboard: the WRs 2-4 in all of fantasy right now are Brandon Aiyuk, Jakobi Meyers, and Kendrick Bourne. It probably won’t stay that way.
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