If I had known that Sunday was Backup Quarterback Day, I'd have made some changes to my lineups. Three of them finished in the Top 12. And, unsurprisingly, that storyline just blended in with the rest of the weekend as injury updates and trade deadline rumors ramped up ahead of Tuesday afternoon. I have a feeling I'll be writing up something about the Titans' backfield for next week, but until then, let's dig into the lessons I learned from Week 8.
Quarterback: Jalen Hurts, Eagles
Week 8 Results: (Projected) 25.6, (Actual) 11.2
The streak is over. Jalen Hurts was the only starting quarterback to have 20-plus fantasy points in every game this season. Until he faced the Lions. We expected the Eagles to defeat soundly. And they did. We expected our fantasy players to score points. And they did. But unless you rostered Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, and Dallas Goedert, you were left holding the bag. The Eagles' anemic passing game warranted a second look at Hurts and what we can take away from the disappointing result.
Advice Moving Forward:
Hurts may still be a top-12 quarterback, but we'll need to reconsider his upside in games the Eagles may be able to control. You likely won't find a replacement but checking the waiver wire when he's playing against weaker opponents is worthwhile.
We maybe should've seen this coming. Hindsight is always 20/20 but, objectively, we did get a few clues. Folks were already on Hurts padding his stats during futile fourth-quarter drives. Beat reporters were speculating if Gardner Minshew would take over as the starter. While Hurts is still under center, Philadelphia is doing their best to hide him as he develops as a passer.
Hurts' pass rate over expectation has steadily declined since Week 3. His rushing ability has acted like a deodorant as it's removed any foul smell from the on-field play. While no one would think Hurts is Tom Brady, Hurts has accrued 54.0 yards per game on the ground and tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns. However, at the same time, he hasn't crossed 250 passing yards in a month with a 3:2 touchdown to interception ratio. Granted, the last month of games was either close or blowouts. But Nick Sirianni showed us how they want to operate once Philadelphia gets into the driver's seat.
The good news is that Week 8 was Hurts' most efficient day as a passer (4th in EPA per dropback). Still errant on a few throws, but Philadelphia hit a season-high 53.7 yards per drive. The other good news (or bad depending on how you look) is that they won't be playing the Lions again, and their upcoming matchups (Chargers, Broncos, and Saints) will require back and forth between each squad. But how much they'll lean on their newfound rushing success is unclear.
Week 9 will be an actual test of the Eagles' offensive identity. The Chargers are known for inviting defenses to run on them. But their potent offense forces opponents to take to the air. Hurts may resume his rushing role, but we'll need to pay attention to their passing tendencies. Without a semi-stable passing game to elevate his floor, Hurts may fall out of the Top 12.
Running Back: Michael Carter II, Jets
Week 8 Results: (Projected) 12.1, (Actual) 32.2
The fantasy community debated running back committees featuring rookies all offseason. The Denver backfield was the hot topic, but the Jets' committee was close behind. Any draft strategy could work their respective ADPs into its process. And now, it looks like the wait has paid off. Michael Carter II finished as the overall RB1 in Week 8 with 29 touches. There's some risk to his future production, but the shift in utilization indicates he's the back to roster for the Jets.
Advice Moving Forward:
Carter moves into mid-range RB2 territory but carries obvious risk. The overall utilization has been encouraging, but we can't ignore what the quarterback change has done for Carter and the offense.
The thesis behind drafting Michael Carter II was straightforward. While he was an older prospect, his collegiate profile was promising. A bit slow (4.59, 40-time), but involved in the passing game at North Carolina and showed some lateral agility. His traits would be enough to push Tevin Coleman out, and his draft capital would likely give him a shot at the 1A role should Ty Johnson show any improvement in his second year with the team. So far, it's played out as expected.
Coleman has slowly been phased out of the offense since Week 3. At the same time, Carter's snap and touch share has been on the rise. From Weeks 3 to 6, he played that 1A role alongside Johnson without any clear distinction between the two. They share red-zone touches, and Johnson was averaging 4.3 targets per game. We caught a break this past week.
