Snap Count Observations: Transactions to Make for Week 5

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Last week, I started this column talking about the Romeo Doubs breakout. But as I began to think about it today, the Doubs breakout feels like a bigger trend in the NFL: rookie WRs are breaking out earlier and earlier.

This feeling isn’t based on nothing. We saw 13 WRs get drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Think about that: over 20% of the picks in the first two rounds were WRs! So clearly, NFL teams see the value of young pass catchers. Moreover, we’ve already seen Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Johan Dotson, and the aforementioned Doubs breakout, before Week 4 even began!

But is this actually a trend or just a feeling? I asked fellow writer and wunderkind, Matt DiSorbo, to check the data and see if my feelings on the matter were correct. Matt found that, if we look at above median rookie performances (so we aren’t including all rookies, since there are plenty of goose eggs) the average score through the first three weeks (we don’t have Week 4 data yet) is among the highest of the last decade.

Widespread rookie breakouts were not always common. As recently as last year, Jason Moore and Matt DiSorbo co-authored a piece called the Sophomore Bump emphasizing the importance of second-year WRs in winning your fantasy league. Also, in one of the “Things to Remember” Podcast segments from a few years back, Jason Moore recommended not to draft rookie wide receivers (in redraft) because they generally start slow. The caveat to that note was that rookie WRs generally become more involved in the second half of the season, so Jason further recommended trading for the rookie WRs halfway through the season. A perfect example why that advice was savvy was Amon-Ra St. Brown‘s rookie season. St. Brown barely played in the first half of the season, but he came on strong in the second half. If you followed Jason’s advice regarding Amon-Ra, you probably won your league last year.

But, while Jason’s advice was a great tip at the time, I think we need to advance our timeline. As we’ve seen so far in 2022, we can’t wait until the second half of the year for a lot of these rookies. The window to acquire Drake London for cheap closed after Week 1; it closed for Chris Olave after Week 3 and it just closed on Doubs today. In addition, we are doing ourselves a disfavor by making these rookies “prove it” before we insert them into our lineups.

Surely there were some who had trepidations about starting Doubs this week, given the return of Christian Watson. There was some logic to the idea that Watson, the higher drafted rookie, would jump Doubs on the depth chart, and push Doubs’ snaps back down into the 57%/37% range we saw in Weeks 1-2. But that didn’t happen. Because Doubs broke out last week against solid competition, his playing time remained a constant 96% of snaps, and he even ran the most routes of any Packer.

So what does all this rambling mean? It means, there is a lesson to be learned here: get ahead of the market on young players. When you spot a breakout, like I did last week, run with it immediately. The next rookie to break out could be George Pickens or Alec Pierce. Treylon Burks, if his injury isn’t too severe, could also be a target, as he was an every-down player in Week 4 before he was carted off the field.

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This article is all about spotting notable and actionable changes in playing time and performance, and suggesting transactions that are one step ahead of your leaguemates. Let’s see if we can’t spot some interesting trends below!

Miami Dolphins

Mostert Sees Big Jump in Usage and Playing Time, but Does it Matter?

Mostert 72% (season high); Chase Edmonds 28%

Mostert’s season high 72% of snaps wasn’t empty playing time – he saw 69% of the backfield opportunities (15 carries and 3 targets). He was, by far, the more effective runner as well (2.76 YPC whereas Edmonds had only 1.2 YPC). The problem is that Edmonds appears to be more involved as the Dolphins get closer to the end zone. Edmonds caught one TD pass from the 7 and dropped another would-be TD from the Cincinnati 5. It should be noted that Mostert did get two carries in the third quarter from inside the Cincinnati 5, but he was stuffed on both carries.

So, Edmonds remains critical to the Dolphins’ “punch-it-in” plans, which lowers Mostert’s value, even though his other numbers suggest an RB2-3. Mostert is worth carrying on your team, but not worth starting.

Conclusion: Stash Mostert and Edmonds for now.

Arizona Cardinals

Rondale Moore Renders “The Dortch” Irrelevant

Marquise Brown 93%; Rondale Moore 86%; Greg Dortch 36%

As many predicted, Greg Dortch and Rondale Moore play essentially the same position. So, the return of Moore meant “The Dortch” found “The Bench” (1 target for 6 yards in limited playing time). There was some ambiguity about how A.J. Green‘s absence would factor into all of this, but it apparently did not help Greg Dortch find the field. Moore wasn’t very effective in his first game back, but he could be more useful in shoot-out-type games, which Arizona is likely to find themselves in when they don’t play the only team with a worse head coach than Kliff Kingsbury. Moore could have some usefulness in Weeks 5-6 before DeAndre Hopkins returns from suspension. The Cardinals play Philadelphia in Week 5 (Darius Slay may lock-down Brown) and Seattle in Week 6, who just gave up 45 to the Lions without their three best offensive players.

