We’re sliding into the back nine of the season, and there are still plenty of lessons to be learned. Roles have shifted for some. Opinions have changed about others. However, we’re still hoping our squads can turn it around with the playoffs about a month away. To help, I looked into a few players to see what we can learn from Week 10 and what to look for over the coming weeks.
Quarterback: Mac Jones, Patriots
Week 10 Results: (Projected) 18.0, (Actual) 19.9
It has to be more than a coincidence that the league takes notice of Mac Jones for his growth in the Patriots’ offense that Cam Newton announces he’s back on the same day. Regardless, Jones has been on an impressive run. They’ve won four straight games, second in the division, and the rookie is in command of the offense. He’s got another great matchup on Thursday night, but I wanted to see what’s driving some of his fantasy production and if we can trust him as we get closer to the fantasy playoffs.
Advice Moving Forward:
Jones is still, at best, a matchup-based starter. He’s taken advantage of weaker opponents, but he’s still a mid to low-end QB2 for the rest of the season.
There needs to be some trend for us to have confidence in a player. That goes for any player at any position. We look for changes in snaps or targets or high-value touches, but it’s different with quarterbacks. For passers, we’d expect to see increases in passing rates or efficiency. Even consistent rushing attempts would be acceptable. But, Jones, we’re yet to see any of those things.
The consistent part of the Patriots’ passing offense is the inconsistency. They won with a strong running game against the Chargers in week 8, and their defense essentially ended Sam Darnold’s tenure in Carolina. And Jones was the silent contributor in each. Which is good! Cam Newton was still learning the playbook well into his first season with New England. Tom Brady still had his face in his playbook before games well into his 11th season as a Patriot. Like most things, it takes time, but we’re seeing a rapid improvement out of Jones.
"Mastery" isn’t the right word, but I’ll say Jones has found a level of comfort in the offense. He’s correctly checked into runs and has used pre-snap motion on 53.3% of his attempts. But none of this shows up in the boxscore. However, one trend did stick out.
The Browns’ defensive front pressured Jones on just 20.0% of his dropbacks. It was the lowest rate of the season for him. Trent Brown’s return allowed the Patriots’ offensive line to keep Jones clean, and, as a result, Jones saw season highs in EPA per dropback and completion percentage over expectation (18.8%).
It’s not rocket science to suggest that giving a rookie quarterback time in the pocket will produce efficient plays. However, it gives us insight into what game environments suit Jones from a fantasy perspective. He has Atlanta in Week 11, making him a fine spot start, but he still has to face Buffalo twice in Weeks 13 and 16. He’s still a streaming option, but the future is bright for New England’s offense.
Running Back: Darrel Williams, Chiefs
Week 10 Results: (Projected) 15.1, (Actual) 29.4
I supported drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire throughout the offseason. His draft capital, role in college, and potential role in his sophomore year were too enticing. Even if Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were still the primary targets, Patrick Mahomes II couldn’t continue to rely on subpar talent outside of that core. My intuition was correct, but I got the wrong player. Darrel “The Mentor” Williams has been a top-12 running back in two of the five weeks Edwards-Helaire has been out with an overall RB1 finish in Week 11. Edwards-Helaire is due back this week but, given Williams’ productivity, we can’t assume things will go back to the way they were.
Advice Moving Forward:
We should still value Williams as a high-end RB2 even with the return of Edwards-Helaire. Williams should remain in our lineups until we see a significant change in snaps or touches.
The amount of opportunity was never in question for Williams once Edwards-Helaire went down. Andy Reid trusted their roster depth which left Williams as the de facto starter. However, the Chiefs’ offensive philosophy was in question after losses to Buffalo and Tennessee and struggled against Washington and New York.
I’m not here to argue about Patrick Mahomes II and if he struggles against zone coverage. I wrote about that back in Week 8. But it was clear that Mahomes needed reliable pass-catchers outside of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Through five weeks, the duo accounted for 47.2% of Mahomes’ targets. Whether it be Edwards-Helaire’s injury or their disastrous five-week stretch of games, Williams found himself at the forefront of an offensive revival.
Kansas City running backs earned a total of 13 targets throughout the first month of the season. No, not a 13% target share. Thirteen targets. Period. It wasn’t in their DNA to hit a single. A home run to Hill or double to Kelce was usually there every snap. But Kansas City needed to adapt, and Williams got brought along for the ride.
Chiefs’ running backs are up 7.6 targets per game since Edwards-Helaire’s injury, and Williams himself has had a 15.2% target share over the last three weeks. However, his 101-yard performance (with a Randy Moss impersonation on his touchdown catch) emphasizes two points. First, his utility to the offense is more than being “The Mentor” for Edwards-Helaire. Also, Kansas City needs to keep this offensive style moving forward to stay at the top of their division.
While the two shared a backfield, Williams had a greater success rate than Edwards-Helaire (53.8% vs. 41.5%), and the veteran has maintained a 70.3% as a receiver since taking over. Edwards-Helaire’s return to the backfield gives them much-needed depth. But Williams has proven to be the more effective player, which should keep him in the lead role for the foreseeable future.
Wide Receiver: Mike Williams, Chargers
Week 10 Results: (Projected) 14.8, (Actual) 7.3
Mike Williams appeared to be a sure bet in Week 10. The Vikings allowed explosive plays to outside receivers in Marquise Brown and Amari Cooper in back-to-back weeks, and Justin Herbert was coming off another strong performance in Week 9. Williams had 108 yards combined over the last three games, and fantasy managers needed a big week to rekindle the faith. We got another dud. There’s no sign of the top-12 receiver we saw in the early part of the season, so I dug into his usage to see what’s changed for Williams and the Chargers’ offense.
Advice Moving Forward:
Williams moves into the WR3/Flex range until further notice. His role has changed, the offense has faltered, and both need to correct themselves before we can trust him every week.
Williams was the Chargers’ wide receiver to roster through the first five weeks of the season. His target share was comparable to Keenan Allen’s (24.6% to 23.2%). Also, he had more yards and, most importantly, more touchdowns. Williams had surpassed his 2020 season total in five games, and he looked poised to cash in during his contract year. But then things changed.
I’d be less concerned about his target share if the air yards were still there. We’d at least get a sense that Justin Herbert intended to keep Williams involved. But he has a 15.0% target share coming out of their bye. Plus, his role in the passing game has also shifted.
I added Herbert’s aDOT to highlight his passing tendencies haven’t changed significantly. However, Williams’ has. He had a 9.8 aDOT through the first three weeks of the season, and it aligned with other WR1’s in the league (D.J. Moore – 10.5, CeeDee Lamb – 10.5, DeAndre Hopkins 10.6). However, Williams moved back into his old role as a deep threat. Meanwhile, Allen has reasserted himself as he has twice the number of targets over the last month (but has only found the paint twice himself).
Josh Palmer’s 9.3 aDOT since their bye suggests he’s become the intermediate target for Herbert. However, over the last two weeks, Williams still has six red-zone targets and was tackled at the one-yard line on Sunday. His high-value touches will give him weekly upside, but we’ll need to see an increase in his target share for him to get back into the WR2 ranks.