Carter's boxscore against the Bengals speaks for itself. He out-carried Johnson nearly 4:1 while out-targeting Johnson about 3:1. Carter also handled all of the running back touches from inside the 20-yard line. Quantitatively, it was the separation we wanted between him and Johnson. And he looked good doing it.
This play resulted in a first down.
It's part of the lateral agility that made his athletic profile appealing, along with his pass-catching ability. Mike White hit Carter on screens, passes to the flat, and short curls and slants. Six of his 14 targets were behind the line of scrimmage, and Carter had 108 yards after the catch. It's part of why I'm encouraged by the bump in opportunity, but I have to believe this is partially fueled by who's under center.
In Week 7, Mike White targeted the running backs 14 times after replacing Zach Wilson. The most Carter and Johnson had combined for was eight back in Week 3. His focus on the running backs continued along with a 4.2 aDOT. Wilson's had an aDOT of 9.3 and, despite the interceptions, continued to look downfield. Once Wilson returns, it's fair to question whether or not the short passes will continue to dominate the offense. However, Carter's ascendance into the lead role should continue moving forward.
Wide Receiver: Michael Pittman Jr, Colts
Week 8 Results: (Projected) 14.5, (Actual) 30.6
The two best passing options on the Colts' offense are Michael Pittman Jr and the defensive pass interference calls that Carson Wentz gets every week. He's made highlight-worthy catches in the rain and followed up his Week 7 performance with a two-touchdown day in Week 8. Despite the loss, the Colts' offense appears back on track after a shaky start to the season. I dove into Pittman's usage and if we can continue to rely on him as a weekly option moving forward.
Advice Moving Forward:
Pittman has solidified himself as a mid-range WR2. I say "mid-range," and he's WR11 in PPR through eight weeks. But he's ahead of players like CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, and A.J. Brown. I expect most (if not all) to move ahead, leaving him as a solid WR2 option each week.
For wide receivers, the phrase bet on talent loses strength when we look at their quarterback. I'm not saying it's the correct response, but it's a common one. How many folks have been happily rostering the Seattle wide receivers without Russell Wilson? Allen Robinson is now on most folks' waiver wire. With Pittman, it was a bet on talent, given his rookie performance. However, we had to reconcile our hope for Pittman with our fear of Wentz.
Wentz entered the year with two busted ankles, was 30th in EPA per dropback through Week 3, and the Colts' passing rate over expectation was -1%. Simply put, the offense was inefficient and underutilizing their passing game on top of losing. It led to high target shares for Pittman, but the production only matched in Week 2. Now, as Indianapolis' offensive line has allowed less pressure, the offense has reset, and Pittman is back on the rise.
Regardless of T.Y. Hilton's status, Pittman has moved into the WR1 role for the Colts. Albeit a one-game sample, his share of the targets and air yards matched many of our favorite WR2s around the league.
- Deebo Samuel – 32.1% target share, 35.6% air yard share
- Chris Godwin – 30.0% target share, 19.1% air yard share
- Adam Thielen – 25.7% target share, 35.6% air yard share
- Tee Higgins – 17.6% target share, 49.0% air yard share
We drafted all of them at least one or two rounds ahead of Pittman. And yet, he's matching them in opportunity. However, we can easily spot the difference between Pittman's situation and at least half of the wide receivers listed. The only concern is what to expect moving forward.
Pittman's utilization should continue as he's the best threat to beat man/press coverage on the team. Plus, the matchups will give Wentz time to operate in the pocket. They face the Jets, Jaguars, and Texans over the next five weeks while hosting Tampa Bay in Week 12. Each features defensive fronts at or below the league average in adjusted sack rate and bottom-6 secondaries in EPA per dropback allowed. Given his current trajectory, Pittman will continue to be a weekly starter on most fantasy rosters.