Conclusion: Rondale Moore may be worth a stash with a $0 bid. Drop Greg Dortch.

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Dallas Cowboys

Michael Gallup Returns!

CeeDee Lamb 95%; Noah Brown 79%; Michael Gallup 64%

Michael Gallup returned from injury for the first time in 2022. The Cowboys brought him along somewhat slowly, although 64% of the snaps is nothing to sneeze at in any player’s first game back from an ACL injury.

Noah Brown remains ahead of him on the depth chart, but Gallup flashed with a 9-yard touchdown catch on a broken play.

Gallup is trending upward and should surpass Brown soon – likely next week.

Conclusion: Gallup looks good and healthy, in WR3-WR4 consideration

Seattle Seahawks

Penny’s Notable Playing Time

Rashaad Penny 69%; Kenneth Walker 36%

For 3 out of 4 weeks now, Rashaad Penny has played exactly 69% of the snaps. He looked great in this game, but the Lions defense apparently makes everyone look good at the moment. Still, a consistent 69% is near the top of the league at the RB position. Penny seems to be finding his form, and the Seattle OL looked strong even against a weak opponent. That puts Penny in the RB2 range.

There may be those out there saying “you can’t trust this output because it was against the Lions,” but his playing time and usage suggests otherwise. Even with Ken Walker healthy, Penny has a firm grasp on the backfield carries. If Pete Carroll finds a running back he can trust, he tends to lean on that running back.

Conclusion: Start Rashaad Penny with confidence.

Denver Broncos

A Backfield In Chaos

Javonte Williams 45%; Melvin Gordon 19%; Mike Boone 36%

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The sad news of the day is that Javonte Williams‘ season is over with a torn ACL. The obvious beneficiary is Melvin Gordon.

Now, you may be wondering why Melvin Gordon‘s snap share was so low, and the answer is a bad case of fumbleitis. Gordon fumbled twice last week, and he fumbled again in this game, possibly costing the Broncos the victory. He was punished for his fumbly fingers, and Mike Boone saw his snaps increase both because the team couldn’t trust Gordon to hold onto the football and because Javonte went down. Still, I have every belief the team will stay with Gordon and give him another chance, but the fact of the matter is he has fumbled the ball 5 of his last 44 carries (dating back to last year). That’s absurd. That’s “get cut from the team” level bad. He’s skating by on reputation, not production.

Any more fumbles will find Gordon on the bench, and the team will turn to someone else, most likely Boone. Boone is not a priority pick up, but he is someone who needs to be on your radar and probably rostered because Gordon’s fumbling issues have been so consistently bad.

Conclusion: Start Melvin Gordon next week, but be aware that he’s on a super short leash with the fumbling issues. Mike Boone is worth a low-priority/low-bid pickup.

Detroit Lions

Jamaal Williams Usage Remains High

Jamaal Williams 50% (season high); Craig Reynolds 32%; Justin Jackson 12%

With D’Andre Swift sidelined, Jamaal Williams saw an uptick in playing time, but not a major one (season average 41%). The true uptick can be seen in his 19.5 carries per game average over the past two weeks. Still, there is a reason the Lions don’t keep him on the field 70% of the time – he’s not a great pass catcher (badly dropping two passes in this game). He’s not a D’Andre Swift replacement; but he plays on an explosive offense with a spectacular offensive line. Right now, that means he’s an RB1.

Conclusion: Jamaal Williams workload is wonderful even with only a small uptick in snap share.

Philadelphia Eagles

No Boston Scott is Great News for Miles Sanders

Miles Sanders 67% (season high); Kenneth Gainwell 27%; Boston Scott DNP

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For the first time this season, the Eagles did not activate Boston Scott. Instead, the Eagles activated Trey Sermon, who saw little usage, but did break off a nice 14 yard gain. Without a third running back truly involved, Miles Sanders was allowed to dominate to the tune of 27 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns (and two catches for 22 yards just for fun). Converting Philadelphia’s three-headed monster into a two-person backfield with a clear lead-back completely changes Miles Sanders outlook. The Eagles either have, at worst, a top 2 offensive line, and Sanders is playing really, really well. Meanwhile, Gainwell isn’t, and the team is running with the hot hand. Sanders is a great option rest of season, especially if the team trusts Sanders to carry the load.

