Snap Count Observations: Transactions to Make for Week 2 (Fantasy Football)
Week 1 is always rather revealing. For some teams, our expectations were confirmed (e.g., Tyreek Hill is indeed a monster). Meanwhile, for other teams, we saw some surprising usage and notable playing time (see below). Regardless, every season is new and different, so we need to stay in the moment and not think too hard about previous usage and our offseason expectations. Conversely, one week of data is a tiny sample size and may not bespeak all future playing time and trends. I will do my best to filter signal from noise and deliver only notable playing time observations.
So why do we care about snap counts? Obviously, players need to be on the field to score fantasy points, but we need to dig deeper than that. We also want to look at playing time through the lens of production, which this article will do. For example, Treylon Burks played 90% of the offensive snaps this week, but he only managed two catches for 18 yards. We don’t care about useless playing time. We care about impact players playing less than expected, players doing a lot with a little bit of playing time (suggesting bigger playing time later), and unexpected players playing big-time reps.
In other words, we want to comb through a lot of numbers to find actionable data. Indeed, that is the goal of this article: note interesting playing time data, and then make suggestions for your fantasy team, like “pick up Player A” from the waiver wire, or “hold Player B who underperformed,” or “trade Player C high,” etc.
I will write this article weekly and publish it on Tuesdays before your waivers run. I hope you find this article helpful and that you win championships because you read it. Given that this is our first week actually watching fully competitive football, this article will be a bit longer than usual. In the future, as trends continue and players fall into defined, expected, and predictable roles, this article will become a bit more focused and concise. With that introduction, let’s get to the numbers.
Jahmyr Gibbs Brought Along Slowly
27% does not justify Gibb’s 3rd round, sometimes 2nd round, ADP, but you need to be patient with Gibbs. The Lions were smart to bring the rookie along slowly. David Montgomery is a trusted veteran, and he played like one. He didn’t fumble, and he made a smart play to stay in bounds to keep the clock running. The Lions are well aware of their best asset: their offensive line, especially in a game where Chris Jones did not play for the Chiefs. The best player to utilize that strength was David Montgomery, especially at the end of the game.
Look, you don’t need any special data or skills, other than a pair of eyeballs, to realize that Gibbs is electric. And Dan Campbell sees the same thing you did. A day after the game against the Chiefs, he said:
“We really didn’t want to overload any of those guys. I think it’s important you go in and let them get a feel of what it’s going to be like. That’s the first one. Let’s go in and make sure that the guys that have been around here, the guys that have taken a load for us, that we’ve been in games with, they take on a bigger load, and we work these rookies in and get them a feel of it. Now they’ve got that one under their belt.
“So, for Gibbs, he’ll begin to get more touches now. That was just the beginning last night.”
There were plenty of positives for Gibbs. He was lined up as a WR, he shared the field with Montgomery, he saw two designed targets, and he showed power we didn’t expect from him coming out. There is nothing to worry about with Gibbs. Next week at home ought to be the coming out party.
Conclusion: Start Gibbs and Montgomery with confidence in Week 2.
De Facto 11 Personnel
Carolina ran a lot of three-wide sets, and the top three WRs played a ton. None of them really did much, despite Bryce Young throwing 38 times in his first NFL Game. Marshall saw six targets but only caught two of them for 23 yards. Mingo and Thielen weren’t much better. The leading WR on the Panthers was actually Hayden Hurst (seven targets resulting in five catches for 41 yards and a TD).
It’s worth noting that D.J. Chark was injured and didn’t play. It’s uncertain whether Marshall or Mingo saw an uptick in snaps due to this injury, but this WR set looks pretty gross no matter what.
Conclusion: Avoid Panthers pass catches, especially early in the season while Bryce Young acclimates to the NFL.
Bijan is the Offense
Bijan Robinson – 63%
63% isn’t exactly “bell cow” usage, but his offensive output sure was. Bijan got 10 carries for 56 yards, and most importantly, saw six targets (all of which were caught) for 27 yards and a touchdown. That’s exciting usage for any RB, but especially a rookie RB. His role in the offense majorly hurts Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
Tyler Allgeier didn’t go away – he still got 15 carries (and a surprising three targets himself). But he played fewer snaps than Bijan, and his presence didn’t always take Bijan off the field. I expect Bijan’s involvement only to increase. This is probably bad news for Drake London, though, but let’s try not to overreach too much to one game.
Conclusion: Only the RBs on Atlanta’s roster are currently fantasy-relevant.
