Seven Stats & Expectation Trends for Week 3 (Fantasy Football)
And what a week it was! Hopefully you rode some of the record-breaking performances to fantasy victories. Here are seven things that you should keep in mind with Week 3 on the horizon. All data, unless otherwise specified, is from nflfastR.
Wonderful World of Wide Receivers
There have been some insane stat lines from wideouts through the opening weeks of the season. These have come from familiar faces – Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs – and from some relatively new to the party – Amon-Ra St. Brown, Garrett Wilson, Jaylen Waddle.
To put numbers to it, the top-12 WRs (including all of the names we just mentioned) have scored more through the first two weeks than any other top-12 group in the last fifteen years. In 2007, the top 12 wideouts – which featured Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson – scored just 1 point more.
This year has also featured five 30+ point performances from the top wideouts, tied for the highest mark since 1999. Importantly, the top 24 WRs as a group have actually not been as elite: 2018, 2019 and 2021 all had higher totals from the top 24 wideouts through two weeks of the season, which is extra surprising because of how good the top 12 have been. The implication for fantasy is powerful: it’s shaping up to be a year of top-end juggernauts at the position, and it will be crucial to have top-end WRs.
Risky Realm of Running Backs
Alas, the same cannot be said of RBs. The top-12 running backs have scored the fewest combined points of the last seven years and the third lowest since 1999.
It’s sort of unclear what is causing this. Although NFL offenses are certainly shifting to more pass-heavy approaches, there was still plenty of volume: the 2nd most total carries and 2nd most receptions at the position through the first two weeks since 2015. What’s more, receiving touchdowns by the position hit the ceiling of the last 20 years (15 scores).
There are two likely explanations. First, RBs only rushed into the end zone 28 times in Weeks 1 and 2, by far the lowest total of the last two decades. ‘Touchdown vulturing’, either by WRs like Deebo Samuel or QBs like Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts, has been a real problem for RBs. Second, more teams are taking a committee approach: there were only 10 teams through Weeks 1-2 that handed the ball off to the same RB 20+ times. That’s the second lowest mark of the last 20 years, and from 2000 – 2007, that number never got below 20! It’s a real factor now, though, with backfields like the New England Patriots (Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson) becoming the norm. While it might be effective in the NFL, it’s always frustrating for fantasy managers.
The takeaway here, other than expecting a bit less out of your stud RBs, is to find players that have control of a backfield and no other players likely to vulture rushing scores. Names that come to mind are Jonathan Taylor (duh) and Leonard Fournette.
Terrible Territory of Tight End
It should come as no surprise that the tight-end position has been a wasteland so far in 2022. The top-12 TEs haven’t scored this low as a group in the last 14 years, since before the Rob Gronkowski days.
Yards, receptions, and touchdowns are all at multi-year lows. Now, the relative ordering is unsurprising: Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Darren Waller round out the top 3 at the position (although none have yet scored 30 points or more). After that, though, it’s a toss-up. O.J. Howard is in the top 10, while T.J. Hockenson is outside the top 20 despite two offensive explosions from the Detroit Lions.
All of the passing production, it seems, has gone straight to the WRs instead. The fantasy implication doesn’t depart from the usual lessons: the top three guys (and probably Kyle Pitts? hopefully?) will all provide a comparable advantage, but you’re likely streaming the position outside of that.
To clarify, this section highlights players that scored fewer points than expected, conditional on some usage variables. Specifically, I build a model for fantasy points using targets, air yards, and defensive prowess, and then look at the players who scored much less than what the model predicted. Here are the Top 10 underachievers from Week 2:
One name clearly sticks out here. Chris Olave had an absurd 13 targets and, as Jason mentioned on the podcast, almost 320 air yards. His 5-catch, 80-yard stat line doesn’t reflect that usage, and I expect his fantasy output to ramp up. He’s an awesome trade target.
A funny note here is that Justin Jefferson had the pendulum swing: he was one of the most overachieving WRs last week, and was on the opposite side of the board for Week 2. We should expect something in the middle going forward.
The other side of the coin tells us who overachieved given their usage:
It’s no surprise that Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill lead this chart. What’s more interesting is a notable omission: despite scoring 34.6 fantasy points, Jaylen Waddle is not on this chart. That’s because he saw a whopping 19 targets, meaning that his fantasy production was actually in line with his usage! He’s a must-start moving forward.
Two other names that I’d like to highlight are Christian Kirk and Nelson Agholor. Kirk is the WR7 on the year after turning six targets into 6 catches, 78 yards and two scores; Agholor also had six targets and 6 catches, but for 110 yards and a score. It would be unreasonable to expect such efficiency to continue. I’m looking to trade Kirk away, and not going crazy on the waiver wire for Agholor.
Lots of potential fantasy points were taken away by Defensive Pass Interference in Week 2, which I estimate using the same model from above. Leading the charge was Courtland Sutton, who was also on this list last week, and has now lost more than 10 expected points to penalties on the season. His arrow is pointing up, as is the aforementioned Chris Olave, who also missed out on about 5 points this week.
The Injury Bug Bites
Last week, I noted how the ‘injury bug’, or the tendency of one team to have a lot of injuries, actually appears to be a thing. I mentioned the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys as teams with notable Week 1 injuries and, unfortunately, we saw more injuries in Week 2 (Trey Lance and Dalton Schultz). This should be factored into roster decisions that you make for players on these teams and others struggling with injury.
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