Conclusion: Sanders is an RB1.

New York Jets

Breece Assumes Lead Back Role

Breece Hall 66%; Michael Carter 44%

I’ve been telling you for weeks that all signs are pointing up for Breece Hall, and this week proved it. Hopefully, you listened to me last week and got Breece in your lineup because Breece finally got the vast majority of the snaps, the vast majority of the carries (17 of 29), and the vast majority of the backfield targets (6 compared to Carter’s 3).

Honestly, this wasn’t even that good of a game for Breece, even though he got you the touchdown. 17 carries for 66 yards, and 6 targets for 12 yards (2 catches) isn’t head-turning, but the Steelers remain a tough defense, so don’t discount the lower efficiency. Breece was a strong play last week, and has a fantastic outlook ROS.

Conclusion: Breece is a High-End RB2-Low End RB1

Pittsburgh Steelers

Kenny Pickett Finally Gets the Starting Nod

We don’t talk about QBs a lot in this article, but when a QB change happens, it’s very notable. Mike Tomlin, mercifully, said “enough is enough” with Mitch Trubisky and made the change to Kenny Pickett. Pickett managed to complete all thirteen of his passes, but unfortunately three of those “completions” were caught by the other team. Pickett made some rookie mistakes, but, more importantly, he injected life into a lifeless Steelers offense. Notably, all three of his interceptions were either tipped or a Hail Mary. The second interception should have just been thrown away, but you could argue that he was trying to do that, as Pat Freiermuth may have accidentally tipped a pass that was intended as a throw-away.

Here’s the key stat:

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Pickett actually moved the Steelers offense, something Trubisky could not consistently do. Pickett got out of the pocket here and there, and he even ran for two touchdowns (one being a generic QB sneak, but the other was a QB-option). That ability to run makes him an interesting player in some streaming situations for 1QB leagues, and he should absolutely be rostered in superflex leagues.

The other notable thing from Pickett’s first regular season NFL playing time is that he apparently loves him some George Pickens. 38% of Pickett’s throws targeted George Pickens. Pickens has flashed some nifty catches – he had two highlight-reel plays in this game, but last week’s Odell Beckham impersonation outshined both, so you may not have seen the Pickens highlights from this game. Pickens might be the next rookie WR to breakout now that Pittsburgh seems to have a quarterback who can move the offense a little bit. I’d be feeling out the market on Pickens chasing that next breakout.

Conclusion: The Steelers offensive weapons have more hope with Pickett finally starting. Pickens might be the buy-low, before-the-breakout trade opportunity the introduction suggested.

Buffalo Bills

Devin Singletary Back in League Winning Role

Singletary 88%; Zack Moss 9%; James Cook 3%

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At the end of last season, Devin Singletary helped a lot of teams win fantasy championships by dominating backfield playing time and usage. He’s back in that role. The Bills have relegated Zack Moss to a mere spectator, and James Cook has not earned the coaching staff’s trust in high-pressure situations, like a close game with a likely AFC playoff team. That makes Singletary super relevant and a must-start. Singletary didn’t amass the eye-popping reception total from last week, but he still finished with 4 catches for 47 yards. Even in a game where he fumbled, he essentially didn’t miss a snap. This is an RB playing almost every snap for a top-5 offense. That’s an RB1.

Conclusion: Singletary is back to league-winning playing time status.

Kansas City Chiefs

Jerrick McKinnon Fading Into the Sunset

Jerrick McKinnon barely played in Week 4, and the reason appears to be the team’s growing trust of Isiah Pacheco.

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Pacheco played a season-high 17 offensive snaps and touched the ball on 11 of those snaps. He was highly effective, running for 63 yards on those limited opportunities. More importantly, he saw playing time during relevant portions of the game, unlike Week 1 when he played 23% of the snaps, but his playing time occurred long after the Cardinals had waived the white flag. Pacheco was important to the offense in Week 4, not a human victory cigar. Plus, Tampa Bay is not a slouch when it comes to defense, so his hard running is impressive. He’s a player on the rise and needs to be rostered. Jerrick McKinnon is not in the long-term plans for Kansas City, but Pacheco appears to be. Grab him now before he costs you an arm and a leg.

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Conclusion: Pick up Pacheco.

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