Luke Musgrave on the field a ton
Musgrave – 75%
Despite a beat-up wide receiver set (Christian Watson out, Romeo Doubs limited), Luke Musgrave was on the field a ton. He actually had the most snaps of any non-OL, non-QB Packer. It didn’t turn into huge usage, but this is a good sign for a rookie TE. We will have to see what his usage becomes once Doubs and Watson get healthy. Doubs dominated in fantasy points (five targets resulting in four catches for 26 yards and two TDs), but his usage was clearly limited due to the healing hamstring (only 48% snaps). Additionally, Green Bay was dominating Chicago, so perhaps the score being 38-14 at one point led to rest for the injured, starting WR.
Conclusion: Musgrave is worth a free waiver wire pickup if you are TE-needy.
All Three RBs Used Equally
None of the Bears’ running backs particularly stood out. Herbert led the backfield with nine rushes, but that mere number only equaled Justin Fields‘ rushing attempts. Each of the other two backs saw five carries. Each of the three running backs saw several targets (five for Herbert, seven for Johnson, and three for Foreman), but none of these targets resulted in a ton of receiving yards. Johnson is notable for catching six passes, but only getting 35 yards on those six passes is ugly efficiency. A three-headed backfield paired with a running quarterback makes this a messy situation where you just hope that your player scores a touchdown.
Chicago had two trips to the green zone (inside the opponent’s 10-yard line). The first trip involved only passing plays, and the second occurred late in the fourth. During the second trip, Roschon Johnson saw two green zone carries, and he converted one of those for a touchdown. That said, Khalil Herbert saw a two-point conversion carry from the two earlier in the game, when it was still somewhat competitive. Johnson saw a lot of playing time late when Chicago was down by more than 20, so perhaps that had something to do with his playing time. It’s hard to make a lot of conclusions in a lopsided victory.
Conclusion: Don’t drop anyone, but Khalil Herbert does not appear to have a strong grip on this backfield.
Running Back Split Not What It Seems
I am sure there are some Nick Chubb drafters panicking after seeing Jerome Ford practically split time with Chubb. Also somewhat worrisome, Ford received 15 carries to Chubb’s 18. But don’t panic. 11 of Ford’s 15 carries happened in the 4th quarter, and eight of those 11 occurred when the Browns were ahead by more than two touchdowns.
Chubb had a great day before essentially getting the fourth quarter off (106 yards rushing). But here is the biggest reason for excitement. Chubb received and caught four targets. Chubb needs receiving to get to league-winner status, and this is a great sign.
Conclusion: There is not a backfield split in Cleveland.
Actual Backfield Split
This really shouldn’t be surprising; Williams is coming off a major injury. The fact that he is playing at all right now is a great sign. But still, given his injury status, splitting time 50-50 with Perine makes sense. Williams did see more carries and more targets (13 carries for Williams to eight for Perine; six targets for Williams to four for Perine), so there is hope for an eventual backfield takeover by Williams.
This was a bit of a crazy game. The Broncos only had six drives, as both teams were able to methodically drive the ball down the field and eat up a ton of clock. Only two of the Broncos’ drives didn’t end in a scoring opportunity (scored a TD on the first drive, a TD on the third, missed a 55-yard FG on the 4th, and kicked a field goal on the fifth). So generally, that’s a much more efficient offense than we saw last year. Sean Payton may not have turned the Broncos into the 1999 Rams, but they are clearly better. That bodes well for all offensive pieces.
Conclusion: The Broncos still look better offensively, which bodes well for all offensive pieces including Javonte Williams.
Rachaad White and Cade Otton Play a Ton
White 79%; Otton 97%
White played significantly more than Sean Tucker and dominated this backfield. He’s a clear target if anyone is disappointed by his 39 yards rushing and 10 receiving. 17 carries and two targets while playing bell cow-level snaps is exciting.
Otton is also interesting as a buy-low or waiver wire target. He essentially never came off the field and ran plenty of routes. He blocked a fair bit in the first quarter on passing plays, but then they started moving him around the formation as a receiving threat later in the game after the offense stagnated. His stats weren’t eye-popping (three targets, two catches for 19 yards), but he’s on the field so much and running so many routes that he may get more opportunities later.
Kenneth Gainwell Assumes Miles Sanders‘ Role?
We expected this backfield to be a disgusting three-way split. It wasn’t. Gainwell was by far the leading running back with the most snaps and a surprising backfield share (14 of the 16 RB carries). He also saw double the number of targets that Swift saw.
