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I’m surprised at how the games continue to exceed expectations every week. Even in Week 7, with the “bye-nado” or “bye-pocalypse” upon us and multiple double-digit spreads, we were glued to our screens. The Bengals made a statement to the AFC North in Baltimore. Ryan Tannehill outdueled Patrick Mahomes II. All of the excitement leads us to another week of waiver decisions and reconfiguring our rosters as the fantasy season reaches the end of the first half. To help with some of our more challenging decisions, here are my three lessons learned from this past week of games.
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes II, Chiefs
Week 7 Results: (Projected) 29.4, (Actual) 8.7
It’s been tough watching the Chiefs over the last month. Almost everything has gone wrong. Their primary starters are injured, Mahomes has caused a turnover in every game since Week 2, and their defense has been comically bad. The opportunity cost to acquire Mahomes is weighing on our rosters, and it seems as if the magic from previous years is gone. I can’t guarantee it’ll be back, but the Chiefs’ internal problems and the teams they’ve faced have caused a storm that should let up as the schedule opens up.
Advice Moving Forward:
Don’t panic. A confluence of factors has hit the Chiefs’ offense simultaneously, but they still operate similarly. Expect adjustments from the coaching staff and Mahomes to get back on track.
Week 1 was the last typical game for Mahomes. He was the QB2 (33.3 points) without causing a single turnover. All was right with the world to start the season. Then, it all went downhill, at least, production-wise.
|PROE (Red zone)||2nd|
|Yards per Drive||1st|
|Points per Drive||1st|
|EPA per Play||5th|
There’s nothing fundamentally different about the Chiefs’ offense. The primary pass-catchers have remained in their top spots. If anything, Mahomes has leaned even farther into the passing game. At this point last season, the Chiefs were 12th in targets to their running backs (21.8%). They’re 28th through Week 7 of this season (14.8%). But their ancillary wide receivers aren’t factoring into their aerial attack. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce account for 49.1% of Mahomes’ attempts, making adjusting to dense coverages all the more difficult.
It’s not a secret. Opposing teams have tried sending extra pressure, and Mahomes turns into a magician. So the answer this season has been to bolster the coverage with multiple safeties. But the kicker has been that teams are still getting pressure on Mahomes despite the lessened blitz rate.
|Year||Blitz Rate||Pressure Rate|
Kansas City’s offensive line investments have not paid off so far this season. Teams have sent fewer defenders at the line and are still generating pressure similar to previous seasons. It’s what’s forced Mahomes into sub-optimal situations, and we’ve seen the worst results from those plays. But to put up that type of pressure while still having solid coverage on the back end requires elite talent in at least one of those areas. Three of their last five opponents have them in spades (Chargers, Buffalo, and Tennessee). Combine high-end defensive talent with internal issues from Kansas City, and that’s how we find ourselves here.
Mahomes is tied for first in quarterback turnovers which we should expect to regress as he’s still in the top half of the league in on-target throws. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have been in and out of the lineup with various injuries. As previously mentioned, the offensive line is yet to gel, and the schedule and the Chiefs themselves have contributed to what looks like a lost season. However, with a few favorable matchups over the next few weeks (NYG, GB, and LV), Mahomes has a shot to get back on track.
Running Back: Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
Week 7 Results: (Projected) 16.0, (Actual) 15.0
What a rollercoaster for Leonard Fournette. After getting cut from the Jaguars, almost getting cut by Tampa Bay, and now a Super Bowl champion. Plus, he’s the backfield leader of one of the most productive offenses in the NFL. Fournette’s the RB10 in PPR on the season with two or more touchdowns in three straight games. The touchdowns may seem flukey, but after some digging, his opportunity isn’t flukey and worth investing in for the rest of the season.
Advice Moving Forward:
Leonard Fournette is an RB1. His opportunity, efficiency with his touches, and production align, giving him an ideal floor and ceiling every week.
At a glance, the first few weeks looked similar to last season. While Fournette was getting the ceremonial start, Ronald Jones II was still involved on early downs and in the red zone with a 38.5% rushing share. Giovanni Bernard fell right into the expected passing-down/two-minute drill role earning five targets per game. We had a full-blown committee. Not anymore.
It’s like the scene from Space Jam when the Nerdlucks stole the NBA players’ talents. Fournette has become Jones and Bernard while maintaining his starting role. We should have known something was up when he ran a fade route against Kyle Van Noy, but the opportunity speaks for itself. He’s doubled Bernard’s routes run and targets for three straight weeks while handling most of the early-down and red-zone looks. And while the opportunity has shifted his way, he’s risen to the challenge of the added workload.
Fournette was labeled a compiler early in his career. Simply put, his yardage totals were only a function of the number of carries he got, and that’s not the case this year. He has a 55.1% success rate (number of carries with a positive EPA result) compared to Jones’ 40.0%. Fournette is second in success rate according to Football Outsiders’ model. He’s also 16th in yards per route run amongst all running backs, as shown by PFF (minimum 20 targets). Fournette’s objectively improved as a football player.
If drafting today, we’d look to our general metrics for valuing running backs in fantasy. An excellent offensive situation, a pass-catching role, and red-zone usage are all traits we look for in early rounds, and Fournette has them all. With the offense firing on all cylinders, there’s nothing to suggest Fournette can’t continue to be what he’s shown, which is an RB1.
Wide Receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans
Week 7 Results: (Projected) 14.8, (Actual) 18.3
Last year, DeAndre Hopkins’ move to Arizona caused some uncertainty in how he’d fare with a new team during a year with almost no offseason. He proved us wrong. Now, he’s had a whole offseason, the fantasy community is back in, and our only hope is if he scores a touchdown. Arizona is top-12 in nearly every offensive metric, and yet there’s concern about their WR1. I looked deeper into how Hopkins is doing and if we should be worried.
Advice Moving Forward:
Hopkins is a low-end WR1 with quick access to a ceiling. You’re still starting him every week, but explore trade options if your team is behind in the standings.
Hindsight analysis will only get us so far, but there’s not much to suggest we’d see such a drop in production. Hopkins is the WR12 in PPR scoring through seven weeks, but he’s third in receiving touchdowns. It’s buoyed his production, and fantasy managers are happy. But, it’s masked an alarming shift in the Cardinals’ passing offense.
It was all fun and games when Hopkins was “competing” with Larry Fitzgerald and Andy Isabella for targets last year. Now, with a resurrected A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore, Hopkins’ managers have a problem. Arizona’s front office has now given Kyler Murray legitimate options, and the “Horizontal Raid” now looks like an air raid system. And, it’s come at Hopkins’ expense.
Hopkins hasn’t had a stretch of sub-100 yard games like this since 2016 when Brock Osweiler was throwing him the ball. However, we could blame the poor offense even then, and personnel upgrades would improve his situation. And they did! But now, with the Cardinals undefeated, there’s no incentive to fix the issue. There is one ray of hope for Hopkins, though.
I mentioned earlier that he’s third in receiving touchdowns which is an amount we’d all expect to regress. However, Hopkins leads his team in red-zone targets with 10. He’s seventh in the league amongst all wide receivers for the same stat. His week-to-week outlook may leave fantasy managers out in the cold (WR46 and WR76 in weeks he hasn’t scored). But he’s attached to a fast-paced offense that’s doubled its pass rate over expectation since last year, which is a gamble worth taking unless you can trade for a better option.