Yards Per Gretch: Week 2

Ben Gretch, Editor in Chief of Fantasy Insiders, takes an ultra-high resolution look at the upcoming NFL week. If you haven’t yet been introduced to Ben’s level of thinking, get ready for great takes loaded with analytical insight.

Week 2

When to zig while others zag? For Week 2, we have one game of data in the books, and it’s easy to weight those results too heavily. We spend a whole week with both recency and primacy biases feeding our subconscious, with some confirmation bias on certain guys mixed in for good measure. Our brains can’t help but think we learned way more than we actually did last week.

Some of the major Week 1 performances will carry over, of course. We have to adjust to the most relevant data we have. It’s likely we’ve already seen the starts of some major 2018 breakouts. The trouble is figuring out what to believe and what to fade on a small sample, which is the focus of my Stealing Signals column at Fantasy Insiders, and will be the focus of this week’s Yards Per Gretch as well. Let’s get to the picks.

Exploitable Situations

Stefon Diggs @ GB

Diggs has become something of a polarizing figure. For a few years now, he’s been a popular favorite among fantasy analysts, as he’s appeared undervalued to a stellar production profile stretching back to college. Still just 24 years old, the argument I and others have made is while soft tissue injuries may have stalled things, the breakout is very much coming.

But because of that nearly cult following, Diggs has picked up his detractors, or at least those who are quick to point out Adam Thielen has been far more productive since the beginning of last year. And yet, this is a productive situation for both, as the two dominate Minnesota’s targets. There are only so many targets to go around in every offense, but the True No. 1 WR discussion is less relevant in Minnesota.

The significance here is it creates opportunity. It’s more common in backfields, but this either-or mentality can keep ownership down. And because Thielen out-targeted Diggs 12 to 6 in Week 1, posting more than double the yards, he’ll be a popular play.

Isolating Diggs, though, we see his 3-43-1 Week 1 stat line came entirely in the first half, before plus game script led to a more conservative offense approach, a luxury that may not be there on the road in Lambeau. Diggs did get free in the second half for what could have been a long second touchdown, but Kirk Cousins overshot him.

Rookie first-round pick Jaire Alexander will man the slot for Green Bay, and he graded well in his first career game. He’ll have his hands full with Thielen, but looked the part of his draft status in Week 1. Diggs, meanwhile, will operate against Green Bay’s outside corners, the better of which is veteran Tramon Williams, who has been up-and-down in recent seasons. Both could be productive, but I like the matchup for Diggs more than Thielen, and firmly believe bigger days lie ahead for Diggs.

Christian McCaffrey @ ATL

The Falcons lost two standout defenders in Week 1 as both linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal are now on IR. That’s a huge problem for a Falcons defense that allowed the most receptions to the RB position in 2017 as they prepare to face the RB who led the position in targets last year.

In Week 1, McCaffrey’s 35% target share was seven percentage points higher than any other RB. He was targeted 9 times on just 26 Cam Newton throws, the low total in part the result of a slower-paced game against Dallas and in part influenced by Newton rushing 13 times, tied for seventh-most in his career.

We should expect more passing from Newton in Week 2, and shouldn’t be concerned with McCaffrey out-carrying C.J. Anderson just 10 to 7 in Week 1. We talk a lot about RB targets, but the value is still under-emphasized. McCaffrey’s target numbers with and without Greg Olsen on the field in 2017 are perhaps the week’s most-discussed stat, but the impact of McCaffrey’s receiving role bears repeating.

Receptions stabilize a back’s floor, and, more importantly, unlock his ceiling. Since the beginning of last year, a RB has scored 30 or more points in DK’s full-PPR scoring system 38 times. In 28 of those occurrences, the back caught at least five passes. Just 27 of them included multiple touchdowns, which seems like a necessity. Ten of those games — more than a quarter of the total — include 15 or fewer carries.

Things are of course different in half-PPR, but the trends don’t change as much as you might think. Touchdowns are more of a requirement, but receiving is still extremely important; there are actually more games (12) in a same-sized sample (top 38 performances) where the back saw 15 or fewer carries.

Christian McCaffrey is not on those lists. He hasn’t had a true upside game yet. But his 85% snap share and receiving-heavy workload indicate it’s coming, probably sooner than later. While we didn’t see his big play ability often in 2017, we did catch a glimpse of it on a 71-yard touchdown run this preseason. Come for the massive receiving projection. Stay for the untapped upside.

Expanding Roles

Each week, I’ll look at advanced usage trends to highlight players whose roles outpace their pricing and public perception, and who are in good spots. While we’re dealing with a small sample size, there’s an obvious advantage to being early on 2018’s biggest trends.

Quincy Enunwa vs. MIA

Enunwa put on a show in a primetime game, but the extent of his performance was perhaps mitigated by positive game script leading to a low team passing total. Josh Hermsmeyer’s WOPR metric (Weighted Opportunity Rating) balances team share of targets and team share of air yards to better predict fantasy scoring. Enunwa’s 6.0 aDOT left him a little light on air yards, but his league-high 48% target share gave him the third-highest WOPR in Week 1, behind only Julio Jones and Odell Beckham. I wouldn’t expect him to keep up that dominant of a share, but he looks like the clear No. 1 in this new offense.