Swift wasn’t able to do much – only three total yards on three opportunities. This is the Gainwell show. He even saw the only two green zone carries (neither resulted in a TD, but the carries were from the nine and eight, respectively – not all green zone attempts are created equal). There was concern that Boston Scott is the “goal line back” but early data suggests that’s not true. Instead, Gainwell’s usage and opportunities look a lot like Miles Sanders‘ usage last season for Philadelphia.
Conclusion: See if Gainwell is available on the waiver wire and get him into those lineups. Spend big if he is available.
Bigger Backfield Split than Anticipated?
The game was out of hand quickly (20-0 in the second quarter), so perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into this. Still, there were rumors that Warren earned more playing time, and that did come to some fruition in Week 1.
Out of necessity, Pittsburgh abandoned the running game very early (only 10 total carries in the game, including a QB scramble). Warren saw six targets to Harris’ two in a pass-heavy script. Harris is not the PPR monster he once was, so if Pittsburgh needs to pass, it looks like they prefer Warren. I think this is a 60-40 split in a competitive game, which means Harris was not worth a 2nd/3rd round pick in this offense.
Conclusion: Move Harris down in your ranks.
Wheels Up for Zay Flowers
Flowers didn’t play the most snaps (Odell Beckham – 92%), but he made the biggest impact with an electric 10 targets on 22 Lamar Jackson passes. He dominated the pass-catching, which is great news for him and not great news for Mark Andrews. We will have to see what Andrews’ impact looks like after he returns from injury, but Isaiah Likely was essentially invisible (one target, one catch for four yards) in this game as Andrews’ replacement. Baltimore has a new OC, so we probably shouldn’t assume that Andrews will dominate targets again when he returns, but he does remain a fantastic player who has a good rapport with Lamar. I am excited for Flowers no matter what, I just hope there is room for two pass catchers on this offense. I am not sure there is.
Joshua Kelley Gets a Big Role
Now this one is shocking. The Chargers played in a very competitive game, which went down to the wire, and yet, Joshua Kelley still played just as much as Austin Ekeler, and saw almost the same level of usage too! Ekeler received 16 carries and saw five targets, while Kelley received 16 carries and saw one target. Kelley was also really efficient (91 yards and a touchdown on the ground), something we have never seen before in his career. There is no injury to Ekeler or a weird game script to explain this data away so it was clearly planned. Kellen Moore saw something in Joshua Kelley that he apparently liked, and he’s planning on using him a lot.
Maybe I follow the wrong people, but I didn’t hear any preseason buzz about Joshua Kelley. But hey, here we are. Adapt or die. So long as Kelley represents an efficient runner on a good offense, he should be on your roster.
Ekeler should be fine. He was extremely efficient in the game and is still the preferred pass-catching back. His ceiling may have lowered a bit, but he still represents a strong RB1. Ekeler saw more green zone rushes than Kelly, but not all the green zone attempts. So again, lowered ceiling but still a great fantasy option.
Conclusion: Pick up Joshua Kelley – not a huge bid, maybe 15%?
UPDATE: It appears that Ekeler was hurt in the game, and may have been nursing something. The 50-50 split is then perhaps not complete reality. Still, Kelley was involved throughout the game and looked when given opportunities. Monitor the Ekeler thing. I think this is still probably a 1-2 punch moving forward, with Kelley having massive value should Ekeler miss any time.
Big Stats from Small Names
The three biggest producers for the Rams were Kyren Williams (15 rushes for 52 yards and two TDs), Puka Nacua (15 targets resulting in 10 catches for 119 yards), and Tutu Atwell (eight targets resulting in six catches for 119 yards), just as we all planned. Matthew Stafford picked apart the Seahawks without his star receiver, and after many had written off the Rams and considered them as a Caleb Williams contender.
At running back, Kyren Williams is a thing. Akers had a few more rushing attempts than Williams, but Williams saw more green zone carries and was far more efficient. I am not spending big on Williams because of his two-touchdown performance, but he is someone who should be on your radar.
Instead, I am spending my FAAB on Puka Nacua. He looked really impressive. He reminded me a bit of Wes Welker – running a bunch of slant routes, catching everything, and then always falling forward. It seemed like every time he caught the ball it resulted in a first down. He even had a deep threat that would have been a touchdown if it had been thrown about one yard shorter. Atwell looked really quick, but I was more impressed with Nacua’s play. My only concern is that he is Cooper Kupp‘s replacement, and when Kupp returns, he cedes snaps to Kupp. But his production can’t be denied. If I were Sean McVay, I’d be looking for ways to keep Nacua on the field, which might mean sitting Van Jefferson.
My rule is: pick up players who look good; the rest will take care of itself