Jarvis Landry @ NO

Often looked at as a low-ceiling player, Landry’s much-discussed role change came to fruition despite poor weather conditions. After four seasons in Miami where his aDOT topped out at 7.7 in 2015, Landry’s 13.9 mark was one of the most notable stats of Week 1, especially given it came with his normal dominant target share and Josh Gordon playing nearly a full snap share. Landry finished just behind Enunwa with the fourth-highest WOPR of Week 1, and while I expect Gordon to continue to grow into the offense and think both WRs are in play, Landry’s upside against a New Orleans defense that just got shredded by Tampa is higher than most realize. Editors Note: Josh Gordon has been ruled out for Week 2

George Kittle vs. DET

Kittle was another player whose downfield Week 1 role was very notable. Jimmy Garoppolo showed a tendency to push the ball downfield in late-2017, and with Marquise Goodwin ailing, Kittle was targeted 9 times at an aDOT of 13.1 in Minnesota, the fifth-highest aDOT of any TE with at least three targets last week. Goodwin is out for Week 2. Kittle and rookie Dante Pettis are the biggest beneficiaries.

Kenny Golladay @ SF

A market share and breakout age stud in college, Golladay was a favorite of prospect maven Shawn Siegele even before an impressive combine and the Lions surprisingly making him a third-round pick in 2017. He flashed that upside in his rookie season, but a hamstring injury limited his time of the field. But he started his second season with a bang, leading Detroit WRs in snaps, routes, and receiving yards. Viewed as a No. 3 WR, Golladay has every bit the upside of his pricier teammates.

Monday Night Bonus: Jordan Howard vs. SEA

Howard finished second among all RBs with 6 drops in 2017, per Player Profiler, despite seeing just 32 total targets. There was reason to be concerned Tarik Cohen would handle the majority of the passing work even with Howard playing more on third downs in the preseason, but Howard out-targeted Cohen 5 to 4 in Week 1, catching all 5 of the balls thrown his way. An enhanced receiving role is a major boost for the overall profile of a guy who has racked up over 2,500 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in 32 career games.

Touchdowns Per Gretch

In a couple of weeks, we’ll use this section to take a look implied team totals through the lens of the percentage of points teams score and opposing defenses concede to try to identify which matchups are best suited for passing and rushing scores. We don’t have enough data yet for that analysis to be useful, but let’s discuss some of the high-total spots and see if we can draw any insights.

New Orleans (29.75 implied total)

Saints duo Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas did their best Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown impressions last week, dominating their team’s production. The Saints totaled a monster 475 total yards and 5 touchdowns; Kamara and Thomas accounted for 321 and 4 of that, including 64% of the targets, 68% of the receptions, and 67% of the receiving yardage. Cleveland’s defense proved last week against Pittsburgh they are unequipped to handle that.

Per Gretch: Both Kamara and Thomas score

Pittsburgh (29.5 implied total)

Though Philip Rivers threw 50 times in catch-up mode, his 424 yards and 3 touchdowns speaks volumes about Kansas City’s pass defense deficiencies. A significant chunk of that came through the RBs, with Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler combining for 18 targets and 189 receiving yards. Of course, we’ve frequently seen that from Rivers.

Last week, I wrote up why I love JuJu Smith-Schuster with Le’Veon Bell out of the lineup. James Conner did his best Bell impression with 36 touches, but just five of those were receptions. His 14% percent target share, while strong for a RB, wasn’t close to Bell’s 19% from 2017, despite weather limiting the viability of deep targets. Conner might be more active in the passing game in this matchup, but I’m a bigger believer JuJu has the added opportunity he needs.

Per Gretch: Both JuJu and Antonio Brown score

Los Angeles Rams (29.25 implied total)

Arizona’s secondary has some decent pieces, particularly Patrick Peterson and slot corner Budda Baker. Los Angeles has three wide receivers who can all produce; Robert Woods got the short end of the efficiency stick in Week 1 but nearly had a big day, while Brandin Cooks looked like a perfect fit in his new home and red zone favorite Cooper Kupp found the end zone.

And yet, their top red zone option remains Todd Gurley. Arizona conceded 166 total yards to Adrian Peterson and 128 to Chris Thompson, including a 1-yard TD run for AP and a 13-yard TD reception for Thompson. Gurley plays both of those roles for the Rams. Trying to pick out which WR might hit feels like a fool’s errand.

Per Gretch: Todd Gurley scores twice

That’s it for this week. Good luck in Week 2!

Meet the Experts Content Posting Times

About the Author

  • Ben Gretch (gretch)

  • Ben Gretch (on Twitter @YardsPerGretch) specializes in blending the numbers that matter with actionable insights about the game. His previous work has been published at Rotoworld, RotoViz, FantasyLabs, and RotoUnderworld. He is the Editor in Chief at Fantasy Insiders.


  • Cerias

    “Receptions stabilize a back’s floor, and, more importantly, unlock his ceiling”. That’s money right there, Ben. Thanks for the excellent analysis!

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